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Mobile Application Fring Secures First Operator Agreement

Fring, which makes a chat and IP (Internet Protocol) telephony mobile application, has secured its first agreement with an operator, the company announced Tuesday at the Symbian smartphone show.

Fring struck an agreement with Austria's Mobilkom, which will give its subscribers access to a customized version of Fring. Mobilkom will integrate its own A1 VOIP (voice over IP) service into Fring and eventually preinstall Fring on devices it sells, said Fring CEO Avi Shechter, who spoke on the sidelines of the show.

The agreement marks one of several concrete revenue-generating ventures for Fring, which is free to download.

Fring's self-named application enables mobile access to several instant messaging networks, social-networking sites such as Facebook, Skype's VOIP service and provides file-transfer capabilities, among others.

Fring, a 35-person company based in Tel Aviv, is one of many companies seeking to bring desktop communication and networking technologies to mobile devices. And, of course, they'd like to make money. Shechter is coy about the business arrangements the company has secured so far, but broadly outlined how the company plans to generate revenue.

One of those ways is getting operators and manufacturers to ship Fring on their devices. So far, Fring is included in a list of available downloads for Nokia's N96 device. Fring is also preinstalled on the Samsung's I7110, a smartphone launched on Tuesday at the show.

Shipping a Skype-enable VOIP application poses other problems, though. Operators are often wary of VOIP capabilities since they don't want to see call revenue drastically drop.

But many operators will allow VOIP calls over 3G (third-generation) mobile networks. Operators are seeing opportunities in special services tied to data use, which will bring them revenue, Shechter said. Mobilkom, for example, has opted to integrate its own VOIP service in Fring. One notable exception is operators that sell Apple's iPhone, which only allows VOIP calls over Wi-Fi.

Another potential revenue stream is with Wi-Fi providers. Fring has an agreement with The Cloud, a U.K. Wi-Fi provider. If a person subscribes to The Cloud's network, Fring will notify the user when they're in The Cloud's network and automatically connect, Shechter said.

Another area is advertising, where many mobile operators and application providers hope to generate revenue.

Fring doesn't have any advertising now, but that may soon change. Shechter previewed a special version of Fring that can display ads while a person is using instant messaging.

During the demonstration, a small banner ad appeared below the chat box and disappeared after a few messages were exchanged. Shechter said it hasn't been determined how often ads would be displayed or how revenue would be shared with Fring and operators.

Fring is available for some Symbian Series 60, UIQ, Windows Mobile, Linux and J2ME mobile phones, with various capabilities depending on the OS. Fring would also like to develop a version for BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless), used in North America and Asia, Shechter said.

"We are looking to bring this beyond the sophisticated users who go and download it but also to everyday people who own devices supported by the carriers," Shechter said.

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