By Tova Cohen
TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Genband, a U.S. maker of software for telecoms and cable TV operators, aims to revolutionizes phone-based customer services by ending consumer frustration at being kept on hold in a seemingly endless loop of recorded options messages.
The Texas-based company, majority owned by JPMorgan's One Equity Partners, paid $50 million in 2013 to acquire Israeli start-up Fring, an Internet-based mobile service seeking to transform the way customer calls are handled.
Fring's technology has been used to build a platform that allows users to communicate with businesses in real time, using voice, video or screen-sharing. For example, an online customer could call a bank direct from its website and the answering agent would know who the customer is and what he or she is viewing on-screen.
This type of communication has been associated mainly with online gaming but can now provide a more immediate way of connecting customers and businesses.
As smartphone use continues to increase, analysts expect such advances to bring about a fundamental change to customer services, developing into a multibillion-dollar sector.
"This is where we think the future of the company lies," said David Walsh, the chief executive of Genband, which has annual revenue of about $1 billion. "This project is going to be our fastest-growing product line."
The new communications platform, called Kandy, was launched last year and has already been adopted by France's Bouygues and German software maker SAP.
Fring's workforce in Israel has tripled to about 50 employees and Genband says it has signed a contract with China's Snail Games to allow its 100 million subscribers to connect within online games. The deal is worth tens of millions of dollars, an industry source said.
As well as providing an interactive service, Genband says the Kandy system drives down costs by helping customers more quickly. Walsh expects most business-related websites eventually to have real-time communication embedded on their home pages.
Analysts agree. Daniel Ives, of FBR Capital Markets in New York, predicts the blossoming of a multibillion-dollar sector over the coming three years.
"Real-time communication has become a focus of customer-facing organizations to get a comprehensive view of a given customer," he said. "Speed and accuracy are integral, opening up a fertile market opportunity for vendors in this area."
Kandy's clients pay for usage based on the amount of traffic managed. This can be measured by the number of users, gigabytes of data handled or the total number of minutes online.
For the time being, the main competition is San Francisco-based Twilio, which focuses on website developers, but Genband's Walsh is already looking beyond websites.
"Cars and TV are part of our vision," he said. "Any device that is connected to the Internet and needs real-time communication."
(Editing by David Goodman)