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BT guns for Android and Skype with Ribbit buy

In the deal, announced Tuesday, BT has agreed to pay $105 million in cash for Ribbit, which bills itself as "Silicon Valley's first phone company."

BT has bought Internet telephony company Ribbit, in a move that will bring the communications giant up against competitors ranging from Skype to Google's Android platform.

In the deal, announced Tuesday, BT has agreed to pay $105 million (53 million pounds) in cash for Ribbit, which bills itself as "Silicon Valley's first phone company." Ribbit provides what it terms "an open platform"--not to be confused with an open-source platform--to developers, who can create Internet telephony applications and services around it.

"Silicon Valley is emerging as a hotbed of telecommunications innovation," said BT's managing director of service design, J.P. Rangaswami. "With Ribbit, not only do we extend our presence in (Silicon) Valley, but we also gain a ground-breaking platform, a growing community of developers and a world-class team that share a common vision."

Ribbit's technology brings together communications over mobile phones, landlines, desktop applications, and Internet applications. For example, the company's Amphibian application--which is yet to launch--lets voice mail be managed like e-mail on the desktop or phone, with audio messages transcribed into searchable text. Existing applications of Ribbit's technology have seen developers integrate voice into Salesforce.com and create voice applications to run within Facebook and iGoogle.

The company's multiprotocol soft switch, or software-based call-switching technology, can also handle calls from services such as Google Talk and Skype, a BT spokesperson told ZDNet.co.uk on Tuesday.

Ribbit's chief executive, Ted Griggs, said BT was "exactly the partner" his company had been seeking. "The communications industry is entering a new phase," he said in a statement. "Closed networks are becoming open platforms and developers are now driving innovation. By adding Ribbit's capability to the power of BT's global 21CN platform, we will now be able to give the development community the tools they need to innovate on a global scale."

The BT spokesperson told ZDNet.co.uk in an e-mail that the Ribbit acquisition would help BT "leapfrog competition and gain a strategic advantage in the Silicon Valley "telco 2.0" platform race, which includes Google Android and Apple's iPhone (software-development kit)". On the unified-communications side, the acquired technology should also pit BT against services such as Skype and Google's GrandCentral.

Ribbit, which was formed in February 2006, will retain its name and management team as it becomes part of BT. The Mountain View-based company's platform will be integrated into BT's existing web services, BT said in its statement.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.