Doug on IP Comm – An independent voice on VoIP, telecom, and IP Communication

Posts Tagged ‘consumer VoIP

Someone stumbled across Comcast’s quiet rollout of “HomePoint” service in Florida at the end of last week, but the cable company is making up for a soft rollout with a launch of a marketing campaign in Denver today (Monday, October 12).  Comcast plans to roll out the service to other markets in the months to come.

Most wonks looking at this seem to be going ga-ga at the simple expedient of deploying a combination of router and cable modem — can we say “yawn” here? — and missing the point that the HomePoint phone runs DECT 6.0 and has the Casabi service embedded in it.

Casabi is a client/server technology that puts a SIP client with a “lite” web browser directly on the phone so you can do very simple things like download ticker updates on things like news, sports, and the weather straight to the phone, as well as read email and do other interesting tricks.

A Comcast spokesperson said HomePoint would support SMS text messaging down the road, so a home user could get texted; the feature isn’t currently available.

Interestingly, Thomson previously said it was planning to roll out “Advanced Cable Gateway” to Comcast in the third quarter of this year.

Does this gear support HD Voice? Welll, the ACG supports DECT 6.0, but there’s no explicit naming of CAT-iq. Nor is there any reference to G.722 codec support.  At this point, it is not clear if HD voice will be embedded in the second generation of ACGs Thomson is working on and/or if HD voice will be available through existing hardware as a firmware upgrade to the ACG and handsets.   Comcast is being nice enough to look into some HD-specific questions I lobbed onto them today, so stay tuned.

There’s been a slew of announcements fluffing a second wave of anonymous-style phone calling via the web. Nobody made money on the first wave, so I’m not sure where the beef, er, green is the second time around.

Three and four years ago, it was all the rage to A) Give away free phone numbers for web usage and B) Provide anonymous phone calling between two parties over the web.   Two and three years ago,  smaller companies went into the tank while larger companies just ditched the idea of “free.”

Digitrad, making a big push at DEMOfall ’09, seems to be the latest of the guys marching down the old trampled path to doom, offering up a free “multimedia” phone number, a .tel domain name and “free call forwarding” and a flat fee to “free” dialing to locations around the globe.

If your business model is JUST providing voice via the browser, I can kinda sorta get it.  C2Call (www.c2call.com) has got a Friendcaller.com app, but then it slips into the “Gee, you can also call phone number for only pennies (well, Euros) per minute” mode… which didn’t end well for very many of the Telecom 2.0/Phone 2.0 wave…

Vivox may have the most interesting play in the space, just having announced its beta launch in Facebook and using a wideband (but not G.722) codec for all of its logged minutes on SecondLife and multi-player games where part of the fun is talking smack in real-time.

Hmm, I’d love to leave short voice messages to certain people in “Mafia Wars”…

Running around last week, I didn’t have a chance to post anything about Vonage’s unlimited flat-rate calling plan and the throw-in of unlimited “readable” voice mail.  So I’m playing catchup and Vonage is playing catch-up.

The “Vonage World” plan provides unlimited calling around the world to more than 60 countries, including India, Mexico and China under the current flat monthly rate of $24.99.  It is interesting that this is happening at the same time where GigaOm is reporting that Skype is going to hike its connection fees for its “non-global” countries from 3.9 cents per call to 7.9 cents — but not the per minute calls. (PS: Om, if 6 cents per call is going to discomfort you from calling your mom on the weekends, you are one cheap bastard…it is SIX CENTS P-E-R call. How many times are you calling mom, dude? Let’s see, at 10 times per month, that’s 60 cents.) *ahem*

The Visual Voicemail service will provide unlimited readable voicemail delivered via either email or SMS text message. It’s cool, if I was starting from scratch I might be tempted, especially if/when (third quarter, where is it) the mobile client for smart phones comes out.

Vonage is rolling out new products; yes this is Good for the company.  But are all these new products too late to stop the bleeding of its customer base?  Third quarter and fourth quarter numbers are going to be very interesting.

Competitors for vanilla voice are numerous. You figure all the cheapskates (see above), have migrated to Skype and other soft-client alternatives.  Impulse buyers and “What do I get <fill-in-loved-one>?” and tech geeks will be tempted by ooma’s telo product at Best Buy and Radio Shack.    Cable has been pounding away with triple play bundles and phone companies are matching them.

I’ll give the current executive management at Vonage credit — they have got the company moving, and they’re prepared to go down swinging.  But the squeeze in churn is on, bunkies…

I’ve been spending the last day staring at the ocean and pondering what the latest financials for Vonage really mean.  Is the glass half empty or half full?

The half-empty argument is pretty straightforward and buried at the end of the company’s rah-rah “We’re in the black” verbiage. Vonage lost a net 89,000 subscribers last quarter, which is chump change with around 2.5 million subscribers on the books, but the company’s run rate in adding subs has slowed for a while, then went red last quarter with a  net loss of 6,000 subs.

For a while, Vonage was parroting the “When the economy is bad, we’ll gain because we’re a cheaper alternative to domestic phone service” babble, but the trend line for new subs is downward trending. Time to face facts: The very cheap are going to MagicJack and the thrifty-minded are taking advantage of triple-play bundling by telcos and cable companies.

Add onto this problem #2: Vonage’s monthly churn rate has risen from 3.1 percent per month to 3.2 percent.  No matter how you slice it, Vonage has been around the 3 percent range for churn, so this is an ongoing problem that they haven’t managed to manage yet.

Finally, we come to chronic problem #2: cost of customer acquisition.  This quarter, Vonage spent a whopping $363 per signed customer, a number that has gone UP  both from the last quarter and on a year-to-year basis. This time last year, Vonage spent $283 per customer, while last quarter the company “only” spent $290.

Double-wammie here is that market expense was down $14 million from the first quarter as Vonage “eliminated redundant spending, offset costs for prior period promotions and transitioned to a new marketing campaign.”  Sooo, they cut their marketing expenditures and raked in fewer customers per dollar spent — it ain’t pretty.

For the price of of what Vonage spent to acquire new customers, ooma would have given each customer new phone hardware, five years of phone service — and still have around $113 or so left over at list price (plus $20 more for the sale this week as ooma unloads generation 1 hardware).

Balance that against the half-full argument – record earnings of $31 million, making the seventh consecutive quarter of positive and increasing adjusted EBITDA.  There’s a bunch of new (for Vonage) products in the pipeline to leverage its existing customer bases, with plays in the mobile and international markets. Vonage also believes that its new marketing campaign will drive more customers…. we’ll see. It also has lowered its total cost in delivering phone service, but the costs per line are up about 9 cents. (Multiply by 2.5 million to figure out the real money).

Vonage has a long way to go before it breaks out the champagne.

I had two separate calls today, each with its own unique high-touch component.

On the first call, I logged into the weekly VoIP User’s conference session using ZipDX and G.722.  Featured speaker was Anthony Stankus, Gigaset Communications product manager for North America — needless to say, he was drinking his own champaigne by using a Gigaset phone.   There were somewhere between 20 to 30 people on the call listening and asking questions — and you could tell who was using G.722 and who was using G.711 (John Todd).

Maybe the contrast between the two codecs on a conference call is what people need to get that “Ah ha” moment and realize life is indeed better with HD voice and wideband codecs.

Anthony has an uphill battle getting Gigaset phones proliferated through the big box stores and the SOHO community, but he’s got a great product at an attractive price relative to the rest of the market.

My second call of the day was with author Austin Bay — well, he describes himself as “Author and syndicated columnist. Soldier, developmental aid advocate, war game designer, lecturer, and radio commentator.” The two of us have never met face-to-face, but we’ve been long-time sparring partners on a mailing list or two.

To borrow a phrase from In Living Color, “Him got 27 jobs, Mon!”

Austin and I did an experimental/experiential video call with ooVoo video software.  Bay has used the software to have interactive video chats with his buds at Pajamas TV, with the net results reprocessed into news clips.  Austin wants to get some of the video artifacts out of his rig and I wanted to see it in action.

Austin was using a MacBook and I was on my Acer Aspire One using its embedded webcam and mic. We seemed to get about the same results, but I was “bad” and didn’t use a headset as recommended by ooVoo; didn’t seem to bother Austin any.   I had some white-wash in the background, but I’ve got a skylight behind me, so there’s a lot of natural sunlight that I’d have to adjust for if I was trying do this on a regular basis for publication.

From a working perspective, the only annoyance was Austin and I sometimes talking over each other due to a slight network time lag. He would start and I would start up at the same time with our yadda-yadda.

Without going into details, Austin is getting back into the saddle after a couple of surgeries.  I’m kinda frightened to think what he’s like at 100 percent and medication free, because he was full of enthusiasm and pep from his den in Austin, Texas.

Enterprise VoIP Planet is reporting a jaw-dropper.  The magicJack guys are saying that they are making a femtocell-esque version of the magicJack device. For a few dollars more, magicJack will supposedly offer a USB device that will latch onto your cell phone signal and redirect an outbound call from a phone into the magicJack network.  If someone calls in on a magicJack number, it’ll ring the cell phone.”

The story quotes Stratus Telecommunications CEO Nathan Franzmeier, with Stratus described as a “sister company” of magicJack.  Franzmeier reported says “we may have to have relationship with a carrier in the U.S.”

NOW, if femtoJack is to use licensed frequencies to bypass the billable-cellular network, I would strongly think that the U.S. carrier that paid for those licenses is going to raise all kinds of hell…assuming femtoJack wants to play on those bands.  Plus if such device was to be sold in the U.S., it would have to get FCC approval.

ON THE OTHER HAND, if femtoJack just happens to use vanilla WiFi and you route everything over Wi-Fi, that’s a different story.  The story is pretty vague on what band or bands femtoJack would play on but implies the device would be legal in a lot of countries.

The Business Insider is reporting magicJack expect to pull $100 million in sales this year and is cash-flow positive.  Claims like this from a privately-held company scare me, especially since the company got hit by PC Magazine for poor customer support and the Boston Globe ran into installation and tech support headaches.

Over at TMCNet, Gary Kim has unearthed survey data generated by Alcatel-Lucent on global consumer telecommunications spending in these tight times.  People are cutting, but they’re going to keep VoIP and multi-channel video services (i.e. TV) pretty much the same.

Getting chopped are pay-per-view movies downloaded from the Internet and mobile data service. Customers plan to reduce spending on network based services if the economy – i.e. their pocketbooks – doesn’t get better, moving from fee-based services to free alternatives.  People will also shift from wireless voice to using email and text messaging to save pennies and dollars. Pre-paid voice and bundled service packs offering discounts get a thumbs up over post-paid plans.

Mixed results when the economy improves: 29 percent of consumers will increase their spending on network-based services while 13 percent will tighten their belts regardless.


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