Vonage watch out! T-Mobile Extends Cellphone Service to Home Phones

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T-Mobile USA has launched a wired phone service for $10 a month, plus taxes and fees, to its wireless subscribers in the Seattle and Dallas-Fort Worth areas. The service, called “Talk Forever Home Phone”, comes with unlimited local and domestic long distance calls. This is a VoIP service that runs over a broadband connection, and in that sense, it is similar to VoIP offerings from the likes of Vonage. Talk Forever Home Phone will likely be available nationally in a few months. It works via a special Wi-Fi wireless router that you must buy, with a two-year contract, for a $50 one-time fee . The router has two phone jacks to connect 2 standard corded or cordless phones.

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Price plan is no Game Winner

Verizon Wireless introduced an unlimited calling plan for $99.99 a month on last week. Verizon Wireless is the first major carrier to make an “unlimited” plan available nationwide with no domestic roaming or long-distance fees. At that time, it must have seemed like a good plan to upsell subscribers to “move up” to the unlimited level, including possibly getting new customers from the other cellular carriers, and to create some extra ‘buzz’.

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India to become the 2nd largest cellular market in 2008

The cellular market in India is growing rapidly. In 2007 alone the Indian cellular added more than 80 million cellular subscriptions. By end of 2008, India will have more than 300 million cellular customers, according to estimates by Wireless Intelligence. In comparison, the USA is expected to have 270 million customers by the end of 2008. At this level,

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AT&T to complete high-speed 3G wireless network buildout by 2009

AT&T Mobility says it will step up its 3G buildout, expanding its high-speed mobile service to more than 80 additional cities in 2008. The planned expansion will provide AT&T 3rd generation (3G) high-speed data services to nearly 350 leading U.S. markets by the end of 2008, including all of the top 100 U.S. cities. The initiative will entail rolling out 1,500+ additional cell sites in the U.S. The AT&T 3G network now delivers downlink (download) speeds between 600 and 1,400 Kilobits per second (Kbps) and uplink (upload) speeds between 500 and 800 Kbps.

AT&T also plans to complete the deployment of High Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) by the middle of 2008. HSUPA provides higher uplink speeds and is the next step in the evolution of AT&T’s 3G network that will the transition to High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) standards. With this change, AT&T will catch up to Verizon and Sprint in terms of high speed wireless coverage. In fact, AT&T may even have faster uploads with HSUPA than Verizon or Sprint has with their EV-DO Rev A network.

Currently, there are multiple 3G technologies used by different wireless carriers in the U.S. AT&T uses HSPA that is based on W-CDMA technology, while Verizon, Sprint, Alltel, and U.S. Cellular, use CDMA2000 1xEV-DO technology. Sprint is also building another high-speed wireless network based on WiMAX, which was recently classified as a 3G technology. For 4th generation (4G) services, AT&T will use a technology named Long Term Evolution (LTE), a 4th generation technology that is still in the ‘development’ stage. Verizon too has announced that it will use LTE as its 4G technology, which will align it closely with its half-parent Vodafone, which mainly operates in Europe and Asia.

Will Comcast be able to stop Online Movie downloading in its tracks

Amazon has the Amazon Unbox on Tivo service, and both Netflix and Apple recently announced online movie rental services, and eventually you will be able to see Joost and Babelgum programs on TV. All this point to a market crowded with new ways to get movies fast and cheap over the Internet

Naturally, the incumbents – cable TV providers such as Comcast that deliver movies and TV programming over cable and satellite systems risk getting swept aside. Comcast is not waiting like a sitting duck. In early January, Comcast, the largest cable MSO in the U.S., announced Project Infinity to upgrade of its video-on-demand offerings and boosts the number of on-demand movies from 1,300 a month to 6,000. The cable operator says its video-on-demand services account for roughly 275 million viewings a month.

What Comcast has done to expand its movies-on-demand offering is to leverage its existing deals with Time Warner’s HBO, CBS’s Showtime, and Liberty Media Corp.’s Starz, something most others will find hard to do immediately.

At the same time, Comcast also announced the launch of Fancast, an online service at fancast.com [http://www.fancast.com] where subscribers can watch more streaming videos of TV shows from the likes of CBS and Fox and also use the site to order videos, get iTunes downloads, and program their digital video recorders to record TV shows while away from home. Comcast also plans to offer the service to other cable operators, making money from advertising and affiliate fees from DVD or download sales.

In the voice telephony world Comcast and others Cable providers are successfully taking on both VoIP providers such as Vonage and telephone companies such as at&t. In similar fashion, Comcast has a strategy to ward off anyone in the Movie and TV programming space. Comcast will not be able to stop Apple, Amazon, and Netflix completely, but will make a big enough dent in their profit plans.

Charter Communications: Honey, I deleted your mailbox!

A software error during routine maintenance at Charter Communications has resulted in the permanent deletion of 14,000 customer e-mail accounts. All contents in these email accounts, including messages, photos and other attachments have been erased and there is no way to retrieve contents from any folder.

Charter Communications is large cable TV operator in the U.S., and also provides telephone and high-speed Internet service. Charter provides service in 29 states and has about 2.6 million high-speed Internet subscribers. Charter gives each new Internet user a free e-mail account, but some customers opt to use other accounts instead. So every three months the company deletes inactive accounts. This gaffe apparently happened during one of those moments. Affected customers are not from a specific geographic area, but are from different parts of the Charter’s service areas. Charter will give a $50 credit to each customer affected by this “Oops” and is taking steps to make sure it never happens again. They Better!!!

Hopefully, Charter’s customer agreement has clauses freeing Charter from damages from lost email – such as lost business – otherwise, they’ll be in a lot more trouble if a customer sues Charter for loss of an important document – after all, people are known to use emails as a document repository of sorts.

I for one don’t use accounts from service providers because I don’t want to have an email associated with a specific service provider, don’t know when I might change my service provider, don’t want to take a chance with the service provider interrupting service for non-payment of bills and then deletes the email account, and mostly because there are better known email services around (think Yahoo!, Gmail, MSN Mail, etc).

Frankly, I’m surprised that the email boxes were not backed up! A good lesson for CIOs!

PrivatePhone to shutdown

netzero_logo.gif  Netzero has decided to shut down its PrivatePhone service on February 19, 2008. Subscribers of Netzero’s PrivatePhone can keep their number by transferring the service to Packet8. Netzero has worked out a deal with Packet8 to transfer existing PrivatePhone numbers to Packet8 at a special price.

What is PrivatePhone? PrivatePhone is a free phone numbers with voicemail – in other words, a free voicemail service where all incoming calls are diverted to a voicemail number. The customer is notified of voicemail via email or SMS/text. Customers can check voicemail via the web or by calling the PrivatePhone number from any phone. Each customer can store up to 10,000 voicemails.

PrivatePhone was billed as “Just a life-changing social tool and revolutionary movement all rolled up into one”. The proposition being that it is another number one could give out to for specific purposes (e.g. hotties, potential employers, etc). Netzero envisioned this as a social networking opportunity, thinking that people would leave cool voicemail messages, which then could be embedded on a Myspace, mashed up with Gangsta rap, or do something ‘kewl’ in the social networking space.

It didn’t strike me as a valuable social networking concept and I always wondered how feasible this free voicemail service would be. The revenue model seems to be based on advertising and perhaps by selling people’s email addresses (??). Even though the website was supported by advertising, subscribers didn’t have to utilize the website, as they could simply check voicemail by phone. In fact, regular users would find it a lot more convenient to check voicemail by phone!

Hey, this was a free phone number and probably the main reason people signed up. So I doubt subscribers will migrate their phone number to Packet8 and convert it to a paid service. That’s one of the pitfalls of offering free service – once you offer something for free, it’s very hard to charge for it. Of course, in this case, Packet8 service offers a lot more than a phone number with voicemail.

Comcast to set blazing Internet speeds, but is it a double-edged sword?

comcast_logo.gifComcast in 2008 will offer High Speed Internet with speeds as fast as 160 megabits per second, which is a massive increase from its current maximum of 16 mbps. This is in many ways in response to competition from local telco’s such as AT&T and Verizon that are provide high speed Internet access over fiber optic networks. Of course, neither AT&T’s U-verse nor Verizon’s Fios has announced such high speed Internet offerings yet, but they certainly can have the capability to do so (Note: Verizon provides fiber optic all the way to the home, called Fiber-To-The-Home or FTTH, but AT&T and cable companies don’t), and it is this potential threat that is driving cable companies such as Comcast to one-up local telcos.

According to Comcast, this will allow a customer to “download a two hour-plus movie in high-definition in three minutes and 56 seconds”. No pricing has been announced yet. It might cost a pretty penny initially, with prices likely to fall once competitors start offering comparable download speeds.

Providing higher Internet speeds should be a boon for Comcast’s Internet business because it will help attract and keep customers that use high bandwidth servies such as gaming, video & music streaming and downloading, and Peer-to-Peer (P2P) applications extensively. However, this is a double-edged sword: Higher Internet speeds will fuel online movie and TV program downloads and streaming to a customers set-top box or TV from the Internet in a flash. This would be a great opportunity for companies like Netflix, which recently announced a deal with LG Electronics to develop a set-top box that can download movies and TV programs from Netflix over the Internet, and Amazon, whose Unbox service already sells movies to be downloaded to a Tivo. Apple with AppleTV, Moxi, Sling Media and others are also in the same arena.

Offering blazing Internet speeds will be great for Comcast in the short term, and Comcast will expand its Video on Demand service to counter the threat from the likes of Netflix, Amazon UnBox, and AppleTV, but in the long term this could very well be a double-edged sword that promotes online movie downloads and dampen interest in Comcast’s own Video on Demand service.

Finally a patent settlement where Vonage doesn’t shell out money

vonage_logo.gifIn the short history of Vonage, 2007 is the year when Vonage ended up losing four patent suits, and in each case, having to pay huge sums of money. Vonage has pay AT&T $39 million, Sprint Nextel (S) $80 million, and Verizon Communications (VZ) $120 million to settle patent infringement lawsuits.

However, Vonage’s patent dispute with Nortel Networks has a less-bitter ending for Vonage – the settlement allows for cross-licensing of each companies’ patents, but does not involve any payments by either company. These patents are related to making emergency calls and dialing 411. Vonage was dragged into this legal battle with Nortel when it acquired three patents from Digital Packet Licensing (DPL) in 2006. DPL had filed a patent infringement case against Nortel in 2004 alleging violation of those three patents, so Vonage continued with the lawsuit. Nortel countersued, claiming that Vonage violated 13 of Nortel’s patents, and asked that Vonage be kept from using the technology. The settlement is subject to final documentation.

Om thinks that Vonage’s problem is playing the cheap voice game, but Vonage’s primary risk is not cost management (OK marketing/advertising costs has always been an issue), but that Vonage has no Intellectual Property protection. So far mainly the service providers have filed patent infringement lawsuits, but there are many equipment vendors and with many VoIP patents (much like Nortel) who could go after Vonage. Vonage still has many challenges ahead of it, but this settlement gives it yet another breather.

Startup Ribbit finally comes out

ribbit_logo.jpgBack in July of last year, I wrote about Silicon Valley startup Ribbit when it was a yet another startup in stealth mode, surmising that Ribbit is a softswitch-based VoIP telephony service that is accessible from a browser via a Flash application. Well, Ribbit has “come out” – and announced that its new platform is expected to go on sale in the first quarter of 2008. And this prediction turns out to be correct, but there’s a little bit more to Ribbit than just a Flash application.

The technology is designed to work through virtually any Flash-enabled browser and from any mobile phone or fixed location with an Internet connection, meaning that Ribbit is not limited to a particular device. For example, calls placed on mobile phones can be answered via a Flash widget on a Web browser, on a regular phone, on a VoIP client, or through a desktop widget. Ribbit’s platform will even transcribe user voice mail into text messages (another also ran). And it will offer support for existing Web-based voice services, such as Google Talk, MSN, and Skype.

Basically, Ribbit is trying to make voice easy-to-use by untangling voice from the regular (POTS) phone and alleviating the need to download a client. However, this is not new because Jaxtr, Skype, and others are also trying to achieve that.

What’s interesting is that Ribbit is integrating with other applications – One example is the Ribbit for Sales force workflow integration application, which will enable mobile calls, voice messages, and text transcriptions to flow right into Salesforce.com’s CRM environment on the Web. Ribbit will provide third-party partners and application developers tools for integrating voice into their applications using Adobe’s Flash and Flex tools.

Overall, Ribbit is taking the right approach of integrating with other applications – but this is nothing new. For example, Microsoft is also building voice and ‘Unified Communications’ into applications such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, although Microsoft OCS (Office Communication Server) is mostly geared towards business customers

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Ribbit claims to be “Silicon Valley’s First Phone Company”, but there are others such as Ooma, which are also phone companies because they provide call switching. Most importantly, Ribbit is trying to package this as something new – this is nothing but a marketing tactic and smart people will recognize that Ribbit is just one of many in this space.