Comcast 2.0

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Comcast 2.0

In December of 2004 I wrote an article titled VoIP 2.0 in Internet Telephony Magazine which focused in part on next generation devices VoIP service providers need to differentiate themselves.

Here is an excerpt from that article:

The Device Sells The Service

There are at last count over 100 VoIP service providers out there and counting. How will they differentiate themselves? Some will have the best user interface, price, quality of service, etc., but is that enough differentiation for hundreds of competitors that are effectively able to compete with one another globally? Carrier’s carriers like Level 3 and other new entrants to this market are going to be the backbone of the next generation of service provider making it easier than ever to compete in this market. The answer is simple. As VoIP becomes commoditized, many providers will look to Apple and copy the iPod model.

I am not talking about MP3 over IP. I am suggesting the development or rebranding of a device to lure customers into buying a service. When I look at my home wireless phone and compare it to my mobile phone I can’t believe they were both sold in the same century. Home phones do basically nothing, while today’s mobile phones can record calls, download and play music, boast speakerphone functionality, have built in SMS, IM and e-mail clients, can take and e-mail photos, videos, and voice messages, can operate in a walkie-talkie fashion, can support bluetooth, can be a PDA, can store thousands of contact records, can have memory expansion slots, can store appointments, a to-do list, and more. Surprisingly the prices for typical cordless phones and mobile phones aren't that different.

I believe that teenagers would give up their Xboxes this Christmas if they could buy a killer WiFi VoIP phone that let them talk for an unlimited amount of time, conference, IM, speakerphone, bluetooth, etc. I am just waiting for the brilliant service provider who brings it to market first.

Today I am happy to say that I have found the company who has come up with the killer VoIP device. It is Comcast, a cable company who is now ranked
4th in the United States in terms of providing phone service. Comcast has also released what they call an Enhanced Cordless Phone which is in a trial at the moment and will be rolled out in 2008.

What this phone does is exactly what I thought such a phone should do. It syncs with your online address book. It allows you to view and answer e-mail. It allows you to see your voicemails and listen to them in any order you choose. In other words the phone is much more like an iPhone or
Simulscribe-enabled device.

I had a chance to speak with Cathy Avgiris, SVP and GM of the Comcast Voice Services Group while she was at CES in Las Vegas and she beamed with enthusiasm on the phone. She told me the next version of this product will be more PDA-like. In addition, Comcast will be partnering with other phone makers besides Vtech who is their current manufacturer.

Google eat your heart out as the good news about this cordless phone is not over. It does search. It allows you to search for generic items in a  geographic area... For example, pizza near your zip code. It allows you to then call the resulting company(ies) or if you prefer, save them to your address book for that big game on the weekend.

Avgiris consistently reminded me that her company is looking to reshape the way consumers think about cell phone service and they are absolutely doing so. Many companies I speak with talk a big game but coming out with a new consumer electronics gadget is the exact way to gain share in the IP communications service market and Comcast should be commended for their efforts. This phone is just so sticky... It will be difficult for customers to switch carriers once they get hooked.

This new phone is the new baseline for all VoIP carriers.

In case you are curious, the company who makes the web software powering this phone is based in Silicon Valley and is named
Casabi.

Comcast is also up to other things such as soon to be providing universal Caller-ID service. For example while Cablevision has
Caller-ID which displays on the phone and TV, Comcast is looking to one-up others by also making Caller-ID information available on the computer screen. This will likely be accessible via the company's SmartZone Communications Center which is said to be very powerful and should behave a lot like Microsoft Outlook.

In addition, Comcast has worked with Plaxo to develop the SmartZone address book and one-click entry for new contacts.

I have to be quite honest with my readers... If I make a prediction and identify a need in the market and a few years later, a company comes along and actually fulfills this need, I will be happy and write good things. Comcast has done an excellent job by marrying their service with consumer electronics. This is very smart and while the first generation Vtech phone is not going to be confused as an iPhone, it is just a matter of time before the form factor gets better and better.

I am extremely enthused by all the things I am hearing from Comcast in the world of communications and they should be commended for their efforts.



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