AT&T Dismisses VoIP

I meet lots of companies that tell me they are in stealth mode. Generally speaking companies who believe they should run in stealth mode end up out of money and sold as distressed assets. Sometimes these corporations do get purchased at great multiples because they have great technology. But generally stealth mode means no customers means no future. Funny thing about customers – they can’t see stealth products.

What I have never seen however is AT&T launching a division that starts with a massive splash and then ends up in stealth mode. Usually you start in stealth mode and slowly come out of it.

Truth be told, AT&T and other behemoth companies have so many products to sell they just can’t promote everything in their portfolio effectively… Even if they want to. But in this case AT&T doesn’t seem to want to promote CallVantage.

So I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find out accidentally that AT&T CallVantage has a softphone. They are years behind Vonage (by the way Tom’ Cancelling Vonage blog is still getting massive traffic) but still it was a necessity for them to come out with this product.

What is amazing is how low key this news has been. It came out September 12th and both TMCnet and the Voice over IP Weblog covered it. But years ago when AT&T CallVantage added support for a new area code the press and blogging world heard about it continuously.

AT&T seems to not care about the VoIP market or at least not CallVantage. That it how it appears from where I am standing. They seem to be going 100% to their fiber based solution called Project Lightspeed and CallVantage seems to just be something they have but don’t discuss much in public. Kind of like that one relative you have you really don’t want to be associated with. You know the one who can’t hold their liquor and once they do start drinking they start to blurt embarrassing stories about you. But I digress.

I guess it is enough work to be laying fiber around the states that you don’t have time to deal with marketing CallVantage at a price that could potentially lose the company money!

I say this as AT&T’s overhead is obviously massive and you need serious scale to make money from this product. If Vonage is hemorrhaging cash, could AT&T be doing any better? The last I heard their subscriber numbers were less than 100,000. It will be worth watching how AT&T treats CallVantage over time. Will there ever come a time where this product becomes important enough for them to lead with in their PR and other campaigns? Can it even last as a viable product without any attention?

Someone in the industry asked me recently why there is no strong competitor to Vonage – other than the cable companies. My answer was besides Packet8 that didn’t have the benefit of lots of cash to keep them going, other companies were probably stymied by AT&T’s entry into the market. Sure you have SunRocket and a few others but AT&T’s VoIP announcements may have really helped Vonage more than it hurt the New Jersey Based broadband phone company.

So if Lightspeed continues to be rolled out effectively, perhaps AT&T doesn’t need to worry about CallVantage and instead can focus on triple and quadruple play offerings. But this could be years away. In the mean time the cable companies and Vonage seem to have a major opportunity to gain share. And perhaps that is fine with AT&T as they have enough money to just buy the VoIP leader any time they want and the FCC wouldn’t even try and stop them.

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