VoIP And The Electric Toothbrush

This past weekend I went to the pharmacy because my youngest daughter Nicole needed diapers. Well that is sort of an excuse because I needed a slew of things as well. I didn’t make a list. I rarely do when going to the pharmacy. I prefer instead to meander aisle by aisle picking up all the items I have made a mental note to purchase.

At the end of one of the aisles, where pharmacy companies places the “impulse” items was a slew of really cool looking tooth brushes from Oral-B. The toothbrush type was the “Pulsar“ and it claimed to clean better than any battery operated or manual brush. There was no price on the toothbrush but there was a rack full of them leading me to believe they cost a few dollars or so. So I bought one.

I took it home and noticed as I started to brush that it was electric. I read on the package that a single Duracell battery in the brush and is not designed to be replaced. I flicked the switch and had perhaps one of the best brushing experiences ever.

I immediately thought of VoIP. Yes, you are probably thinking how could you think of VoIP when you brush your teeth? Well, as it turns out I wrote an article about an electric toothbrush and technology back in August of 1999. For whatever reason, I decided to go back to manual brushing a few years back.

In August of 1999 the world was a very different place. In my article was a reference to Nokia’s wireless PC cards that were the precursor to WiFi. In fact this same card was used by me at Internet Telephony Conference & Expo that same year as I did a live keynote demo of video over wireless LAN technology.

I held up a sub-notebook with the wireless card and told the audience that for the price of a wireless phone on a typical PBX – I had a wireless PBX extension with me on stage, you could have wireless videoconferencing using VoIP technology.

The point was that commoditization and standards are going to be the future of IP telephony and communications technology in general.

Getting back to the toothbrush… For about $5 you can get the experience of an electric toothbrush costing over $100. I didn’t do an official test but the Pulsar brush did as good a job as my electric toothbrush. Amazingly when you go to Oral-B’s website they list the toothbrush under manual, not electric. I had a tough time finding it. And I paid more than I thought I would but since it is an electric brush I feel like I got a good deal.

This whole experience reminded me of what is happening in telephony where the market is becoming commoditized. Just as technology is making tooth brushing less expensive with increases in quality, telephony too is getting cheaper by the day and customers are getting more features and options bundled into their service.

There is another trend to consider as well. Companies like Crest and Oral-B are getting into new markets by helping to commoditize the electric toothbrush market. This hybrid manual/electric brush is a category I never saw before. I recall Crest popularizing the inexpensive electric toothbrush a few years back and they too were able to use technology to get into new markets.

In the same way that Google can leverage search to get into e-mail and then IM and VoIP, companies like Crest are using the commoditized nature of tooth brushing coupled with a superior distribution channel to compete against entrenched toothbrush players.

What is the future of tooth brushing? Probably the same as VoIP. Companies will extend their dominant brands into the disposable electric market and consumers will get even more choices. They will also look for other revenue opportunities. While at the store, I picked up a large container of Crest’s New Pro Health Rinse. I like it a lot as well. It doesn’t have that alcohol taste you get with other products. Crest is extending and extending hoping to take more and more of your money through a variety of new products.

I see parallels to VoIP and communications in general. As VoIP is commoditized and new players come into the market, they must look to extend their brands further and look for new revenue opportunities.

But in the world of VoIP it is easy to extend brands and add new services. All you need to do is write the software as the internet is the distribution mechanism. When you look at the VoIP market from this perspective you realize how much of an advantage a company like Google and Yahoo! will have when trying to convert people to VoIP. If I can leave with a single closing thought it would be, If you are a small VoIP service provider, you better hurry up and differentiate yourself before the big guys start breathing down your necks with chronic halitosis.

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