Light Reading

Voice Apps, Video Not Wooing the Enterprise

Sarah Reedy
12/5/2013
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NEW YORK -- Future of Cable Business Services -- Today's voice services go far beyond POTS of the past, but enterprise customers don't seem to care all that much.

According to executives from Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and the VoIP provider Momentum Telecom, enterprise customers are not buying video services, and they aren't much interested in unified communications (UC) features like voicemail-to-email transcription, click-to-dial, or mobile apps. (See: Business Market Rediscovers Its Voice.)

Rather, reliability is still the top requirement. John Guillaume, vice president of product management and strategy at Comcast, said that customers are buying service from Comcast because of the value and ease of ownership through a self-managed web portal, not because of the bells and whistles. (See Comcast Plots National SIP Trunking in 2014.)

"We need to better educate customers about how to use this stuff," he said. "They aren't buying it for the features, but once you make customers aware and they start using them, you make a customer really sticky."

Anthony Orlando, vice president of operations and engineering at Momentum Telecom, said video is in that camp, too. The VoIP provider has deployed a video solution, and all its customers ask for it, but then no one buys it.

The same has proven true for Comcast. As Guillaume explains it, four or five of the 100 available features are most important to enterprises, but point-to-point video is not among them. Free services like Skype work well enough for most. "It's a check box, and customers will ask. It's important to win the business, but I don't see the opportunity there. It's a feature of an overall solution."

Voice is far from a new technology. The buzz around it has been all about the extra features and rich communications apps that new telephony services can bring. Orlando even admitted that voice alone is passé in a lot of respects, but Guillaume said that the enterprise market is a different beast that has been slow to change. "You can get the technology to work, but you can't get customers to adopt."

Even so, enterprise voice is now a growth segment and a revenue generator for Comcast, helping put it on track to generate nearly $3 billion in commercial services revenue for 2013. (See Heavy Reading: Cable Biz Sales to Hit $8.5B.)

And, despite their relative value, Comcast continues to add features to Business VoiceEdge, the hosted voice solution it launched last spring. The new features include a voicemail mobile app, teleworker functionality, and the ability to make high-definition video calls from the PC. (See: Comcast Takes Business Voice Mobile.)

"The features can help sell," Guillaume said. "There's a little sizzle, but in the end, when you boil it down, it's just the tremendous value you're giving the customer."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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albreznick
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albreznick,
User Rank: Blogger
12/10/2013 | 9:38:15 PM
Re: Video: give us something we won't use. if you don't, we won't use you!
So, like I said in another post, it mainly, if not entirely, comes down to price. Give it to me cheaper and I'll buy it from you. So much for innovation, eh?. 
albreznick
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albreznick,
User Rank: Blogger
12/10/2013 | 9:36:14 PM
Re: Cable's big secret
Yeah, kind of hard to believe, Dan, right? I think cable's big secret in the business voice services market is price, price, price. And maybe a little bit of flexibility.
albreznick
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albreznick,
User Rank: Blogger
12/10/2013 | 9:34:32 PM
Re: Advanced features required but unused
I agree with you there, Carol. But could this be a generational thing? When our kids come of age, will they view the good old desktop phone the same way as we do? Gee, I better quit now. I'm making myself feel too old.  
DOShea
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DOShea,
User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2013 | 9:22:15 PM
Cable's big secret
Cable's big secret to winning in the business market is voice reliability? That's a more boring answer than I would have hoped, and makes me wonder how they are proving they are more reliable in that department than other providers.
Kevin Mitchell
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Kevin Mitchell,
User Rank: Moderator
12/5/2013 | 9:01:47 AM
Video: give us something we won't use. if you don't, we won't use you!
Some comments here point to innovation creep that becomes "essential" to selection but used by a small percentage of users within an enterprise (and in turn a questionable ROI for providers and vendors).

Customers are shouting: "give us something we won't use; if you don't, we won't use you! We need it! We need it (at least on the feature list, but we THINK we might use it, but oh wait, it costs that....well, never mind, but thanks for building it)!"

I believe the desk phone going away will be SOME percent of a business, but never 100% and not likely to exceed 50% of employees this in the next 5 years.

For the vast majority of lines, the innovation in economics is more important to service providers as per-seat revenue is under pressure.
Carol Wilson
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Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2013 | 8:50:59 AM
Re: Advanced features required but unused
As someone who counts on the phone so much for work, I don't see my deskphone going away anytime soon, not that I don't love my iPhone. Two different communication tools that I used very differently.
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2013 | 8:39:58 AM
Re: Advanced features required but unused
Ah that makes sense: they want to know it's an option, even if they don't choose it.

The panel also brought up if the deskphone was going away, and the consensus was, no, becuase it's convenient for hands-free calling, the speakerphone, and what not. Someone suggested a docked iPhone could have the same effect, but I don't see that becoming the norm anytime soon either.
Carol Wilson
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Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2013 | 7:41:16 AM
Re: Advanced features required but unused
Traditionally, businesses have a lot of requirements - checkboxes to click -- because they want to keep their options open and they don't know what exactly they will need or want over the lifetime of a service or piece of  equipment. They don't typically decide they need to use something new like video because it gets cheaper - if there is a business need for video, they look for the most cost-effective solution.

But all the talk yesterday about companies not using advanced features just felt like deja vu all over again.
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2013 | 7:37:54 AM
Re: Advanced features required but unused
Someone made a good point on Twitter, specifically regarding video, asking if the cablecos price it unattractively and if a lower price service with guaranteed QOS might appeal more. I think that'd help, but the real reason is probably that they are just looking to do basic functions, and traditional means (regardless of how they are delivered) work well enough for that.
Carol Wilson
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Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2013 | 7:35:51 AM
Advanced features required but unused
Hmm, where have I heard this before? Businesses insist on having a range of advanced service options but then use the same small set of core features. Oh yeah, it was true 20 years ago in the PBX market. Some things never change.
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