Comcast Enhancing the Home Phone
Following trials in Miami and Jacksonville, Fla., Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is preparing the nationwide launch of an "enhanced cordless phone" that will marry its VoIP service with email, voice mail, light Web access, and a universal address book.
The product features (deep breath!) a new Docsis/PacketCable-powered embedded multimedia terminal adapter (E-MTA) that provides an IP-based digital interface to a DECT-based wireless handset. (Sigh!)
Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453) is supplying Comcast with the initial version, but "there will be other manufacturers," Comcast senior VP of voice services Cathy Avgiris told Cable Digital News last week. A Thomson spokesman says the vendor plans to sell the product, dubbed internally as the Advanced Cable Gateway, to MSOs other than Comcast.
As for Comcast's plans, the MSO will link the new phone kit with SmartZone, a "communications center" Comcast introduced about two years ago that provides cable modem subs with direct access to their email and voice mail messages, an instant messaging application, and an integrated address book. (See Comcast Gets the (Unified) Message .)
Comcast finished moving about 24.5 million mailboxes to the SmartZone platform about two weeks ago, though the service went down briefly late last week due to some "technical problems" with the SmartZone servers.
Avgiris said Comcast expects to integrate SmartZone with the MSO's WiMax service, which is slated for a mid-year launch in Portland, Ore. Comcast, one of the Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) investors, hasn't announced any further deployment plans involving WiMax. (See Comcast WiMaxes Portland and Cable Plays Clearwire Card.)
Portland is an obvious target market, but Comcast has not spelled out precisely where and when the enhanced cordless phone will be offered initially. Avgiris said the MSO anticipates marketing it to "triple-play" customers for an incremental cost of about $5 per month. That will cover the EMTA and one DECT handset. Customers can purchase additional phones directly from Comcast for about $35 each.
Comcast is also working on a new home handset with a full keypad. "It's a spec'd product," Avgiris said. There's no word yet whether a future EMTA/gateway will bake in a Femtocell, as well, but Comcast is eager to link the mini-base-station technology to its forthcoming WiMax offering. (See Comcast Goes for WiMax Femtocells.)
Avgiris said Comcast views the enhanced cordless phone product as a retention tool, and as a way to prevent some customers from snipping their landline phone services in favor of wireless. "It's like a digital video upgrade, but on the voice side," says Heavy Reading senior analyst Alan Breznick. "You get to keep the customers you have, and get more money from them."
The product may also help Comcast protect itself from other beefy kitchen phones that aim to enhance existing voice products. Of recent note is the Verizon Wireless "Hub," a broadband-fed home media unit that features a touch screen and bridges together the company's wired and wireless services. But that product, launched in February, isn't cheap. Verizon is charging $199.99, plus a $34.99 monthly service fee. (See Verizon's Home Hub-Bub (But No Femto) and 'Verizon Hub' Debuts Feb. 1.)
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News