Comcast, Microsoft Get Down to (Small) Business

Although Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) has failed miserably in getting its software into Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) set-tops, it has apparently fared much better with a software bundle that the MSO will tap into to support its budding small- and medium-sized business services strategy.

On Tuesday, Comcast said it would bundle in special "corporate-grade" collaboration software and applications from Microsoft for email, calendaring, and document sharing. (See Comcast, Microsoft Team.)

The MSO will offer those Microsoft Communication Services -- based on Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, and Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 -- to its business-class, high-speed Internet subscribers for no extra fee, noting that such an offering is typically available only to larger companies with IT staffs or can be cost-prohibitive for smaller businesses to launch and maintain. Comcast noted that most of its small-business customers use stand-alone Microsoft products. Comcast, which will deliver those apps via the Internet, will also serve as the business customer's "help desk."

The deployment of a software bundle as a product differentiator comes as Comcast looks to commercial services as a new revenue stream, and as it, and other MSOs, continue to shed basic video subs. (See Comcast's Record Quarter.)

In 2006, Comcast hired former Cox Business Services guru Bill Stemper to preside over its new commercial services unit, which, today, is going after shops with fewer than 20 employees. The third quarter of 2007 marked the first in which total commercial revenue from Comcast surpassed the $100 million mark.

"Our commercial business is starting to kick into gear," Comcast Cable president Steve Burke said late last month during the MSO's third-quarter conference call with reporters and analysts. He said Comcast has hired and trained 750 sales people for the business product and has trained 1,200 technicians to install business services.

On the high-speed Internet front, Comcast markets three "Business Class" tiers: Enhanced, Standard, and Lite. The top-end, Enhanced tier offers speeds of 8 Mbit/s downstream and 1 Mbit/s upstream, with eight Microsoft mailboxes. Standard offers 6 Mbit/s down, 768 kbit/s up, and four mailboxes, while Lite delivers 4 Mbit/s down, 384 kbit/s up, and two mailboxes. Additional mailboxes run $3.99 per month.

A Comcast business customer that takes the Standard tier with a total of six mailboxes would pay an average of $102.98 per month, according to a company spokeswoman.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to The Future of Cable Business Services, a conference that will explore the swiftly expanding U.S. business services market. To be staged in New York City, December 6, admission is free for attendees meeting our prequalification criteria. For more information, or to register, click here.

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