BT Launches Web Communications Hub
BT Contact, still in beta testing, is a free Web-based service that enables users to aggregate contact information from existing sources, and then use that contact directory to launch a VOIP call, instant messaging (IM) session, SMS text message, or email. The carrier says it will work on PCs and, eventually, mobile devices, and across any network connection, fixed or mobile. Also, BT Contact isn't limited to BT customers.
The operator revealed its plans here at the Light Reading Live! "New Telco: Europe 2006" event, where Stephen Stokols, director of strategy at BT Retail, told the audience of more than 150 service providers and enterprises that BT has embraced the concept of software-based, rather than network-based, services.
Michel Burger, CTO of Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s Communications Group, and a keynote speaker at the London event, told LRTV that this kind of offering is exactly what carriers should be doing. "They ignored the Web," but they can't ignore Web-based services, said Burger, because they directly compete with the carrier's own network-based offerings.
"It's pretty awesome, and they're doing it for free," says Gabriel Brown, chief analyst for Light Reading's Insider report service. "They're punting it out there to see how it goes. Telcos don't normally do stuff like that. The general concept is good, but initially it's just a PC-based service. The sooner this gets on mobile the better."
The service also enhances Web searches by not only delivering search results, but offering a click-to-call or click-to-email capability alongside any results that are businesses. For example, if someone is searching for a local sports center, the ability to call that center would come up with the result and the user would be able to save the contact details into their contact list.
The two great differences for BT with this service is that it's not subscription-based and it also deploys third-party services and applications. For example, if a user prefers to use Skype Ltd. for his or her VOIP services, then launching a VOIP call would launch a Skype session.
"People are transitioning to services such as VOIP, IM, and other such Comms 2.0 services," noted Stokols. "BT doesn't have a significant position in Comms 2.0 at the moment, but a window still exists for us to build that position because we have the brand recognition and an installed base of 18 million households. Most of the mass market has yet to migrate to Comms 2.0."
So how will BT make money from this personal communications hub? "This is all about getting as many people as possible to use the service, and then maybe we can make some advertising dollars from it," said Stokols.
— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading