Top Ten Best New Services
Welcome to Light Reading's Best New Services list – our fun-filled, action-packed, hyphenated-wordly way of helping you stay on top of what communications services are new, innovative, and just plain cool in the world of carriers, cable companies, Internet firms, and other concerns.
This list has very few rules. And even fewer people following the few rules that are in place.
We've endeavored to include only services that are (1) currently available and (2) less than six months old. And each service has to demonstrate a cutting-edge technology, a mass-market phenomenon, or it must in some way illustrate how a particular segment of the carrier landscape is forever changing.
With that said, feel free to let us hear about our hits and misses by sending a note to [email protected]. Now, please put your cellphone and your mind on "vibrate mode" and enjoy Light Reading's Best New Services.
1. Cingular BroadbandConnect 3G Service
In December, Cingular Wireless launched its highest-speed data network service in 16 major U.S. cities. Based on HSDPA (high-speed download packet access), the BroadbandConnect service provides average throughput rates of 400 kbit/s to 700 kbit/s, with bursts of up to 1 Mbit/s. [Ed. note: Mmmmm… Bursty!] BroadbandConnect supports voice and data simultaneously, and the speeds are on a par with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s and Verizon Wireless 's EV-DO networks.
The service has a big footprint now, and it should be available in most major markets by the end of 2006. Of course, Cingular must still deal with merging its legacy networks with those of AT&T Wireless, which Cingular bought in 2004. The company has merged its networks in only 38 of its 63 markets. But even with possible rollout delays, a major mass-market 3G service definitely qualifies as a hot item. (See Cingular's Got Big FMC Plans.)
2. Yahoo's Phone Out and Phone In
Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) launched its paid PC-to-phone VOIP service in March, giving the world yet another reason not to use landline phones for every single call. But to heck with the old telcos – Yahoo really wants to be closer to Skype (now owned by eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY)). (See Yahoo Launches VOIP Service.) Skype's services have been around a lot longer, but Yahoo voice product manager Jeff Bonforte believes his company’s service, embedded inside its popular Yahoo Messenger IM client, will catch up and even overtake Skype. Well, them's fightin' words, ain't they, hoss?
3. BT Fusion for Business
In February, BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) became perhaps the first major carrier to deliver on the promise of "dualmode" phone service. And we don't mean dualmode as in "on" and "off." The carrier's new BT Fusion service allows enterprise users to switch from cellular service to the broadband voice service when they come in range of the office LAN. BT says that calls made inside the office come at half the price, and that, in fact, 22 percent of cell phone calls are made inside the office anyway. (See BT Offers Fusion to Businesses.) Calls made in the office are routed over a business BT Broadband connection via a BT Hub, the company says. BT doesn't have its own mobile network, so it resells Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) connections. Well, no one's perfect, are they?
4. Verizon's V Cast
In January, Verizon Wireless laid claim to the "nation's first 3G wireless broadband multimedia service for consumers." We're inclined to agree. And what's especially great about V Cast is that it gives consumers access to 3D games, music, and videos without requiring a PC or any other kind of bulky appliance, though V Cast can send songs to your PC and phone at the same time. (See Verizon Gives Update.) Will it send your MP3 player to an early iGrave? Well, we won't go that far. But the leap to making a cell phone a true entertainment device is one worth taking – and Verizon's getting a running start.
5. Sling Media's SlingPlayer Mobile
In March, Sling Media Inc. jumped out in front of the mobile video craze by enabling owners of its Slingbox device to send the TV services they pay for so dearly at home to their cell phones and PDAs. (See Sling Media: We're Good for Cable.) The SlingPlayer Mobile software is available for free today, and Sling says the uptake has been substantial so far. Why buy specialized mobile content when you can just plain watch your own TV?
6. Time Warner Cable's Start Over
The video time-shifting craze has taken a cool twist with Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC)'s Start Over service. The service allows Time Warner cable viewers to pause shows for up to five minutes, to rewind the shows, and to restart live TV shows any time during their normal run. No fancy hardware required. No TiVo subscription needed. Just hit a button and let the network do all the work. The catch? You can't fast-forward through commercials. Well, we didn't say it was perfect. (See Cable CTOs Tee Off on Telco TV.) But it is popular. Time Warner Cable says that around 137,000 customers in South Carolina are using the service now, and the operator plans to roll out the service in several other markets this year.
7. Akimbo for Microsoft Windows XP Media Center PCs
Broadband video service provider Akimbo Systems scored big late last year when it showed up as an integrated service within Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center PCs, the new "It Girl" of the home entertainment center world. Even more impressive, though, is that AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) will begin using Akimbo's service as an adjunct to the DISH Network satellite TV package it resells as part of its AT&T HomeZone bundles. It will launch late this summer. Akimbo launched in 2004 and has amassed more than 10,000 video titles of every classification and description. And its distribution scheme has given it an edge so far over competitors like Dave.tv . (See Akimbo Pairs With HDNet and Will Telcos Want Their Dave.tv?)
8. Carphone Free Broadband
Carphone Warehouse Group plc (London: CPW)'s wireless phone and broadband bundle signals the commoditization of broadband. The British mobile phone retailer is taking advantage of local loop unbundling to add an 8-Mbit/s broadband connection to its TalkTalk voice package at no extra charge. (See Carphone Teases Free B'band.) After a one-off connection fee, customers pay only for line rental and unlimited national and international calls – they then get the broadband for free. The move has shaken up the U.K. telecom market, and competitors are already trying to follow suit. (See Biscit Does Free Broadband.) Although the service won't be available until early July, Carphone had signed up 25,000 customers within the first 48 hours of announcing the package – five times the takeup it had expected.
9. Exponential-e Vaunts VPLS
With its new Layer 2 Ethernet wide-area network, this cheeky carrier is now offering Virtual Private LAN Services (VPLS) with service-aware quality of service (QOS) to medium and large enterprises across the U.K. The network was announced in January, and services are already available on it, even though Exponential-e Ltd. hasn't ramped up its marketing just yet. Specific applications coming down the pike include video surveillance, e-commerce applications, voice telephony, bandwidth on demand, and unified messaging, to name a few. (See Exponential-e Intros VPLS.)
MovieBeam Inc. 's in-home movie rental service uses National Datacast Inc. 's digital TV broadcast signals to broadcast movies directly to consumers who buy specially designed set-top boxes. This is incredibly cool, if only because it's a way for content providers to reach consumers without a traditional cable, satellite TV, or phone company network to reach its customers. MovieBeam sells its boxes through retail outlets pre-loaded with 100 movies and, thanks to its datacasting arrangement, it will add up to 40 new movies a month to the consumer devices. The venture is backed by The Walt Disney Co., Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), among others. (See MovieBeam Raises $48.5M.)
— The Staff, Light Reading