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VoIP Pioneer Vonage Targets Canada


Vonage In Print News

Voip Pioneer Targets Canada: Vonage, The World's Leading Internet Telephony Service Provider, Is Poised To Shake Up The Market

November 23, 2004

By Mark Evans

If you were among the 500,000 people who attended the 100th annual Santa Claus parade in Toronto on Sunday, you might have wondered why a small squad of orange-clad scooter riders were hanging around Father Christmas.

His strange companions were from Vonage Holdings Corp., the world's leading Internet telephony service provider, which has unleashed an advertising blitz to mark its official launch into Canada. The four people riding futuristic Segway scooters were conducting some guerrilla marketing by handing out flyers that offered consumers a free month of service.

During the next two weeks, Vonage's scooter patrol -- accompanied by a hard-to-miss orange Hummer adorned with Vonage's corporate logo -- will be seen at a number of other events in Toronto such as the Tragically Hip and James Brown concerts.

With fewer than 25,000 Canadians using Internet telephony service, Vonage's aggressive marketing campaign, which includes print and Web advertising, is designed to attract attention to a service few people are aware of or understand, even though it has become much easier to use in the past year.

Brian Sharwood, an analyst with Seaboard Research, said Internet telephony -- otherwise known as Voice over Internet Protocol -- has not been marketed properly in Canada. As a result, it has largely remained a bastion of high-tech geeks rather than a mainstream service.

In time, he said, Internet telephony will thrive and be indistinguishable from traditional phone service because the technology behind it will become less of an issue.

There is a lot of buzz surrounding Internet telephony because it is going to have a huge impact on the telecom industry's economic foundation.

Rather than depending on a telephone company for local service, consumers with a high-speed Internet connection will be able to get service from a wide variety of suppliers. Since many of these new competitors do not have to build or maintain networks, they can charge lower prices than telephone carriers.

"Internet telephony is changing the market dynamics," said Elroy Jopling, an analyst with Gartner Group. "Prices will continue to drop. For someone like Bell, this will be very significant. What used to be a licence to print money with services such as call-answer, call-forward and caller-ID, Vonage treats as a giveaway."

As an Internet telephony pioneer, Vonage is playing a key role in the market's growth in the United States and Canada. With a modest advertising budget and a tremendous amount of hype, it has established itself as the leading player with more than 300,000 customers, most of them in the United States.

Vonage's confident and aggressive persona is a reflection of Jeffrey Citron, its co-founder and chief executive. Mr. Citron's enthusiasm for Internet telephony is based on his belief it has the potential to be disruptive technology. This has resonated with investors, who have pumped more than US$200-million into Vonage.

Mr. Citron is no stranger to entrepreneurial success and the ability to capitalize on new technology trends. In 1995, he co-founded Island ECN, an electronic trading network that was acquired by Instinet Group Inc. for US$503-million. He also helped start online brokerage Datek Online Holdings Corp., which was acquired by Ameritrade Inc. for US$1.3-billion.

If Vonage can maintain its momentum, it is likely Mr. Citron will hit the jackpot again. Using rival 8x8 Inc. as a comparable, Vonage could easily be worth as much as US$2-billion if it decides to do an initial public offering or gets acquired.

(Mr. Citron has also had troubles with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Last year, he was charged with taking part in a fraudulent scheme involving the Nasdaq Stock Market's small-order execution system. The SEC charged that Mr. Citron and three other executives "devised and orchestrated the unlawful SOES trading scheme" at Datek from 1993 to March, 1998. Without admitting or denying guilt, Mr. Citron agreed to pay a US$22.4-million civil penalty. He is also permanently barred from associating with brokers or dealers.)

Mr. Citron, who was in Toronto yesterday to speak with analysts and the media, said Vonage decided the time is right to push its service in Canada because the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will likely take a hands-on approach to new companies offering Internet telephony service to encourage competition.

Although he declined to comment on Vonage's interest in an IPO, he said the Edison, N.J.-based company is free cash flow-positive before marketing costs, and expects to have at least 800,000 customers by next year. "It's a real good, fundamentally strong business, growing very fast," he said.

There is no lack of choice for Canadian consumers who want to use Internet telephony. The players include Yak Communications Inc., Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc., Call-Net Enterprises Inc., Commwave Telecom Inc. and Vonage. Bell Canada, Rogers Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc. are expected to enter the market in 2005.

The cost of Internet telephony service can be purchase for as low as $9.95 a month. Vonage's service starts at $19.99 for 500 minutes for calls anywhere in North America.

Yuval Barzakay, president of Commwave, said Vonage's presence will benefit all Internet telephony companies by helping educate consumers about how the service works. "We've had a difficult time talking to customers and explaining the service to them," he said. "With Vonage pumping dollars into the market, it will help."

Internet telephony and the way it is packaged have improved to the point where it has become a plug-and-play service. After placing your order, a service provider sends you a router that is about the size of a paperback novel. Your phone is plugged into the router, the router is plugged into a high-speed Internet connection, and the service is ready to go.

Analysts believe the move by cable companies into the $10-billion telephony market from their television strongholds will jump-start the market, partly because it does not appear they -- unlike telephone carriers -- will be regulated by the CRTC.

NBI/Michael Sone Associates expects the number of Canadian homes using Internet telephony will soar to more than 1.1-million by 2007 from 29,000 this year. This would represent 9% of the local market. The Toronto-based research firm also forecasts the number of Internet-based telephony lines will climb to 759,000 from 223,000.



 
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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See www.vonage.com/911 for details.

** Certain call types excluded.

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