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Vonage Plans Market Move in 'Strong Way': Coming to Canada: Talks with Carriers


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By Mark Evans

Vonage Holdings Corp., which offers local and long-distance telephone service over high-speed Internet networks, plans to move into Canada later this year.

Jeffrey Citron, Vonage's chairman and chief executive officer, said discussions have taken place with several Canadian carriers and cable companies. He said Vonage needs one or two partners, noting that Rogers Communications Corp., Call-Net Enterprises Inc. and Allstream Corp. would be good candidates.



"This is my third trip to Canada in the past few weeks," he said yesterday during an interview in Toronto. "We have plans to move into the Canadian market in a strong way."

To grab a foothold in the telephony market, Vonage is offering local and long-distance service to customers in the U.S. over high-speed telecom and cable networks. The Edison, N.J.-based company has 36,000 customers, and aims to have 100,000 by year-end and 1 million by 2006.

Vonage's growth strategy hinges on its ability to convince carriers and cable companies that it has a more cost-effective way to offer telephone service. Depending on the services provided by Vonage, carriers and cable companies can expect to make 25% to 50% of the revenue generated. This formula may work for smaller companies without the financial resources, but larger companies would likely develop their own telephony software rather than use Vonage.

Vonage has two residential plans: a premium plan that costs US$39.99 a month for unlimited calling in the U.S. and Canada, and a US$25.99 plan that offers unlimited local calling and 500 minutes of long distance.

There are a few ways to assess what Mr. Citron is trying to accomplish with Vonage. The 33-year-old serial entrepreneur has either identified Internet telephony as disruptive technology that will transform the telecom industry's cost structure and economics, or he believes that Internet telephony offers a fertile opportunity for an aggressive entrepreneur looking to create an attractive acquisition target.

Vonage is likely a combination of both. There is no doubt that Internet telephony is going to change the telecom industry as carriers and cable companies look to launch services that will carry voice, data and video traffic over lower-cost networks.

Mr. Citron said he started Vonage two years ago because Internet telephony has the potential to be "disruptive." In the past five years, he said, there have been four areas where this trend has been pervasive: Online pornography, financial services, travel and telecom. While telecom technology has improved, he said it has not been disruptive.

"We are looking for real disruption and we think voice over IP is disruptive," he said. "It changes everything."

Mr. Citron, whose corporate profile describes him as a "technology pioneer and visionary," has an impressive track record. In 1995, he co-founded Island ECN, an electronic trading network that was bought by Instinet Group Inc. for US$503-million. He also founded online brokerage Datek Online Holdings Corp., which was acquired by Ameritrade Inc. for US$1.3-billion.

Mr. Citron has also had troubles with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In January, 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.



 
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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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