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Voice Over IP - Is This The Real Deal?


Vonage In Print News

Voice Over IP - Is This The Real Deal?

PR News --January 1, 2005

By Staff

Vonage, the voice over IP provider with 300,000 users in North America since its launch in 2002, is now making its entry into the UK market.

Just as you would expect from a Voip provider, Vonage says call rates will be lower than incumbent BT's - although as TTM went to press it had yet to give tariff details for its planned launch on 28 December.

But analysts are sceptical that Vonage's retail models will work as well in Europe. Many think it could be hard-pressed to compete on price alone. Incumbents and alternative operators in Europe are already offering competitive calling bundles for national calls, and these rates could come down even lower if they are threatened by Voip upstarts.

"Vonage will find that network costs are getting very low, and incumbents like us can offer good pricing bundles to compete with the prices of VoIP," says David McRedmond, commercial director for Republic of Ireland incumbent eircom.

Jan Dawson, a service manager at Ovum, points out that rates on long distance services are competitive, too. "The US has had high long distance charges, which has helped Vonage there, but in the UK you've had very good competition from Tele2, One.Tel and others that has kept those prices down."

And many of the tariffs being set are not biting at the heels of traditional operators just yet. "The price discounts being offered by many Voip providers rarely exceed 20%-30% on the incumbents' prices. Voip poses less of a threat than many realise," says Cyrus Mewawalla, a telecoms analyst at Westhall Capital.

Because of that, some believe Vonage will need to provide more innovative services in markets like the UK.

"Services is an angle that Vonage can exploit," says Rod Hall, an analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. "(Its) coders can develop innovative products. The key will be to tap into the customer base to know what it wants."

Vonage touts that it bundles in many value-added services for free. "Standard features like call waiting and call forwarding are where all the margins are for traditional telephony providers, so we decided to make things interesting by throwing in all that for free," says John Rego, CFO of Vonage.

Indeed, this is where some think Vonage could shine.

"We're going from a ready-aim-fire world, to ready-fire-aim world with services," says Hall at DKW, who was previously an executive at AT&T's retail division. "At AT&T it would take us a year to develop a product at a lot of cost. (With Voip it) takes two weeks and costs almost nothing. Even if one in ten services is a big hit, you're a winner. If Vonage can do that effectively, that would have a big impact on incumbents."

Vonage already undercuts incumbents in the US on tariffs that bundle services like voicemail and "follow me" services. Its $24.99 tariff is 60% lower than the average US residential telephone bill, which is $73.08 a month. But the savings in Europe will be significantly lower than that. One.Tel for example says its ARPU for a UK residential voice customer is £16.83 ($32.57).

In addition to reducing opex by cutting out truck rolls and paper billing, Voip players are enjoying higher margins on voice calls by eliminating the cost of interconnect, says Hall. This increases Voip operators' gross margins on voice by about 10% in the US, he says. And even though termination rates in the UK and Europe are higher than in the US - particularly on mobile - interconnection in Europe constitutes a much higher proportion of call costs, at 30% versus 10% in the US, he says. So even if the margin is diluted, "you still have a 5% gross margin."

But it is a measure of the lack of transparency of how much it actually costs to break even on a Voip subscriber that neither Vonage, nor would-be competitors in Europe like GossipTel and On Instant, can give information on how much of a margin they make per subscriber.

Some contend that in the long term there will be a limited market for pure-play Voip providers in Europe.

"VoIP operators provide a niche service in an industry where bundled services are simpler and better value to customers," says Mewawalla at Westhall Capital.

Wanadoo and other ISPs are already looking at how Voip can be bundled with other services like broadband access. BT last year launched a Voip product bundled with its DSL services to compete against cable operators. And many of the latter are already offering voice plans with their services.

"If telcos wanted to, they could come out with more Voip products tomorrow," says Julian Hewitt, chief analyst at Ovum.

Rego says Vonage is making deals as a white-label Voip provider to ISPs like Earthlink. It also has signed distribution agreements with electronics retailers like Radio Shack and Best Buy. Vonage products are available in 8,000 stores with a target of 13,000 by the end of 2005. Rego claims one in every five net additions comes from this channel. He says Vonage wants to take a similar approach in the UK, but he admits it might not be as easy to replicate the model. The company will initially offer services in the UK through its web site and call centre.

Last August, Vonage raised $105 million in a round of private financing led by venture capital firm 3i, to help fund expansion into Europe.



 
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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.

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