Voice just keeps getting worse at filling the coffers

In this day and age of "unlimited" local and LD services, of multi-1000 minute cellular plans and rollover minutes, it's hard to get too excited about the prospects of new voice and triple or even quadruple play services as a big driver of service provider revenue.

In this day and age of "unlimited" local and LD services, of multi-1000 minute cellular plans and rollover minutes, it's hard to get too excited about the  prospects of new voice and triple or even quadruple play services as a big driver of service provider revenue.

Now voice is something that you have to offer as a service provider, and something that does account for a significant portion of many provider's current revenue streams, but the trend here is nothing but downward as voice prices go lower and lower. Despite that, we still see tons of marketing and advertising around triple play, voice bundles and the like, and we still see service providers marching into battle with low  prices and bundles as their primary weapons. 

The downward trend of voice pricing and revenue is not news - not at all. But we've been recently testing three different devices that will only accelerate that trend.

The first, and in many ways most impressive, is the Cordless DUALphone. This inexpensive cordless phone combines POTS and Skype (via a USB connection to your PC from the handset's base station) in a single DECT-based unit. If you wish, you can use the DUALphone as a regular POTS cordless phone - making and receiving landline calls from your normal service provider. A push of a button on the handset moves you into Skype mode, allowing you to make free peer-to-peer calls worldwide with better-than-you'd-expect quality.

The phone itself is noteworthy if only for the reason that our Euro-market model has greater range in our homes than any cordless phone we've ever used before. But the really noteworthy part is that the dual modes give users the free calls they desire with the built-in failover to POTS for E911 and other uses.  For a service provider, this POTS "fallback" makes a lot of sense - it helps maintain demand for POTS while simultaneously providing a solution for VoIP E911 requirements.

The next item we've been testing doesn't support POTS, but it does support low-cost voice. We've been using ZyXEL's Wi-Fi VoIP handset in a few of our offices. Generally, we're impressed - the voice quality is good and handset was easy to set up. All that's really needed on this device is an overhaul of the user interface to make it more cell phone-like (and more intuitive). We remain convinced that getting cordless phones onto the Wi-Fi network in homes and offices is the way to go, particularly as the Wi-Fi networks get more capable of reaching all nooks and crannies. We think early adopters are probably already starting to make the move with ZyXEL's or UTStarcom's handsets.

Finally, we have spent some time testing cellular phone repeater systems from Digital Antenna and Wireless Extenders. These devices provide a (relatively) low cost, user-installable mobile phone extension into an office building, a home, even a boat or RV.  Service providers already know how many customers they lose every year to those who "cut the cord" and go mobile only. This is particularly acute among the next generation of customers, who skip the POTS entirely unless they're required to have it for DSL.  The cellular extenders we tested were not mainstream self-installable, but they were something that could be installed by a technically savvy person, or by an installer for a small amount of money, and they completely solved our in-home cellular coverage problems.

In fact, our IT guy now gets good mobile coverage in his basement office, which reduces his requirements to spend a lot of money on his landline services, which are totally redundant with his mobile services. It's not hard to imagine a more user-friendly version of these systems - equivalent to the satellite radio extenders that are now becoming popular as customers want to extend their XM or Sirius service from their car to their media rooms.

Individually, each of these products is simply interesting - something that telecom geeks like us get excited by. Put them together and see them as the first steps of new product categories, each of which could potentially go mainstream. Time to start thinking strategically about voice even more - and finding how these technologies can improve your service offerings instead of cannibalizing your revenue.

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