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Providers entice with experimentation

May 26, 20035 mins
BroadbandComcastNetwork Security

Broadband providers try new ways to woo customers

After a long winter, Cox Communications, BellSouth, Verizon and Comcast have sprung up new services, and revamped packages and experimental offerings your teleworkers will want to know about.

With an eye toward improving customer experience and cutting costs, Cox has partnered with Motive to offer Motive’s self-installation and autoprovisioning services to its cable Internet customers. The new service, available in some Cox markets now, with more coming over time, lets new customers handle cable service activation on the desktop and autoprovisioning on the network by communicating directly with Cox’s support systems.

“There’s been a trend in the cable industry – and some in the DSL space – to try to get to a dial-up ISP model, where they send fulfillment packages to anyone and you don’t have to wait a week to get online,” says Sanjay Castelino, Motive’s director of product marketing.

With Motive’s SmartActivation software in place, new subscribers can buy a cable modem at the store, bring it home and plug it in. For users with older PCs (Windows 98 and up) that have never been connected to the Web, Cox provides a CD that configures network settings, enables the TCP/IP stack and installs USB drivers and the like. Users with a Windows XP system simply open a browser. Next, users are redirected to a Web page on Cox’s site that collects and authenticates subscriber information, registers the subscriber with the appropriate back-end systems based on level of service, and communicates with provisioning systems to activate the cable modem on the network. On the desktop, SmartActivation configures the ISP and e-mail clients and application settings.

“We’re able to take someone from a new modem all the way to current active paying subscriber in one step,” Castelino says.Broadband peaks?

In April, BellSouth launched a service that lets customers access their corporate VPNs over a variety of dedicated connections. Serving the Southeast, Managed Network VPN service works over BellSouth’s Multi-protocol Label Switching network. Customers can set up remote access to their VPNs using DSL, and dedicated IP or frame relay connections. BellSouth uses its private IP network to support the service, which the carrier says adds an additional level of security. For customers who want to access the Internet through a VPN, BellSouth offers an integrated firewall.

The VPN service costs $100 per month, per site, for DSL access and up to $1,000 per month, per site, for frame relay at T-3, 45M bit/sec speeds. Existing BellSouth DSL and fractional T-1 customers can add the service for an additional $15 to $20 per month, per user.

Verizon this month made several announcements aimed at residential and small-business DSL users. For mobile and remote workers, Verizon plans to roll out Wi-Fi hot spots to 1,000 pay phones in New York City. This will let Verizon Online DSL customers who have laptops or handhelds access the Internet within 300 feet of such phones. To date, Verizon has activated 150 hot spots, with plans to increase to 1,000 by year-end.

The carrier also cut the monthly rate for its consumer DSL service from $49.95 to $34.95, and the rate of its small-business service by $10 to $59.95 and $89.95, depending on the type of DSL service they buy. Residential users of Verizon’s Freedom local and long-distance bundle benefit from a $5 price cut, from $34.95 to $29.95, and Freedom for Business packages now offer a 20% discount. Moreover, Verizon has increased the downstream speed from 768K bit/sec to 1.5M bit/sec.

Also new is the bundling of Microsoft’s MSN 8.0 with Verizon’s DSL service. The software includes shared browser technology, advanced parental controls, e-mail virus protection, research and learning tools, financial management software, and photo posting and editing. Soon, Verizon will begin offering its Digital Companion service, which will let customers integrate calendars, address books and to-do lists with caller ID tracking, call dialing and forwarding.

“With the DSL guys getting so much cheaper, you have to wonder whether cable is still worth the extra $10 a month,” says Michael Harris, president of research firm Kinetic Strategies. “The cable guys think yes by default.”

Aiming to make the value of cable services clear, Comcast is rolling out what it hopes is the killer entertainment application. In conjunction with Samsung and Ucentric, the cable provider recently announced the first field trials for multi-TV personal video recording service. To be conducted with Comcast’s Philadelphia-area subscribers this summer, the service will let users extend digital recording capabilities to multiple TVs in the home. Users can select and control video recordings of programs from a single recording library shared among multiple TVs. The network consists of a Samsung digital set-top box running Ucentric’s software, and CD-player-sized devices attached to each TV.

The Ucentric software also lets cable providers offer other services, such as a music jukebox and photo album. Pricing plans have not been announced.

“For Comcast, making the core entertainment service robust and compelling is a top priority,” Harris says.

Services snapshot

Broadband providers make their next moves.
Provider Offering Availability Price
BellSouthManaged Network VPN Service lets customers access their corporate VPNs over a variety of dedicated connections. Now$100 per month, per site, for DSL access; remote users with existing DSL service: $15 to $20 per user, depending on number of users.
ComcastMulti-TV personal video recorder service, in partnership with Ucentric and Samsung. Field trials expected to begin in June in the Philadelphia area. Not available
Cox CommunicationsSelf-installation and autoprovisioning lets new customers set up their own service.Varies by service area. No extra cost; basic Internet service costs $39.95 for Cox customers; $49.95 for non-customers (add $10 for optional modem rental).
VerizonWi-Fi-based broadband access to 1,000 pay phones in New York City.150 hot spots today; 1,000 by year-end. Price cuts took effect May 21.Hot spot connectivity is free to Verizon DSL customers. Price cut for consumers from $49.95 to $34.95; small-business rates have been cut by $10 to $59.95 and $89.95.