VoIP Hits the Big Time

No longer hoofing eight days a week it in the telecom chorus line, voice over IP has gotten its big break. Incumbent and competitive service providers alike have announced plans to deploy VoIP for residential and business in the next 12 months, if they havent done so already. VoIP should be front and center for channel partners too, and is the subject of The Channel Partners Conference & Expos kick-off general session today at 2 p.m.

Starting things off will be Mike Odenwald, managing partner at IP Carrier Consulting Group Inc. Lets first acknowledge that the pace of innovation unfolding for VoIP services begs for a new distribution channel too support the acceleration of this innovation, he says, advocating that agents become migration partners, whose responsibility and job-at-hand is … implementing converged solutions.

Odenwald paints a picture of a world where phone services are easy to sell, self-manageable and billed on a subscription rather than minutes basis.

Dont get flanked, he counsels, noting that computer manufacturers, mobile device makers and television operators all will have a piece of the IP telephony pie. Forging partnerships with them now will help agents position themselves to win. The real application, the killer app, is simply a software-driven integration of your business and personal contacts, your relative data and files, your tunes, your schedule, your pictures…on your IP phone, wherever you have broadband access; work, home, in the car.

Speaker Tim Gaines, vice president of field sales, Covad Communications Group Inc., will discuss the business market for VoIP. Covad recently acquired GoBeam Inc., makers of an IP PBX.

Gaines will give an overview of what there is to sell in the business VoIP, some customer approaches that work, how the transport technology fits in and the methodology for how agents can equip users with SIP-based phones or softphones. Especially important is the network topology and what is included, he notes.

J. Sherman Henderson III, president and CEO at Lightyear Network Solutions LLC, which announced a residential VoIP product on Aug. 21, will discuss the sales issues, customer service concerns and the general market opportunity for consumer VoIP (IDC predicts there will be 1.5 million U.S. residential broadband phone customers by the end of 2005 and 14 million customers in 2008), including tips on how to compete against the competition. As the chairman of CompTel/ASCENT, Henderson also will touch on the enormity of the sea change presented by this disruptive technology.

The handwriting is on the wall for traditional circuit-switched operators, says New Paradigm Resources Group Inc. Revenue from wireline POTS is already on the decline… Now theyre getting hammered from the other side by VoIP. Without their own VoIP service offerings, the old phone companies will not be able to compete.

Today, less than 1 percent of American homes subscribe to broadband phone service.

With rollouts happening quickly, UBS predicts consumers in most major markets will have a choice of at least half a dozen VoIP providers within two years, making for Coke-or-Pespi style VoIP wars in the near future: Communications companies with millions of customers, a powerful brand and marketing muscle will have an advantage in the consumer market over companies lacking preexisting relationships with customers, analysts say.

To me, the technology is secondary, says Frost & Sullivan analyst Jon Arnold, who contends marketing might will become the biggest driver behind VoIP growth among service providers once prices stabilize.

Wrapping things up, Ruben Chapa, president and CEO at master agency St. Louis Telecom, will give real world examples and advice gleaned from his time in the trenches selling VoIP.

After short presentations, the floor will open for questions from the audience.

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