Bell Canada Thursday announced the launch of Business IP Voice aimed at the Canadian SMB market in addition to its existing services for mid- and large-sized enterprise customers like Managed IP Telephony. This week’s announcement follows
other SMB initiatives that Bell outlined earlier this year like Virtual CIO and bundles with Microsoft Productivity Suite, for example.
“This is one more arrow in our quiver for our IP strategy,” said Jon Wiese, senior vice-president of marketing, SMB, Bell Canada. “We see it as one more addition to our IP portfolio.
“We’re aggressively as a company moving away from legacy networks to IP networks. We’re also looking for other applications that we can use on top of the IP network.”
While Primus was the first player in the Canadian consumer VoIP market, Vonage has had a small business offering in North America for around three to four years.
“We’re here. We’ve been here first. We do it well,” said Vonage Canada vice-president of marketing and business development Joe Parent. “We’ve got a product offering that offers great value. It’s the most extensive feature set available.”
While both Bell and Vonage offer customers access to an online Web portal for managing and modifying account features and services, Parent said Vonage offers a more “functional” Web portal than Bell’s.
In terms of coverage, while Bell allows customers to set up a secondary phone line in another city, the primary phone line is concentrated in Ontario and Quebec — where the bulk of its residential business exists.
“Bell’s solution is Ontario and Quebec,” said Sophie Leger, president of Inter.net Canada. “We cover coast to coast. Inter.net doesn’t limit its solution to the backbone.”
Similarly, Vonage, because of its roots in the U.S., can not only offer secondary lines throughout Canada, but also the U.S. and virtual lines in the U.K. and Mexico City with plans to expand to other international locals in the near future, said Parent.
Wiese, however, points out that Bell offers both a hosted and premises solution. “One thing that separates us from Vonage and the other players is the fact we give customers choice.”
Many vendors, telcos or otherwise, are developing or already have strategies in place to cash in on the lucrative SMB market that makes up the majority of businesses in Canada. This, however, has been a more recent realization in the telecom industry, said Ottawa-based Yankee Group senior analyst Carrie MacGillivray, who covers Canadian market strategies for the analyst firm.
“Telecom providers in the recent past have kind of overlooked the SMB,” said MacGillivray. “Bell put a big push to the SMB in providing services through their Virtual CIO and their productivity pack.
“This is the next logical step for them to offer VoIP.”
Starting at $64.95 per month, Bell is currently waiving the $34.95 administration fee and $65 fee to access the device. The Business IP Voice kit includes voice adapter, telephone cable, Ethernet cable and DC power supply at no extra cost.
Comparatively, Vonage, which has had a similar service in place in Canada for 18 months, offers its SMB voice package, Small Business Unlimited for $69.99 per month (this includes a fax line, which Bell doesn’t offer). Inter.net Canada, a smaller communications company specializing in VoIP and high speed Internet, offers its Internet phone for about $20 less per month than Bell and Vonage. Inter.net launched its consumer VoIP service in November 2004 and at the beginning of this year came out with an SMB product offering.
Other main players in the Canadian SMB VoIP market include AOL Canada and Allstream, which plays in this space on a smaller scale with its collaboration suite that can be downsized to meet the needs of a small business user, according to the Yankee Group. Cableco giant Rogers, which launched its VoIP residential service earlier this summer, and others have yet to join their competitors.
“The (Sprint Canada) acquisition strengthens Rogers’s position in the SMB but Sprint’s offering isn’t overly strong yet,” said MacGillivray. “A year from now (Rogers) will be offering services that appeal to the SMB.”