Radialpoint, formerly known as Zero-Knowledge Systems, provides the ISP with a suite of security products, including anti-virus, firewall, parental controls and a privacy manager. Financial details of the contract renewal were not disclosed.
“What Bell really understood and where our customers have focused is, there’s an incredible relationship between the service provider and their subscriber. It’s built on trust, it’s built on quality of service,” said Austin Hill, co-founder and chief strategy officer for Radialpoint.
“(Subscribers) were the ones suffering. When there’s a big virus outbreak, why am I going to leave my computer on all the time when it ends up destroying my computer? Why should I be connected to the Internet? Why should I increase the speed when it increases the pain?”
Few Sympatico customers were affected by the recent Zotob worm, said Hill, because they were protected by Radialpoint’s A/V tool. Even if they didn’t subscribe to the security software, “they generally weren’t being targeted because most of them were on Windows XP.” (Microsoft has said that only Windows 2000 was vulnerable to Zotob, but conflicting reports suggest that other operating systems were also at risk, including XP.)
Sympatico charges $6 a month for a basic Internet protection package and an additional $6 for Radialpoint’s anti-spyware tool. Patrick McLean, director of consumer Internet services for Bell Canada, said, “We have had a tremendous amount of success with this product portfolio. It has been far and away our most successful value-added service as we market the portfolio to our ISP customer base.”
The anti-spyware option has proven particularly successful, said McLean, and has surpassed the basic security package in popularity since it was introduced a year ago.
Security is one way Internet providers can augment revenues from broadband services, said Elroy Jopling, a Toronto-based analyst with Gartner Inc. “It is a reasonably profitable entity to sell. They make money from it,” he said. “It’s been difficult for telcos to offer services they can add on to broadband to make money.”
By providing a security option to consumers, ISPs may also be able to reduce the number of security-related inquiries customers make to call centres, he added.
McLean said Bell still takes security calls and provides 24×7 support as part of the Radialpoint package it sells to Sympatico subscribers. The support option is helping consumers understand the nature of malware, he said, and how best to fight it.
McLean said he wasn’t fazed by the fact that one of Bell’s biggest competitors, Rogers Communications, provides Internet security for free, adding that the 24×7 support service helps to differentiate Sympatico from its cable rival.
Offering security services for free can send a mixed message to consumers, said Jopling. “When was the last time you got something for free that was worthwhile? That’s one of the things (consumers) think about.”
Radialpoint providers security software for 14 million Internet users globally. In Canada, the company also works with Aliant, Telus and Videotron. Last year, Radialpoint (then Zero-Knowledge) launched a legal suit against IBM in a dispute over the creation of an XML schema. Hill said he could not comment further on any developments in the case.