Rogers woos small Canadian firms with new ‘purpose-built’ offerings

A business phone that lets incoming calls ring simultaneously on five different lines – including cell phones – is among the new products launched by Rogers Communications Inc. targeted at small Canadian businesses.

Another is Rocket Hub, which Rogers dubs the “first fixed offering in the mobile Internet category.” It provides voice and high-speed Internet service to small firms and consumers in outlying areas with no fixed line infrastructure.

Rocket Hub also enables multiple devices to share a single Internet connection.

While the Rogers Business Phone is currently available — with plans starting from $30.49 per month — Rocket Hub will be available later this month.

Pricing for Hub start at $35 per month, not including hardware costs.

Rogers execs, who unveiled these offerings in Toronto yesterday, said they address specific needs of small Canadian businesses.

These companies haven’t always been well served in the telecom space, noted Elizabeth Williams, director, acquisition and customer base marketing at Rogers Cable.

“All too often they’re offered a Hobson’s choice between dumbed-down, stripped bare enterprise solutions or super-sized consumer solutions, neither of which actually do the job.”

Rogers, she said, is taking a different approach, purpose-building products for small firms rather than offering them warmed-up versions of products actually designed for other segments.

Taking care of [small] business

The Rogers Business Phone has actually been on the market for around six months, but flying under the radar.

This initial period, Rogers execs suggest, enabled the firm to get valuable feedback from small business users.

“We really wanted to get it right,” said Ian Pattinson, vice-president, product development at Rogers Cable. “It’s now ready to go, with all the features that small businesses need.”

Pattinson detailed some of these “business-grade” features and services:

  • Multi-line hunting – and the ability configure the hunting  
  • Toll blocking – the ability to block long-distance calls from being made from – for instance from reception phones or an area where the small business may feel there’s long distance exposure.
  • Long distance account codes – “These are useful for businesses that want to bill back long distance charges – either to employees or over to clients,” Pattinson said.
  • “Business class” voice mailthat includes more message store hours, as well as the ability to have faxes sent to their voice mail box. “With multiple mail boxes, you can have a separate mailbox for each employee.”

Conference calling, new number notification, enhanced call forwarding with remote access, business 911 and directory listings, and vanity number searching are other features of the business phone offering.

Sym-ring – why don’t you give me a call

Pattinson also highlighted what he called the “convergent features” of the Rogers Business Phone.  “They are included in the base price of the product, and help boost productivity.” 

One of these “simultaneous ring” or “sim-ring” enables incoming calls to ring at five different lines simultaneously.

It’s a feature that firms in the SOHO (small office home office) category could find useful, according to one Canadian analyst.

Owners and workers in such firms often have a lot on the go at the same time, noted Michelle Warren, president of MW Research & Consulting in Toronto.

“It can be frustrating for them if they’re on the road and the phone rings at home or in the office. Picking up the voice message later just becomes one additional task.”

Warren said the capability offered by Symring to access a business call on many lines, in many locations can be a time-saver and potentially more effective than call forwarding.

An IP fax to e-mail service that converts inbound faxes into an e-mail that shows up in your e-mail Inbox is another convergent feature.

Yet another is Message Centre that provides unified fax and voice mail, said Pattinson. “Voice mails are converted to .wav files that the recipient can store or forward in an email to other staff.”  Likewise, he said, an included IP fax to e-mail capability converts inbound fax to an email that show up in your e-mail Inbox.

Warren said while these convergent features can certainly speed up and simplify tasks, they may require a bit of re-programming on the part of users, who are so used to accessing certain types of communications via certain channels.

Pattinson, meanwhile, promised even more “productivity boosting” features over the next two quarters.

He said the Rogers business phone uses the same dedicated network as the Rogers home phone. “The telephony service is solid … there’s no conflict between packets for voice service and Internet service.”

Riding the Rocket Hub

Rocket Hub – a device that provides connectivity to the mobile Internet over Rogers 7.2 Mbps HSPA network – was the other key small business telephony offering unveiled by Rogers yesterday.

It enables businesses or consumers in rural areas or other locations with no fixed line infrastructure to access voice and high-speed Internet services.

The Rocket Hub is the antithesis of the Rogers Rocket Stick – a USB stick that connects to your laptop and offering on-the-go access to the Internet over Rogers 3.5G network.

To those familiar with the Rocket Stick, the Rocket Hub may seem counter intuitive.

Such this fixed offering in the mobile Internet category – the first of its kind in Canada – serves an important purpose, according to Mansell Nelson, vice-president , business product management at Rogers Wireless.

He noted many businesses and consumers in rural areas don’t have Internet access. “They may be living just at the edge of the cable or DSL network.”

The Rocket Hub, he said would them with provide broadband Internet and voice service.

The Hub offers either a Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection to the mobile Internet (over a 3.5G network) – and enables multiple devices to share a single Internet connection – and its UTMS network.

The back of the device sports four Ethernet ports, and a regular (RJ11) telephone jack.  “So you can take an analog phone, plug it into this device, and you’ll be able to make a voice call over the wireless network,” said Nelson.

Rogers, he said, ran trials of the Rocket Hub in the Parry Sound area earlier this year. “They were successful – and it surprised us was the number of businesses there that approached us for the service. We attracted many more business customers than we did consumers.”

He said many small firms in these areas need Internet access to do that – not just for email – but also to interact with suppliers and partners.

“And there’s also a lot of interest in using this as a backup or replacement line,” he said. 

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