Thursday, September 8, 2005

Pulver 100 Revisited - the Canadian Perspective - Oh Canada/Woe Canada

Yesterday, Mark Evans had a nice posting on his blog, noting that Canadian companies fared quite well on this year's Pulver 100. I couldn't agree more, and I'd just like to draw additional attention to that news.

Canada registered 13 Pulver 100 awards, which I think speaks well about the caliber of companies we have here, and the valuable contributions they continue to make in IP. I haven't broken them out as a group before, so here are the lucky 13...

Apparent Networks
BlueSlice Networks
Dialexia Communications
Eyeball Networks
Natural Convergence
NewHeights Software
Nimcat Networks
Versatel Networks

While this is a good news story, I can't help but contrast this with the state of things on the service provider side. The operators certainly have good intentions and good technology for VoIP, but it's just not happening here the way it is elsewhere. Like a lot of things in Canada, the above vendors are setting the pace in a booming sector, but their success isn't home-based - it's mostly happening for them in the US or overseas.

Consider what the bigger players are doing these days....

Bell Canada - the 800 pound gorilla here. Today they finally announced their residential VoIP offerings. Bell Digital Voice actually looks like a pretty good service, but it's taken until now to launch. Lots of good features, and the cool thing is you don't even need broadband - that's neat. Just call Bell, order the service and use your existing jacks and phones. So, it's a hosted IP service, but there's nothing really VoIP about it in terms of the user experience. Yes, it is web-based, and you can send voice mail to email, but it's really marketed as a souped up phone service - nothing more, nothing less. And it sure isn't priced like VoIP. It's actually comparable to POTS pricing, plus you gotta pay extra for LD.

If anything, it's premium priced VoIP, and in return you get carrier grade service - just like POTS. This seems like reverse marketing to how Videotron is going with a low priced service. It's almost like they're trying to convince the public that VoIP is better than POTS, so therefore we should pay a premium for the privilege of having it. Well, it just might work. And if you don't like that, you can get their "Lite" service, which is a tad cheaper, and is like regular VoIP - you need broadband and an ATA. This one is clearly marketed as a second line replacement.

Clearly, like Rogers, Bell is taking a conservative and rational approach to pricing, and is not prepared to enter the game losing money out of the gate. Perhaps more importantly, they've priced it high to ensure that if they do cannibalize their POTS customers, the revenues will pretty much be a wash, so they don't really lose.

So, some excitement there, but it sure has taken a long time!

Rogers - essentially covered above. A very conservative offering - no mention anywhere in the marketing materials about it being VoIP - it's just the Rogers phone service. The focus really seems to be on keeping the Call-Net subscribers they just inherited in the Rogers fold. Fair enough. But I really don't seem them doing much to go outside and take business away from Bell. I suspect that will soon start to change with Bell's launch today.

Telus - nothing really doing on the residential VoIP front, but I just have to comment on something to show that all the players have their own problems that collectively, are keeping the market from taking off. Today, the Globe & Mail reported an interesting twist in their labor situation. Thousands of workers have been off the job since late July. Depending on who you talk to, they're either on strike, or are locked out. Now, here's the bizarre part. Telus workers are part of a large union - the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. How on earth did all these disparate fields ever manage to get lumped together??? I have no idea, but here's how it's causing headaches for Telus.

The major British Columbia newpaper publisher - Pacific Newspaper Group - is trying to stop Telus from running ads in its papers while the labor dispute is still going. Why? Because the Telus union is in the same group as the newspaper folks, and Telus is being viewed as an "unfair employer" by the union. So, they can't advertise there. To further complicate matters, if this holds, these major dailies would lose valuable ad revenue to rivals, as Telus could just take their ad money to any of the upstart free dailies that are wreaking their own havoc on the the newspaper business these days. Something has to give here, but basically, even if Telus wanted to advertise in the major papers to help market VoIP, they're hitting some unusual roadblocks. Only in Canada, eh?

Videotron - they continue to add subs at a dramatic pace, but the pricing is quite aggressive, and it's hard to see how they'll make money. I don't think it's a good thing to be setting the pricing bar this low so early in the game. And we'll see what happens now that Bell has come to the party.

Shaw - they entered the market at the other end, with a high price point. Not hearing much news from them, and I'm not optimistic that they're putting up big numbers. And maybe they don't have to. Telus is not yet proving to be a big threat to their cable business.

Vonage and Primus Canada - the main VoIP pureplays. Not much news out of either lately. Hopefully, things are going well, but they're not spending to build the market here the way it's being done in the U.S. That said, I am seeing more ads here by Vonage, especially on TV. "VoIP with Vonage" is their tagline.

Satellite radio - not a VoIP story, but another indicator of how fragmented and discombobulated our communications market is up here. There's been a lot of buzz lately with the CRTC approving service, and imposing light restrictions on Canadian content. This was unexpected good news for XM and Sirius, the 2 U.S.-based players. Things were looking good, with a clear path ahead for them to start investing and building the market here. Now, all of a sudden, the federal government is dithering about a review, largely because of concerns that French language programming will suffer.

This is really a political issue as the incumbent Liberal party needs to shore up its prospects for re-election and appease Quebec - lest they fall out of favor and give more strength to the Bloc Quebecois, our not-so beloved separatist party. In Canadian politics, the tail has always wagged the dog, and Quebec is the master of this. In the U.S., they talk about the race card -in Canada it's Quebec. Anything that can be remotely seen as a threat to French language and culture is a problem just waiting to explode. Now you know the rest of the story.

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