Wednesday, September 20, 2006

AT&T/Counterpath Launch Softphone Application

One of the best stories making news at Fall VON last week was the launch of a softphone service for AT&T's CallVantage VoIP service. It's big news on two fronts. First, it shows innovation on AT&T's part by offering both landline and PC-based VoIP for the mass market. As big as AT&T may be, this news shows they can be just as nimble as the competition, and are now making a very good product even better. It also shows they are open to working with smaller vendors, which Tier 1s don't do very readily, so kudos to them for supporting the startup ecosystem.

Secondly, it's great news for Counterpath, a small company who has been leading the way in the softphone space for some time - previously known as Xten. Their eyeBeam 1.5 SIP softphone is particularly interesting because it supports both voice and video calling. So, CallVantage customers can do a lot more now than just make cheap phone calls. Oh, and did I mention they're Canadian? Chalk up another good win for the Great White North, eh.

It's also worth noting that Counterpath is the softphone used by many other VoIP providers, including Vonage, Packet 8, Earthlink and Telio. I mention this because early on, I recall Vonage talking about their softphone offering - back when Counterpath was called Xten. From all I can tell, Vonage hasn't done much with the softphone to differentiate themselves. Packet 8 certainly took this much futher by investing a lot in a videophone offering. It didn't get them very far, but at least they dared to be different.

It looks to me like AT&T has taken these same softphone apps a lot farther than Vonage has, which is not really what's supposed to happen. Unfortunately, Vonage has taken a lot of flak for losing its edge and not innovating enough. AT&T is in a great position to really ramp up CallVantage, and the softphone offering makes it look like a pretty nice package. This is not good news for Vonage, but frankly, I think that's a secondary concern for AT&T. The cablecos are getting all the attention now as their VoIP subs continue to boom, and the pressure is really on AT&T and Verizon to stay competitive.

If you're still with me, this is a long-winded post initially designed to get you to Andy Abramson's post from yesterday. He's a long time CallVantage user - and a happy one - and his post is a great example of how AT&T has got enough marketing smarts to stay in the game. Have a listen...

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