A prudent rollout of video VoIP service could put further pressure on Vonage and help cable get the jump on the telcos’ IP services. By Michael Grebb Voice over IP has certainly proven itself. But cable’s long-term telephony success hinges on creating a better, more feature-rich and exciting VoIP product than what competitors offer. To achieve that goal, cable should consider adding a video component. Already, Skype offers video VoIP that usually works but can be hit or miss. Cable, however, can offer quality far and away better than that. "Consumers associate cable with video, and as cable operators introduce video VoIP…they would expect cable to do a better job with video than phone companies," says Bryan Smith, VP of marketing at Clique Communications, which has been pitching its video VoIP platform to operators in recent months and claims to be close to signing some big deals. While video VoIP by "best efforts" players like Skype can be choppy, cable could use its facilities-based technology "to maintain a lead in the clarity and smoothness of a video call," says Smith, noting that DSL hasn’t generally kept up with cable speeds. Cable has a short-term opportunity to grab customers before next-generation telco infrastructures like Verizon’s FiOS or AT&T’s U-verse get their sea legs. Cable already has Vonage on the ropes. According to TeleGeography, Vonage now leads by only 200,000 VoIP customers, with Time Warner Cable, Cablevision Systems and Comcast all posting much higher growth rates. Could video enable MSOs to take the decisive VoIP lead? Consumers are hard to read (MSOs’ video e-mail offerings haven’t exactly set the world on fire). But then again, video VoIP is a far more immersive experience than video e-mail and has the potential to span demographics, exciting everyone from gossiping teenagers to grandparents who want to see their grandkids from thousands of miles away. MSOs need to roll out these services, albeit prudently, to make consumers understand how they can enhance their lives. As with HDTV, high-quality video VoIP may be a "must see it to appreciate it" product. Of course, MSOs are still perfecting standard VoIP. And they can’t do everything at once or let vendors goad them into moving into new areas before they’re ready. But video VoIP could be a major differentiator, with video messaging, video voicemail and even HD video VoIP perhaps someday becoming important features that add stickiness to the bundle. Consumers are waiting to be dazzled. Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX Daily. He can be reached at mgrebb@accessintel.com.

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