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Verizon Illustrates Change

Stores owned by wireless carriers are becoming one-stop shops for consumers’ residential and mobile telecommunications needs. 

That trend was reinforced by Verizon Wireless when it rolled out its first home phone, the VoIP-based Hub,

through all of its company-owned stores over the weekend. The touchscreen-equipped Hub uses Ethernet cable or built-in 802.11 b/g/n to connect to a broadband modem of any type — cable, DSL or fiber optic. Once connected, the Hub delivers unlimited landline calling to any location in the U.S. and Canada for $34.99/month. 

The Hub, retailing for $199 after $50 mail-in rebate and two-year contract, doubles as a family-communications command center, enabling users to manage a family calendar, retrieve traffic and weather reports, check the latest news, access telephone directories sorted by business type, view a business’s location on a map, retrieve local movie listings and view the trailer, and buy movie tickets. 

The Hub also integrates with select Verizon Wireless services. Users can communicate via text and multimedia messages with Verizon Wireless cellphones, access the carrier’s Chaperone service to view the location of tracked Verizon cellphones, stream V Cast Video services such as CNN news clips, and send the GPS coordinates of a business to a GPS-equipped Verizon cellphone, which will deliver turn-by-turn directions to the location. 

The Hub’s handset is a cordless DECT 6.0 model. Verizon Wireless offers additional remote DECT handsets at $79 each to extend VoIP calling to additional rooms. The Hub supports up to four remote handsets.

Before launching the Hub, Verizon Wireless already offered the landline services of parent Verizon Communications in a handful of Verizon Evolution Stores in areas where the parent offers landline services. The stores are largely Verizon Wireless stores but devote a section to landline/telco products and services, a Verizon Wireless spokesman said. Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Europe’s Vodafone. 

Other major cellular carriers have also entered the home phone market during the past year or so, though they’ve done so with services designed to replace traditional landline service with cellular service. T-Mobile, for example, offers 10 Wi-Fi-equipped cellphones that work with its Unlimited Hotspot Calling service, which lets subscribers place unlimited Wi-Fi calls through T-Mobile’s public Wi-Fi hot spots and through home Wi-Fi routers optimized for the service. 

Last year, Sprint rolled out a mini cellular base station, called a femtocell, for use in homes plagued by low signal strength to encourage consumers to use their cellphone as their main home phone. Last month, Verizon Wireless began offering its own femtocell. The devices communicate via CDMA cellular technology with a subscriber’s handset in and around the home, but they route the call over the Internet via a networked broadband modem. 

Some cellular carriers, including MetroPCS, have built their business models around landline replacement. 

For its part, landline telecom provider Qwest Communications operates about 110 stores in 14 states to sell mobile and home communications services. In the Qwest Solutions Centers, Qwest acts as agents for Verizon’s cellular service and sells its own high-speed Internet, voice and long-distance services for consumers and small businesses. The Qwest stores take the concept of one-stop telecom shop to the next level. 

More than 15 years ago, I hosted a roundtable with cellular executives and retailers to discuss the future of cellular distribution. Only one executive foresaw the potential for telecom stores that would provide solutions for all consumer telecom needs.