Santa Clara, Calif. — Seeking to comply with the Federal Communications Commission’s E911 mandate, VoIP provider 8x8 announced a partnership with TeleCommunication Systems (TCS) to offer roaming E911 capability to 8x8's Packet8 subscribers.
TCS' VoIP E911 solution provides real-time address validation for all Packet8 subscribers, whether they are placing calls from one location or moving from one location to other locations. The TCS solution will be incorporated as a firmware update to 8x8’s customer premise equipment in October.
According to sales and marketing VP, Huw Rees the move puts 8x8 within a final step of achieving the “spirit” of the FCC mandate. The last step, in process now, is integrating TCS’s platform with Level 3’s network to route calls to Public Service Answering Points (PSAPs), a process which will be complete before the FCC’s November 29 deadline, Rees added.
The cost for complying with the FCC mandate will likely be $1.75 per month, Rees said, adding that 8x8 currently charges its subscribers for 911 calling and is not using E911 as a profit center. “That is the direct cost to us.”
When the company updates its customer premise equipment it will also upgrade its VoIP features adding “find me/follow me” calling, seven digit dialing, and other calling features which will be available to subscribers free of charge.
8x8 also announced the launch of a suite of co-branded VoIP services for residential and business users in conjunction with the Ohio-based telecom firm First Communications.
Under terms of the agreement, First Communications will offer local, long distance and international voice and video internet phone services utilizing Packet8 VoIP service and equipment, including the Packet8 videophone and the Uniden/Packet8 multi-handset VoIP cordless phone.
While the VoIP industry is bracing for the arrival of large cable and telecom companies with national brands and a vast existing customer base, Rees said that independent VoIP companies will remain viable.
“We offer several things that the cable companies simply can’t, like lower cost. We will always beat them on cost. We can also offer true ‘nomadic’ service, which many cable companies can’t today,” Rees said. Indeed, while VoIP offers more advanced telephony features than found on traditional landline networks, price will continue to be its principle selling point, Rees said.
“There are certain table stakes – features you have to offer to stay competitive – but people aren’t looking for the features so much as the cost.” For instance, Rees noted that the company could currently offer call quality superior to existing landline calls but has not seen any “perceived demand” for such a feature.
“They’re happy with the call quality they get now, which is like a regular phone call and better than a mobile call.”
8x8 is competing against fellow start-ups, like Vonage, by differentiating its offering with videophones and a “virtual PBX” for “micro business” users, Rees noted. It will “cautiously grow” its retail channel partnerships, preferring to keep customer acquisition costs as low as possible.
The Packet8 videophone is currently in a single retail outlet – New York-based J&R – for a trial running through the fourth quarter. Priced at a suggested $99, the subsidized videophone will need to show high activation rates to remain a viable retail product for 8x8, Rees said.