VoIP Gets Down To Business

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As cable providers swallow up the market for residential digital phone services, some VoIP providers have turned to small businesses and the emerging category of virtual workers as a potential profit-maker.

8x8 has found a healthy niche serving the small-business customer, said Huw Rees, sales and marketing VP. "Small businesses act a lot like consumers" when they purchase goods and services for their work, Rees said.

At International CES, the firm will be showing off its recent collaboration with Microsoft's Response Point VoIP service. 8x8 provides the dial tone and hosted calling features for the Response Point system.

The company plans to spend 2009 focusing on executing the product and service launches announced in 2008, Rees added. "We're going to be expanding our sales channels."

Today's small-business owners and stay-at-home workers have moved "from a physical office to a virtual office — at home and on the road. They meet telephonically and use Internet tools to have conferences without being in the same place," said Peter Sisson, CEO and founder of Toktumi, a VoIP provider targeting small businesses.

Services that promise to bridge the gap between a mobile and fixed office are the key to capturing this customer, Sisson said.

The economic downturn has made the cost-saving promise of VoIP more appealing, providers say.

"It's kind of a double-edged sword," Rees said. It sharpens the appeal of money saving services, but also makes businesses reluctant to spend. Nor are small-business customers more churn proof.

"The problem with many small businesses is that they go out of business," Rees observed.

For its part, Vonage is still committed to the residential market, said Mary Grikas, device development executive director. "We do recognize that there's a market for SMBs, she added.

Vonage Pro, introduced in 2008, provides some PBX-like functionality to users as well as mobility through a VoIP softphone, she said.

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