VoIP's Mainstream March
Cable providers' VoIP customers are almost twice as confident about the reliability of their service as the customers of specialized providers, according to a survey by SupportSoft. Sixty-one percent of cable customers who are receiving VoIP are satisfied with their service, versus 57 percent of those using handset-based VoIP providers like Vonage; just 48 percent of PC-based VoIP customers services like Skype expressed satisfaction.
There are a couple of reasons for this difference, according to Boyd Peterson, senior vice president of consumer research at Yankee Group. "The customers with video, data, and voice service are much more valuable to that cable operator, so the cable operator is more interested in providing highly supported services," he says. At the same time, a VoIP service like Vonage or Skype is "just an application, so the expectation for quality is lower for those service providers." And customers of those services know that the ability to get support will be lower. "It's like a cell phone. It's not quite as good as a land line, but the cost is so much better, it's worth it."
"This is good news for U.S. cable providers offering new VoIP services, since the majority of customers prefer to receive multiple services form a single provider," says Marc Itzkowitz, director of product marketing and management at SupportSoft. The combination of VoIP and broadband access is swaying customers away from specialized VoIP providers towards cable companies. Eighty percent of cable VoIP customers surveyed said that they also receive their broadband service from their cable provider.
And cable providers are stepping up to support multiple services, Peterson says. "Cable companies aren't afraid to roll a truck, because they know that customers represent the accumulation of voice, video, and data or some combination."
Peterson says cable providers could me more aggressive in their rollout of VoIP services, but are first trying to make sure they understand the "operational components and maintain customer satisfaction to a pretty high degree." For Skype and Vonage, "it is a market share game. They're putting money in awareness. Cable operators don't have to worry about that as much as Vonage does."
Despite the positive outlook, problems still plague this emerging technology. Thirty-four percent of cable VoIP users said that a technician had to visit their home within 90 days of the initial service installation due to a problem. Another 16 percent needed two or more visits.
Those experiencing service problems said that the primary frustration is recurring quality or reliability problems, which accounted for 29 and 24 percent of responses, respectively. These issues can occur when cable VoIP users are trying to download or upload data with their Internet broadband connection, while simultaneously talking on the phone, according to the study. Of the 39 percent of users who experienced a problem during the upload or download of data, 59 percent said that the common result was that their voice transmission was hard to understand.
There are a number of reasons why customers have problems with their VoIP service, but many of these problems can be avoided if the installation is done right the first time. With quality of service prioritization for voice traffic in place, the issue comes down to verification, Itzkowitz says. "The holistic view is critical during the install and ongoing service experience. As we move to self-installs, it is not uncommon for someone to put the equipment in wrong. The key is putting the VoIP modem before your home network, so that it's the first thing that touches the signal. It is not uncommon for people to the VoIP modem after the wireless gateway. That's where the verification comes in."
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