Bell Launches Optimax - It's a Bird, It's a Plane - But It's Not IPTV

At 9am today, Bell Canada had an analyst call to tell us about their new fiber service to deliver higher speed to Sympatico broadband subscribers. Unfortunately, the invite was too short notice for me, but I've got the story now, so here we go.

It's called Optimax, which is a very promising name. Sounds very powerful - optimum, maximum - but the name doesn't really grab me. Too generic and space agey, and a bit like one of my favorite oxymorons - "new and improved". As George Carlin wryly observed long ago (when he was both funny and dangerous), how can something that's new be improved at the same time? Sort of like jumbo shrimp. I think about these things too much, but I'll bet I'm not the only out there who would do a Simon Cowell, and say "it wasn't your best"....

That said - now I'm speaking to those of you outside of Canada - this is Canada, and we have these peculiar language laws where it's French first in Quebec. I'll leave it at that, but given that Optimax is launching first in Montreal, the name has to work in both languages. My French isn't very good, but I suspect Optimax is a unisex type of word that works equally well in English and French. On that level, the name works, so I'll stop harping on the name thing now.

The analyst call was hosted by Kevin Crull, Bell's President of Residential Services, and I'm told he steered clear of questions about IPTV, which is what most of us are really wondering about. With all the wonderful throughput Optimax delivers - up to 16 Mbps (at $80/month)- one would think Bell was ready to launch IPTV. Clearly, it's not time yet, but at least they now have the transport in place. For those keeping score, this is a FTTN - fiber to the node - deployment, much like what AT&T is doing - and what supports their U-verse IPTV service, which launched last week. FTTH - fiber to the home - is the other route to go, but it's more costly and time-consuming. Verizon is doing it this way, and the payoff is much higher bandwidth capacity - Optimax, you might say.

So, what's the big deal here? One word - Videotron. They've been a real thorn in Bell's side, and their initial launch of VoIP in Montreal has been quite successful - maybe not profitable, but pretty effective at stealing away a lot of Bell subscribers. So, is it a coincidence that Bell is launching Optimax in Montreal - I think not. Without IPTV or a Triple Play bundle to swat back at Videotron, a souped up Internet service is the next best thing.

Once again, Bell takes the high ground by not competing on price - which I think is the right way to go. They're not taking the bait the way CallVantage did in 2004 when Vonage started a very costly price war. And there's nothing in this to do with VoIP. Bell is just steering clear of this, and let Videotron stay with their low priced phone service.

Bell's enhancement to Sympatico gives subscribers more capability than what Videotron can deliver for the fun stuff - gaming, music downloads, video streaming, etc. If you can't win them back by matching price, you take it up a notch, as Emeril would say, with a premium service that gives people a richer experience for the things they love to do. If you can't afford $80 for 16 meg, that's ok. Bell can give you 10 meg at $65. You want choice, you got it. You want to stay in the slow lane for your fun, then stay with Videotron.

It's a competitive market, and while Optimax isn't revolutionary, I think it's a pretty good comeback to counter Videotron. The price conscious subscribers are probably not worth fighting for, but at least Bell can now go after the lost customers they really want back, at least long enough until IPTV is finally ready.

Technorati tags: , ,