Rogers Wireless "One Number" Launch - Upping the Stakes

At its core, Toronto-based Rogers is a cable company, but wireless is where the action is, and that's where they're doing the most interesting things. They bet right on GSM - which begat their iPhone monopoly until recently - and through some shrewd moves, have become Canada's #1 mobile operator. They really are a one-of-a-kind entity, as no major MSO I know of has their mix of assets, all of which make money.

Along those lines, Rogers Wireless is set today to launch their beta of a new service called One Number. It's exactly what you think - one number to manage all your communications. If there's one key to success with consumer services - especially technology - it's simplicity. Skype taught us all about that and they haven't looked back since. Doesn't get much simpler that this - one number - that's all you need to worry about. It's the same mentality that goes with bundling, which they've been very successful at. If you like the bundle, you'll probably like One Number.

This is hardly a new concept, and anyone in Unified Communications circles would yawn. They shouldn't, though. UC is really for the business market, and the telecom piece is built mainly around the desk phone. The twist with One Number is that it's built around the mobile phone, which is pretty much where consumers live, breath and sleep these days. Rogers Wireless has read the tea leaves right, and to make their bundle even stickier, One Number basically integrates mobility with your desktop. So what? So this. Now you can hand off mobile calls to your PC - or vice versa - as some people do with Skype. Same for texting and messaging - what you do on your mobile phone you can now do on your PC. And of course your contacts will synch between the devices so the experience is seamless.

Pretty cool, pretty easy and pretty familiar. Sounds like Google Voice, huh? Problem is you can't get it here in Canada - something to do with how the big 3 operators like to do things. Anyhow, it's very much a Web 2.0-meets mobility-meets VoIP mashup, and I think consumers will love it. Most people under 30 have long moved on from a landline, and with One Number, their PC simply becomes an extension of their smartphone - you just don't need anything else. Clever, huh? If you can find a way to use Google Voice, there's no need now. Skype. Well, it's always there, but hey, if most of your everyday contacts are in your smartphone directory, it will just make more sense to call them from your PC that way, especially since those calls are largely free.

There are some other twists to this, but I'll leave those details to the real geeks. I just find it very telling how this is all being driven by wireless now, and One Number is a neat way to marry this with the PC. Of course, all of this will depend on the end user experience - if handoffs drop, or call quality is crappy, One Number will quickly and quietly disappear. In that regard, there's a nice Canadian angle, as the PC platform is from CounterPath, a company I have followed for some time. Their Bria soft client is quite good - I trialed it recently, and the company is doing well - their Q2 numbers were just released today. At a time when 6 of Canada's 7 hockey teams are mired in total mediocrity, it's great to see some good news coming from these companies.

As a coda, I should note that there's more to consider than just making the Rogers bundle stickier. Last night I was at a holiday party for one of the new wireless entrants, and it's very interesting to hear their take on the competitive landscape. Canada's wireless market has some challenging dynamics, and the regulators are doing everything they can to legislate competition. The new operators are pureplay mobile services, and One Number is another way for Rogers to differentiate and keep their ARPU up where investors are happy.

Not everybody needs or wants to integrate mobility with their PC, but those who do are pretty valuable customers. Rogers gets that, and One Number will help keep those customers under their tent. If this works, I have no doubt that TELUS and Bell will soon offer similar services, if only to keep their customers from going to Rogers. Until then, it's Rogers out in front again, and I'm sure CounterPath is hoping that everyone wants it.