Rogers One Number Service Launched - UC for Consumers

Yesterday was the official launch of the Rogers One Number service, and I was on-hand for the analyst briefing hosted at their HQ in downtown Toronto.

This was the second day in a row that Ronald Gruia from Frost & Sullivan was with me at an event - that's never happened before, and go figure, we both started working there the same day 11 years ago this week. Time flies, huh? I mention that because during the briefing we saw that the new service is dubbed RON for short. Had to smile, thinking maybe Ron is so influential they named this after him, but I don't think us analysts have quite that much currency. I digress.

So, what is Rogers One Number? Well, aside from the press release, and the Rogers One Number website (where you can sign up now), I'll steer you to my post from almost two months ago, when I got an early heads-up about it. Beyond that, I'll add some takeaways based on yesterday's briefing and demo.

First, the demo was held at their "Connected Condo", which is exactly as it sounds. They've carved out some office space at HQ, and dressed it up as a one bedroom condo to showcase how the perfect Rogers customer would live. So, you name the Rogers service, and this condo has it - TV, Internet, cordless phones, a tablet, a very cute kitchen counter mini-tablet for their Home Monitoring service, etc. We should all be so lucky, huh? My photos below provides a bit of that flavor. Anyhow, it's a great way to demonstrate residential services, and to make it even more realistic, they had an actual One Number user speak about how nicely the service ties together so many apps he uses all day long.

Second - let's get this straight. One Number is free for - and among - Rogers wireless subscribers. Based on what I've seen so far, they need to get that message across more clearly, as the mainstream market may have enough trouble just understanding the concept - and if it seems complicated, my guess is they'll assume it costs money, at which point, you'll lose them. This is a great service for early adopters, and anyone who recognizes the potential to really cut back on their wireless LD and roaming costs when calling other Rogers wireless subscribers. Once you understand what RON is, and that it's free, the value proposition is pretty strong, even for a light mobile user like myself. And, yes, I DID sign on for the service after the demo. If you do the same, let's try it out together!

Third - for now, RON is basically a bridge that makes your PC an extension of your wireless phone - and vice versa. I think of RON as UC for consumers with nice FM/FM and FMC capabilities. In my initial post, I explained what CounterPath brings with the softphone client, which is a key enabler for RON, and if it provides a reliable, high quality experience, this could be a very sticky application. To me, that's a pretty big deal for a few reasons - see below.

Sticky factor #1 - by bringing your mobile contacts into the PC environment, these modes become interchangeable. Think about that - not only is mobile call quality very uneven (and it doesn't matter how much you spend on the service!), but smartphones are pretty stupid when it comes to being used for phone calls. The latter is one of my biggest pushbacks against mobility - these devices are great mini-PCs, but the telephony experience seems like an afterthought. Anyhow, you can save a lot money making these calls on the PC, and that's good news for any mobile subscriber. Even better if you get a better calling experience, which PC-based VoIP can deliver, especially if your alternative is making a mobile call while walking down a busy street (and really, how many people doing that do you think are actually talking to somebody?)

Sticky factor #2 - if you haven't already figured out, RON is a Skype-killer. In my book, whoever owns the contact directory owns the customer, and once you import your mobile contacts, there will be less reason to use Skype - either for voice calls or video calls. This is a pretty good flanking move for Rogers, just in case any of the other IM-based/OTT services - MSN, Yahoo, Google, AIM, etc. - want to ramp up efforts to siphon minutes off the Rogers network.

Sticky factor #3 - I asked about extending RON to tablets or even Apple TV, but neither are in the mix yet. It's too early for those interfaces, but I had to ask, since those are the only screens not supported by RON. At some point I think both will happen, so if you think RON is sticky now, wait until you can use it on those screens.

Sticky factor #4 - don't forget the landline! I don't know what their business case models look like for RON, but you have to figure they'll lose some wireless LD and roaming revenue from subscribers who shift these types of calls to the PC. Fair enough, but Rogers also has quite a few Home Phone subscribers. Now that there's an official CRTC plan to phase out the PSTN in the next couple of years, all landline providers face the same endgame. Rogers, of course, has the least to lose since they don't have a legacy infrastructure, and the landline business is really gravy. Since it's VoIP, they can make some hay by grabbing more PSTN subscribers from the telcos, and with RON, they have an even stronger value proposition to get those wins. Think about how strong that bundle will look compared to what the incumbent might be offering. Coming back to the business model, however, there will also be some lost revenues to consider. If RON really works as advertised, the value proposition for Home Phone will diminish, perhaps to the point where it's simply not needed. Right?

We were told this service is the first of its kind in North America, and I can't counter that - so it must be true! Not only is this good to see coming from a Canadian operator, but from a cableco nonetheless. This is very much in line with the innovation issues we talked about the previous night at MobileMonday, and serves as another example of how changes in telecom are not being driven by the telcos. When successful innovation comes from the outside, the rules change, and they're no longer being made by those on the inside. It's hard to say if One Number is a game-changer, but in my mind, Rogers has the right idea here - now let's just see if the market gets it.

MobileMonday roundtable - where's the innovation?

Last night was MobileMonday Toronto's annual Meet the Analysts event at the MaRS Discovery District facility. I was invited to moderate, and fortunately, the weather co-operated. Last week I was at the ITExpo in Miami, and my flight back to Toronto yesterday came off without any delays - phew!

Joining me on the panel was my Frost & Sullivan pal, Ronald Gruia, and Mike Abramsky from RBC Capital Markets. We were there to talk about our outlook for the mobile market in 2012, and we could have gone on a long time. The turnout was solid - I'd say about 200 attendess, and Jim Brown's team at MobileMonday Toronto has done a great job to organize this community.

The event was not recorded, but there was plenty of on-the-fly commentary on their Twitter feed - #momoto - so, check that out to see what you missed. I'd say the big theme last night was innovation, and my concern was where it was going to come from.

We all agreed that the incumbents are not really driving this in Canada, and a lot will have to come either from the handset vendors - as per Mike Abramsky's view - or the developer community, which was where I was going. Ronald, being a globetrotter, added an international view, citing examples where operators overseas are doing all kinds of interesting things, especially with the two-sided business model. If you don't know what that is, you'll need to start following folks like Ronald and me more closely! Otherwise, if you missed it, you missed it, but if this space is on your radar, at minimum, you should plug into MobileMonday Toronto, and maybe you can make it next time.

MobileMonday Toronto - Feb. 6 - You There?

Just a friendly shout-out for this event before I head off to Miami on Monday for the ITExpo. On Monday, Feb. 6, I'll be moderating the "Meet the Analysts" event at MobileMonday Toronto. It's part of a regular series held at the MaRS facility downtown, which is probably Canada's leading business incubator, especially for technology and health sciences startups.

This will be a fun panel, as we'll share our views on the outlook for mobility in 2012, with a particular focus on how the financial sector sees this space. Joining me will be buddy Ronald Gruia from my alum Frost & Sullivan, and Mike Abramsky from RBC Equity Research. Don't worry, it's free! Registrations have been strong, but there's still room, so it's not too late. Plus, if you're going to MWC, this will be a great networking event to get caught up on where mobility is going.

MobileMonday Toronto - 2012 Outlook for Wireless

If you're local and interested in where mobility is heading in 2012 - and who isn't? - you'll want to join me at the next MobileMonday Toronto event. The date is February 6, and it's at the regular location - MaRS - not the planet, but the MaRS Discovery District downtown. If you don't know what MaRS is, then you should come out just for that. It's free, and aside from the program, it's a great networking opportunity for those active in wireless.

The theme is "Meet the Analysts", and I'll be moderating a panel discussion where we'll cover the big mobility themes happening now, not just locally, but globally. Joining me will be long-time colleague Ronald Gruia (Frost & Sullivan) and veteran analyst Mike Abramsky from RBC Equity Research.

I'll do another shout-out closer to the date, but if you want to book it in your calendar now, here's the event web page, along with the registration form. See you there!

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.