Cable operators are opening a new front in the war with telephone companies by selling services to businesses, and telephone is a big part of the strategy.
Thus far, cable and telephone industries have engaged in a battle of bundles aimed mainly at residential customers. Telcos Verizon and AT&T have introduced television services that they can add to their phone and broadband offerings, while cable companies are offering voice as a complement to traditional video and high-speed Internet services.
That battle is spilling into the commercial arena as cable companies take aim at small and medium businesses in their footprint. While operators have offered commercial data services for years, many are just now ramping it up and pushing commercial voice services.
Industry heavyweights Comcast and Time Warner Cable are both beating their chests on the buildup of their commercial business. In a presentation at a recent investor conference, Comcast Co-CFO John Alchin said the company was targeting a 20% penetration over the next five years into these markets, generating $12-$15 billion in revenue for telephone companies. The company plans to invest $3 billion over the next five years to push its commercial offering of voice and data.
Time Warner Cable (TWC) sees these small and medium businesses as a $9-$11 billion opportunity in its footprint, of which $6-$7.5 billion is commercial phone. By the end of the year the company will have commercial phone available across its legacy footprint, and by mid-2008 in its acquired Adelphia systems as well.
“It’s a market that has been ignored and underserved” by the telephone companies, says Ken Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of business services for TWC.
Cable companies entering the phone space commonly position themselves as a “local” alternative to a large impersonal telephone company. TWC says it will use a multi-platform marketing assault in 2008 to deliver this message and also plans to undercut telco pricing by 10-15% to drive penetration into these markets.
Bring it on, says market leader Verizon Communications. The telecom giant has some experience going head-to-head with cable operators in the commercial phone business, competing with Cox Communications, which launched its commercial business 10 years ago, in Virginia and Rhode Island and Cablevision in New York and New Jersey.
“We welcome the competition,” says Verizon’s director of small business marketing and strategy Mike McLaughlin, who says network reliability and the ability to customize services is what sets Verizon apart. “These other guys may dabble, but when you get into serving commercial customers, it’s a whole other business and set of requirements.”