Campbell looks inside and out to dial up Time Warner's aggressive VoIP plans
Following some fits and starts with the technology during the last five years, Time Warner Cable has since found what it believes to be the right course and quickly moved ahead on a plan to roll out VoIP in all of its markets by the end of 2004.
For taking on such a gargantuan effort, and for the success the MSO has had with the service thus far, CED has named Gerry Campbell, Time Warner Cable's senior vice president of voice, as its inaugural Pacesetter in the Cable Voice category.
Time Warner formally applied the green light to its VoIP plans in mid-2003 when it launched services in Portland, Maine, offering an "all-you-can-eat" package for $39.95.
In December, Time Warner Cable removed any doubts about how aggressive it would be with VoIP when it inked multi-year strategic partnerships with Sprint Corp. and MCI, which are tasked with provisioning digital phone services, terminating IP voice traffic, and delivering enhanced 911 service.
Though other operators are planning on creating IP voice services from scratch, Time Warner Cable has taken the partnership approach from the get-go, opting for a structure that shares similarities with its video business–with Time Warner as a service provider buying programming (and in this case, services) from third parties.
"We wanted to be the retailer. We decided to go to [partners] and have them do the things behind the curtain," explains Campbell.
Time Warner has worked with technology and business partners ever since its launched VoIP service commercially in Maine last year. There, the MSO just renewed its agreement with Pine Tree Networks.
Initially, the people at Pine Tree were a bit wary of Time Warner Cable's motives, wondering if the MSO was using the partnership to provide it with telephony "training wheels," Campbell recalls.
What they quickly discovered was that a partnership with Time Warner Cable could add subscribers to the rolls and revenue to the coffers.
To wit, Pine Tree had about 3,000 lines in service when the partnership with Time Warner was set in motion. By the first quarter of 2004, that partnership had helped the CLEC push that figure to about 14,000.
And Pine Tree has reciprocated, although it took some internal education to convince some at the MSO that Pine Tree was the right partner. Some at the MSO wondered early on if the Pine Tree folks were "lobstermen by night, phone guys by day," Campbell jokingly remembers. But that early concern vanished when Pine Tree rapidly proved itself as a more than competent partner.
"They're a stronger partner for us in Maine than MCI and Sprint," Campbell says. "They're top-tier guys. They taught us a lot, and they were patient with us. They gave us a different way of looking at the business and how to approach MCI and Sprint. Without their help I don't think we'd be where we are today."
Looking ahead, Time Warner's VoIP future won't be beholden to adding bells and whistles just for the sake of the bells and whistles, but to do the proper research and "find out what the customer wants," Campbell says.
But that doesn't mean the operator isn't already looking over the next-gen possibilities, including follow-me services, speech recognition, TV-based caller ID and other applications that could be fused to a unified messaging service.
"We won't rely on just the technology that's available, but what the consumers really want and how they perceive the value of the service," Campbell says. "We want to stay away from price [wars]…and [instead] offer to the consumer what they can't get anywhere else."