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Jazinga: SoHo voice done right

We’ve a bit of a fetish for little broadband boxes that sit around your home and office under desks and TVs. A key battleground for the future includes equipment like home hubs, femtocells, and set top boxes. If the edge of the network is where the smarts are, it’s also where the money will be made, since these are gateways to the customer for all kinds of voice, video and data services. They are also key enablers to two-sided markets.

We recently were loaned an interesting new box from Jazinga. It’s a PBX and wireless hub rolled into one, targeted at the SoHo/small business market. It highlights some key principles and issues in designing consumer premises equipment (CPE), and also raises some interesting questions around the role of telcos in a 2-sided market model.

Consumer premises equipment in its native environment: One Jazinga box

One of the largest problems the small business faces while looking for a phone system is cost and complexity. Current telephony or unified communication solutions generally require telecom expertise to install, configure and manage. Small businesses work with an IT VAR to set up their office network including printers, e-mail, fax etc. The problem is that when asked about phone systems they shrug their shoulders and suggest the business owner ask their telco or call a telecom expert.

Meanwhile, a telecom VAR will gladly install a system that requires their expertise to install, support and manage on an ongoing basis. A typical small office setup can cost US$5-10k. The business owner likely won’t even be able to add users, change IVR messages or move phones around without the VAR’s assistance.

Hosted systems providers have noticed that the cost of selling and supporting a 10 user implementation is about the same as a 200 person implementation, so they are moving their business upmarket. Some are even setting minimum user requirements for customers.

Enter Jazinga. It’s a simple box you plug into your broadband network, and plug in analogue or IP phones. When you plug an IP phone in, it autodetects and configures that phone. All it needs to know is who will be using the phones in the office and how they would like their callers to be greeted. It provides all the functions of a typical PBX, such as voicemail. Additionally you can create your own IVR (“press 1 for sales”). All done through a simple web-based wizard interface.

Simple non-technical user interface makes configuration easy.

Our experience was that it lives up to its claim. It’s still a job for someone with basic technological awareness, but anyone capable of managing a wireless access point could set it up. We’ve had far greater battles to get Windows printer sharing to work between Vista and XP!

So what are the lessons?

Making telephony better isn’t necessarily a matter of adding on tons of complex features. Value can come from democratising previously expensive technology and making it a mass market proposition. Jazinga simply packages up existing open source software and commodity-type hardware, with a simple user interface. It does a few things exceedingly well, rather than having a wide range of features nobody will use, and which work poorly.

The boundary lines between consumer and enterprise communications are blurring. Just as enterprises increasingly find their employees communications via Facebook, Twitter and Skype, high-end consumers are a target market for low-end enterprise features. Jazinga brings a consumer-like attitude to usability and provisioning to the small enterprise.

There is a bigger meta-trend of putting power back into the hands of users. Don’t think your call centre screen has the right fields you need brought up by default? Then you as a user should be able to change it.

Jazinga also shows how you can achieve a lot at the network edge, without having to invest in NGN infrastructure. This is a common theme: products like TiVo or Apple TV give you much of the benefit of network-based IPTV at a fraction of the cost, and with much greater flexibility. A distributed infrastructure lets you scale your without an up-front multi-million dollar investment. Even better, it takes the sting out of technically scaling your offer, unlike centralised services, and offers high resilience with no central point of failure.

What’s missing from the offer is the telco service component. As we’ve noted before, some of the most powerful value propositions are hybrid product-service businesses. Jazinga lets you choose any IP telephony provider you want to get PSTN dialling. It would be a natural thing for a telco to bundle in with a small business broadband offer, and for this part to be pre-provisioned.

Thus far, Jazinga has been rebuffed in its efforts to use the telco as a retail channel — particularly by the major operators. Jazinga are instead working through consumer electronics retailers and IT/telecoms VARs to get their product to market. Whether or not the telco makes a Jazinga box part of its formal product offer, the telco is likely to have as good an idea as anyone as to who is part of the target market. Retailers like WalMart and Home Depot use their customer data to drive their supply chains and act as a retail platform. A telco could be selling the ability to target subsets of its customer base with up-sell offers. In this example, it could be users who are most active during the day, indicating business use. (This need to become a better retailer and use customer data and analytics is precisely the message Microsoft is pushing — see our interview with Steve Zimba.)

There would also be a natural “support as a service” opportunity here for a telco. No dialtone? How do you know if it’s a broadband or telephony service problem? The telco is in a good position to help. Whilst Jazinga has no brand recognition on day 1 of launch, a co-branding with the telco brand says the offer is one you can rely on. It’s also worth noting that much of the need for support has been eliminated in the product design. How many other bits of CPE have put so much effort into the user experience of provisioning and configuration? The most basic things remain to be done, such as pre-programming home hubs with the right DSL username and password before mailing them out. Why shouldn’t it be truly “plug and play”?

Taking this theme further, the Jazinga folk are thinking through how such boxes can be used to auto-provision a wide variety of automated home and office products, not just IP telephones. That could make for a very powerful proposition as femtocells, home monitoring and smart utility meters proliferate.

Jazinga is not the first such good idea we’ve seen that telcos have overlooked, and we’re sure there will be many more innovative little boxes turning up under our desks. The question operators need to be asking themselves is why companies like Jazinga don’t see telcos as business partners.

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