my curiosity was piqued. Obviously Marcus had read one of my previous posts about CounterPath’s Bria on the iPad and iPhone and had encountered the CounterPath name in association with a new Rogers service. Over the years CounterPath has become associated with providing IP-based communications clients for enterprise, carrier and consumer use on PC’s, smartphones and tablets.
After some investigation it turns out that this past Monday Rogers sent an email to many of its consumer wireless customers asking them to take part in a beta program for a forthcoming service called Rogers One Number.
The concept basically is to provide a PC softphone that is associated with a wireless account such that conversations can be mirrored onto your PC through a web browser plugin on a Windows or Mac PC. Exchange SMS text messages, place and receive voice calls, there’s even a hint of a video call option in call management menu.
So what does this service deliver? From a web browser you can:
- synchronize contacts with your wireless device address book
- receive and place voice calls
- send and receive SMS messages
Going forward it appears Rogers One Number will also offer:
- links to Rogers Yahoo Mail and GMail
- receive and place video calls
All conversation activity, initiated or received on the softphone, is also reflected on the wireless phone(s)associated with the account. For instance, at this time, a call to my BlackBerry not only rings on my BlackBerry but also results in a call notification on my desktop PC. If I have missed a call a small “missed call” notification appears near the system tray on Windows PC’s. Text messages sent from the softphone also show up under text messages on the BlackBerry. And the service also applies for iPhone or Android phones.
So how does CounterPath come into the picture? When setting up the service there is a CounterPath End User License agreement to be accepted; also Norton Utilities identifies the plugin software as coming from CounterPath. CounterPath’s business model, in their OEM activities, involves providing the chat messaging along with voice and video calling infrastructure behind a user interface designed to an enterprise or carrier customer’s specifications. In this case Rogers Wireless is the CounterPath customer who is responsible for the final user interface.
From a start-up page a wireless customer can register for the service; once confirmed via SMS messaging of a PIN number you are taken to a setup wizard where you need to enter key information, including a physical location for associating with e911 services. At that point you are asked to download a browser plugin for either Windows or Mac. Once you relaunch the browser you can open up the portal at the user interface and start using the service.
Once set up I made a few test calls with good quality voice. On placing a voice call (green phone icon in the Header bar above) a small call management client appears with options to escalate to video, place a call on hold and end a call. The upper icon bar includes a call log, a dial pad and a settings menu associated with the audio and video hardware. The lower icon bar covers mic mute,switch between multiple calls, switch between “headphones” and “speakerphone” and add a third party for a conference call. The program automatically had designated my FREETALK Everyman Headset as the headphone and Yamaha SoundGadget speakerphone as the speakerphone.
The main question re the video is who can you have a video conversation with? At the moment it would appear to only work with calls where both parties were using the Rogers One Number portal where you can set up video. On a voice call to my Skype client (calling my Skype Online number), the client appears to support the G729 codec; however, given that CounterPath is now incorporating Skype’s SILK into other products, there may be a future opportunity to wider audio bandwidth calling – at least between Rogers One Number web portals, if not to the wireless device itself.
Also of interest is the line “My web phone Emergency Address”. This is the initial setting that one enters when working through the setup wizard addressing a CRTC requirement for support of emergency services.
The images below show the dial pad and audio/video settings. Of significant interest is the potential for support of HD video should a webcam support it. However, until I can find a party who can receive a video call, we won’t know the full answer.
Bottom line: The Rogers One Number client is a recognition that many users have only a wireless phone and a PC; landlines are losing customers, especially with the “under 35” demographic. It’s a convenience that allows their consumer customers to make and receive calls on a PC in parallel with calling activity on the wireless phone. As analyst Jon Arnold mentions in his post, Rogers Wireless “One Number” Launch – Upping the Stakes:
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….
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.
To go back to the original Tweet that triggered this post, is it flaky? No, but it’s still in beta. There are a few issues that need to be addressed; however, it certainly addresses the basic requirements of providing PC access to conversation activity associated with a wireless device. Its feature set is not at the level of Skype for both functionality and ease of navigation but it will certainly provide the basic text messaging along with voice and video calling features. (And text messaging will generate SMS revenues for Rogers.)
If there is one major disappointment, it’s that Rogers elected to use a web browser plugin instead of an independent client; that makes it somewhat clumsy to access along with the requirement for always having a browser open. And the browser plugin needs a fair bit of desktop real estate in order to be fully seen; not a client you can put to one side such as Skype or Trillian.
One other question: will this service also incorporate some aspect of social networking where it can follow Facebook and Twitter activity? Given it was subtitled, by default, “My Social Hub” I would expect it to include these features also.
With respect to that most important feature called price – other than to realize there can be associated SMS revenues, we still have not heard what the pricing model is for using Rogers One Number voice and video calls. Most likely it will follow the Rogers Home Phone long distance model where calls from a Rogers Home Phone customer to other Rogers Home Phone customers or Rogers Wireless customers within Canada have no associated long distance charges.
From a wireless carrier business perspective Rogers One Number is a feature that introduces unique competitive positioning into a Canadian market where six carriers are now looking for customers. For that reason I cannot see any other charges beyond what is currently charged for wireless services.
Check out Jon Arnold’s complete post for another perspective.