VoIP Battles Behind Brick and Mortar

AT&T, Vonage, and now, Packet8 are concentrating their broadband telephony sales efforts offline, cutting deals with retailers for exclusive marketing relationships, efforts one analyst says helps "legitimize" VoIP.

A day after Vonage Holdings announced a new retail relationship with Buy.com and only a week after AT&T hooked up with TigerDirect.com for its VoIP service, yet another VoIP provider is unveiling a new, though small retail relationship.

8×8, Inc, the Packet8 VoIP provider announced that Micro Center, a 20 store computer and technology retail chain with outlets in 13 U.S. states, will offer its products and services.

Under terms of the agreement, Micro Center will offer the Packet8 DTA Broadband Phone Adapter, the stand alone Packet8 broadband consumer VideoPhone and the accompanying VoIP service plans.

Vonage Holdings Corp. announced that its calling plans and related equipment will be offered through Buy.com’s e-commerce Web site, www.buy.com. The announcement comes less than a week after AT&T announced a similar deal with Internet electronics retailer Tiger Direct.

When the AT&T announcement was made, Steven Titch, telecom analyst for the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, said that the relationship helped legitimize the provider-retailer partnership, paving the way for newer companies to expand those relationships.

The deal with Buy.com was already in the works before the AT&T announcement, according to Vonage spokesman Mitchell Slepian.

“Retail partnerships are extremely important to us,” Slepian said. “We started offering our service through Circuit City back in March and through Amazon.com before that. We want to offer consumers the best choice of where to buy our service and get it into their home office.”

High-speed Internet customers who have a standard telephone can sign up for Vonage's service by purchasing one of two starter kits from Buy.com, both with Linksys devices. Either device will allow customers to make unlimited calls in the U.S. and Canada for $24.99 per month. The Linksys RT31P2 will be available at $79.99 and the PAP2 will be available at $48.99. After rebates the RT31P2 is $39.99 and the PAP2 is $8.99.

Consumers can also purchase Vonage's $14.99 Residential Basic 500 Plan. Also available are its two small business plans, which both offer a free dedicated fax line. The small business basic pan, $39.99 offers 1500 minutes of calling throughout the U.S. and Canada and the small business unlimited plan, $49.99 offers unlimited U.S. and Canadian calling.

Vonage wasn’t the only VoIP provider to unveil a new marketing relationship. NewMarket Technology, Inc. VoIP subsidiary, Xiptel Communications, will sell its services through InDigiNet Inc,'s national marketing organization, Spencer Communications. Spencer Communications will sell Xiptel’s bundled service offerings to the small and medium size business market.

Vonage will continue to seek other retail relationships, Slepian said. Other VoIP providers are sure to compete for these partnerships as well.