Are Videophones About to Blow Up?

Are you ready for the coming videophone service revolution? You’ve no doubt heard the business world is all in a tizzy about the contracting economy, but perhaps you didn’t know that some of the more savvy titans of industry have been saving costs by convening through video teleconference for a while now.

And the trend may be spilling over into the consumer market, as people find it harder to travel to see far-off relatives for birthdays, anniversaries and whatnot.

If you’re a videophone revolution skeptic, Vidtel is a case in point for the “build it and they will come” theory of enterprise evolution. The Sunnyvale company this month came out of Beta with a soft launch of its new videoconferencing service. Vidtel is “taking orders, taking paying customers, and is live,” according to former Broadsoft executive and Vidtel CEO, Scott Wharton.

Initially the company intends reaching out to grandparents, mothers with new children, families separated by long distances, even people who want to be able to check on their pets while they are at work. “There’s an auto answer function on the phone [so you can] say high to Fido or Muffy,” said Wharton.

Vidtel also plans to market the phone to the hearing-impaired and to telecommuters.

Using an out of the box plug and play solution centered on the Grandstream GXP3000, Vidtel’s service runs on a phone supporting SIP, H.264, over bandwidth from 32 Kbps to 1 Mbps, with a 5.6 inch TFTP LCD screen and VGA camera. Vidtel customized firmware loaded onto the unit includes an XML phone directory of Vidtel users.

The phone is $200 and a standard calling plan is $15 per month with unlimited video calling in the Vidtel network. You can also make old-school voice calls within the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico at 3.9 cents per minute. A premium plan at $30 per month includes unlimited voice calls to US, Canada, and Puerto Rico, plus unlimited in-network video calls.

Added to the $20 one-time activation fee, plus some shipping and handling, taxes and excise fees – the Vidtel experiment is one for grandparents and new moms who haven’t lost their jobs recently or had their life’s savings decimated in the stock market debacle. But the cost for his customers to get in the game has not deterred Wharton from making big plans for Vidtel.

He says the company plans to resell its services through “thousands” of wireless ISPs and smaller CLECs and is optimistic about being able to white-label the service to larger carriers by simply reworking the customized firmware load.

In 2009, the company will be working to integrate its service with video conferencing systems such as Polycom, with other video calling networks, and chat services. Wharton says Vidtel customers will have the ability to make and receive video calls from services such as Skype, iChat, Google, and video-enabled mobile phones, though he gave no date certain for those features to go live.

Videoconferencing has always seemed to be something with great potential, at least since the days of The Jetsons and the original Star Trek. In recent years, improvements to bandwidth availability and the emergence of hardware capable of getting it done on a telephone, such as the GXP3000, have made it a possible reality, one already embraced to some degree by enterprises employing pricey hardware from companies such as Polycom.

Now services such as Vidtel seem to be banking on a coming wave of adoption by the consumer market, and it’s worth keeping an eye on them to see how they will compete with computer-based video chat offerings from the likes of Skype, iChat, and Sightspeed.


  1. Thanks for the write up around Vidtel. We are getting a very strong response from our customers who love the experience and convenience of combining a regular phone with video calling.

    We have a 30 day risk free offer for anyone skeptical but interested in trying it out 🙂


    Scott Wharton
    Vidtel, Inc.