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Summary:

Broadband service providers for some odd reason seem to think they have to come up with a killer convergence device for the home — never mind if their customers really want such a device or not. (I know I don’t.) DSLReports today notes that Comcast plans […]

Broadband service providers for some odd reason seem to think they have to come up with a killer convergence device for the home — never mind if their customers really want such a device or not. (I know I don’t.) DSLReports today notes that Comcast plans to release a device called HomePoint that will integrate “a wireless home router and the company’s VoIP service, integrating all of their digital voice functionality via up to five handsets. The device is also integrated with Comcast e-mail service, and will allow users to check e-mail, manage Comcast contacts and access visual voicemail.”

And for the privilege of using this device, you’d have to fork out $60 a year. Ha! I’d charge Comcast just to display it in my house; HomePoint is about as attractive as a Soviet-era office block. I remember hearing about similar gadgets when VoIP was the new new thing. If my memory serves me correctly, it was SunRocket that led the charge and wanted to sell a converged device. Cisco has tried to push convergence features in its IP phones.

Fast-forward to the present, and Comcast isn’t the only one to try its hand at a digital home hub/convergence device. AT&T has Home Manager and Verizon launched Verizon Hub (it’s since stopped selling the Hub, however). My advice to Comcast and other ISPs? Develop an app that does what HomePoint does, but for the iPhone and Android-based devices. There’s a good chance you’ll actually find someone who wants to use them.

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  1. While I am not interested in such a device for either myself or for the pro-bono “contract” family IT work I do when I’m not at my day job, I have to disagree with you. It seems like every tech blogger has jumped onto the iPhone, Android, etc. mobile handset application market without really thinking about its implications or utility. Let me explain why.

    I live in a beautiful area on the side of a hill overlooking a majestic (but slightly drought-affected) lake. The 3G signal here by AT&T and T-Mobile is dismal at best. I’ve come to accept this as a sacrifice for living here even though 3G service doesn’t officially disappear for another dozen miles or so up the highway at the border of the most distant suburbs. I rely on my in-wall whole-house gigabit ethernet and 3 wireless access points for adequate high-speed internet access within the walls of my home. The 3G service here is lacking so bad that I have considered installing multiple outdoor wireless access points in both the front and backyard.

    A Comcast VoIP application on my already generous mobile voice and data plan is useless especially when I’m at home. It would be useless even when I’m away from home in areas with good 3G coverage. I’ve been using VoIP over hardwired, 3G, and Wifi for many years now–certainly longer than before it became a fad in the Silicon Valley echo-chamber–on many devices including my coveted Nokia E61 and E71 handsets. The only place where VoIP is useful is to stay in touch with my many friends and family overseas. Domestic VoIP calling is a bit of a waste. I will accept there aren’t many people in my exact situation but the utility of any mobile application is first determined by the network coverage of the provider. This concept is similar to many other products in a very diverse set of fields.

    Many regular people have a lot of trouble setting up high-speed internet access, wireless routers, and VoIP unless its done with a fair bit of hand holding by either the service provider or a local techie friend. A convergence device is quite useful in this demographic not necessarily for the customer but for the installer and the provider’s continued maintenance. Less maintenance and increase in user friendliness ultimately benefits the pricing structure and increases adoption rates. Until today’s 3G reliability, tiny download limits, speed improvements in the future via 4G/LTE and many other things change I don’t see people dumping home broadband access or 802.11 wireless technology in favor of mobile phones. This device fills a necessary niche for people who want a simply device for internet, wireless, and telephone at home. Comcast can now provide everything together in two simple boxes: one for TV and one for internet/VoIP.

    Lastly, I’m no fan of Comcast. They lost favor with me long before they implemented their draconian 250 gigabyte monthly download limit which hinders legal online media purchases and viewing, online backups, and many other activities for people with fully connected homes such as mine. I also have a grievance with Comcast Digital Voice which is Comcast’s VoIP service. They have severe billing problems. Here is a quick summary…

    1. They will not give electronic or paper itemized calling bills with the cost of each call. Customers can only get a call list after jumping through many unnecessary hoops.

    2. Comcast’s international calling plan (for those times end-to-end VoIP isn’t feasible) is a fraud. They will provide plans which allocate a certain number of minutes for landline calls (mobile calls are extra), but they will misidentify landlines as mobile phones so they can bill for very high per-minute charges.

    3. I had complained over and over again about this billing discrepancy for months but was bounced around by Comcast’s terrible customer service who doesn’t know how to run a telephone company. I was given the ominous excuse that I was making “excessive” international calls but they would not give me an itemized bill to provide proof.

    4. I never had to time to get to the bottom of it until a month ago. The solution? I stopped all international calls on my Comcast plan (which I’m locked into for a bit longer) and then called customer service again when I received another astronomical telephone bill. I spent 4 hours on the phone and counted minute-by-minute with 3 different representatives and asked them where the charges were coming from. No one knew. They then filed a “complaint” with their billing department and I was told that it would take 2-3 months to investigate–not resolve–the issue. They still wouldn’t provide an itemized bill and also stated they only keep the last 3 months of bills on file so I won’t be able to get refunds on the thousands I may have overpaid them. I have a copy of my mailed bills but I wasn’t able to retrieve call lists easily until I forced Comcast’s hand so I lack documentation beyond the 3 months they claim to keep on record. For the last 3 months, Comcast has all the proof they need.

    5. My advice to ALL family member and friends is the same: stay away from Comcast all together. If you must get Comcast then NEVER get their digital telephone service. They will use their lack of itemize electronic bills as a way to gouge customers. In the mean time I’m waiting for Comcast to provide a solution to this mess. If they don’t then I’ve already prepared a copy of my bills for distribution to the various consumer protection agencies and will publish my bills online.

    Sorry Om, my comment is longer than your post.

    Tom

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    1. of course, the app could just use the WiFi – which is essentially what their “converged” device uses. So from that perspective, many of your arguments will be addressed.

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      1. Using Wifi on a handset via an app still doesn’t address the fact that people will still need a broadband connection and wifi at home. One can’t replace the other. It would benefit Comcast to make the entire box available to their installers. The app you suggest can be something in addition to a convergence device but certainly couldn’t replace it especially if wifi is needed at home to augment the coverage poor AT&T and T-Mobile networks.

        Om, don’t get me wrong I’ve worked on implementing a universal messaging system at home and like using a landline via my Nokia handset over wifi through Asterisk, PBXnSIP, Microsoft Exchange, and Microsoft OCS tricks. However, the phone is a place where I still need some level of redundancy (home security system, etc) and putting it all onto an iPhone or Android device isn’t a viable replacement..

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  2. Why so dismissive? The market will quickly indicate whether it likes this device or not.

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    1. Brett,

      The market dismissed the Verizon Hub and of course whatever others came earlier. I know you have an ISP. Just wondering how many of your customers have asked for such a device. It would be a good indication of the market demand.

      Secondly, I am not sure I want devices from Comcast or its partners mostly because their user experience efforts in the past have been terrible.

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      1. I do not offer VoIP or television service. However, consumers are very interested in having me stock, resell, and configure integrated devices for them. The most popular ones are routers with integrated VoIP that can be used with a service like Vonage.

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      2. It was Verizon Wireless, not Verizon that offered and dropped the product. Not sure why VZW even offered the product since it was not even wireless.
        The concept is solid and if packaged with a VOiceIP service and Widgets, to include such items as Home Automation apps etc you would have a neat little dispay for a Kitchen or bedroom to help manage your home and entertainment. It is all about the Broadband Apps and hwere and how I could use them in my home.

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  3. There is merit in having a convergence device (actually several) however the problem I see is that each ISP is introducing their own and hence diluting the merits to be offered from these convergence devices. For example, with the right services being exposed by these devices – video could be shared between any devices inside or outside the home while maintaining the appropriate content rights.

    The problem with each of these vendors is that they have their own platform and are too focused for short term gain to improve their revenue tied to these devices. If I were them I would open up the application of that platform and have third party developers build for them.

    But then again most of these folks tried that with Tru2Way and failed :-)

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  4. Completely agree,
    Total waste except if you live in an area where there is no 3G signal ( like the person with very long comment above). I guess COMCAST and VERIZON are targeting these folks who live far away from the wireless signals.

    For majority of the folks these are nothing but “me too” devices , but for the folks who need them they are worth every dollar they paid.

    All in all , these are totally redundant products if you have a smart phone.

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    1. You try getting a solid signal in a home with any of the existing 3G networks. Won’t happen on any regular basis, unless you spend $$$ and get a Femtocell. Why do that when you already have a Broadband Link in the Home and can use the big pipe to provide this new 4th Screen capability.
      This idea of a Home Gateway type device is solid and just needs to be packages properly along with a Service Providers other links.
      This marketing spin by Carriers that their Cell Networks should be used in the Home is fancy. WHat happens when one needs to deliver a Video Surveillance or other home Automation services out over this network?? The carriers are already having problems with their Voice/Data networks.

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  5. Can any company afford to bring devices to market that should have been killed at the product development stage? This illustrates the critical distinction between MurderBoarding and whiteboarding.

    http://bit.ly/MurderBoarding

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  6. If not the ISP’s someone else will introduce these devices. They are all set to converge…look at the roadmap for device companies. Whether they do it through software on other’s hardware or develop their own hardware is a strategic issue – http://wp.me/pw0hs-7j

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  7. Om,

    On your comment-

    “My advice to Comcast and other ISPs? Develop an app that does what HomePoint does, but for the iPhone and Android-based devices. There’s a good chance you’ll actually find someone who wants to use them”.

    Comcast launched an iPhone/iPod touch application in July this year which was received very well, and had over 100K downloads by its customers in just 5 days. The application called the ‘comcast mobile app’ does exactly what the HomePoint does and probably more than that……. It extends all core comcast value added services that a comcast sub wants outside the home.

    To start with – The Ver 1 of the application (which is far better than the usual Ver 1s) , let’s me check my unified mailbox – email+ Visual VM, lets me manage my home phone – call logs, visual voicemail, call forwarding and much more.. the same app combines all TV and On demand products, – TV listings features, discover free on Demand content … above all it features an address book sync client , that keeps my iPhone and Comcast contact list in sync.. Much better than the stupid Apple MobileME service that screwed up all my contacts…

    check these reviews – http://www.pcworld.com/article/168531/first_look_comcast_mobile_app_for_iphone.html
    http://www.pcworld.com/article/168531/first_look_comcast_mobile_app_for_iphone.html

    Comcast forums say that the future versions will have everything that I am waiting for – Capability to do Remote DVR, mobile VOIP (extending my home phone subscription to my mobile), Premium On Demand Video streaming. I have been told that the Comcast mobile app will be available most BlackBerry devices by end of this year, followed by Android devices

    If this is not a true Convergence app, then what IS? … I subscribed for Comcast triple play last year, and was taken by surprise when this App was launched, and GUESS WHAT… IT IS FREE!!!! .. I use it everyday to do everything for which I had to go to 5 different places before.

    Instead of having multiple apps that do their own thin- An email app for email, a VoIP app… A guide app (DirectTV)… A remote DVR app (AT&T). .. A billing app to check my bill…. .I mean, where is the convergence???. I see all these SILO product offerings that make things even more complicated. Comcast mobile app is a perfect example of a true convergence app that brings all the products and service under one simple to use app…

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