Viseon Comes (Videophone) Calling on Ops


As cable operators look to add services to tiered high-speed data offerings, Viseon Corp. is offering up VisiFone videophone technology, which the company believes would appeal to small home-based business — and, perhaps, the grandparent market.

The VisiFone is a telephone with an liquid crystal display screen and a tiny camera that hooks into a cable modem/PC setup, either directly or through a home-networking router, according to company CEO John Harris.

Video images of the two parties on the phone call are transmitted through the high-speed broadband network and displayed on the LCD screen.

The company is in trials with several MSOs, Harris said, including an in-home trial with Charter Communications Inc. Other MSOs are testing the phone at their corporate headquarters.

VisiFone has priced the product at $599. That may be out of reach for most grandparents, but Harris believes it's tailor-made for small businesses run from the home, especially those that already have broadband connections.

"The small business can afford this," he said.

Also, Harris believes pricing could drop. "With volumes, we could get the unit below $100," he said. The $200 price range seems to be the sweet spot for MSOs.

"Long-term, what most MSOs want is a retail price at $200," he said.

Consumers could then buy the product and operators could include the service on the high-end of a tiered data package.

"They could use the application to drive higher tiered services," he said. With Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 2.0, he added, MSOs could also meter the service.

In the Charter trial, Harris said 90% of the VisiFones connect to the PC via home networking routers, which cost $49.

"All the feedback has been positive," he said. "The consumer loves it. The grandma can see the grandkids."

The videophone call itself runs through the cable system's Internet-protocol backbone, just like any other data traffic.

Users can set the phone to three speeds: 128, 256 or 384 Kbps, Harris said.

Harris said Viseon has sold a few hundred VisiFones directly to consumers, who are using cable modem or digital subscriber line connections to make video calls. In those cases, the broadband provider may not realize from traffic patterns that the consumer is making video phone calls over the IP network.

But the transmission of such calls wouldn't be much different than current iterations of streaming video, Harris said.

"We believe this application is friendlier to the MSO network than some people think," he said.