Study: Pure VoIP too complicated for mass market

April 18, 2007 -- A Forrester Research study contends that user-friendly improvements are needed.

Apr 18th, 2007

April 18, 2007 -- With voice over IP (VoIP) fast developing as a mode of Internet telephony, the competitive edge sees vendors vying for a top place in the market. However, a recent study by Forrester Research contends that the main VoIP software service vendors - Skype, Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft and ICQ - haven't yet developed a user-friendly, easy-to-use service for mainstream consumers.

"Consumers choose voice over IP because it offers select zero or low-cost alternatives to expensive phone calls that telcos cannot beat," says Forrester analyst Zayera Khan, the author of the study. "The current Web-based VoIP offers are attracting tech-savvy consumers, but mainstream consumers are still struggling with complicated and confusing menus and control functions, which need to be radically improved before navigation becomes more user-friendly. Here telecom and cable operators have an edge in the market segment."

According to the study, more than half of European Internet users have heard of VoIP, but only 8% have actually tried it. Those comfortable using the service are highly educated males hungry for the latest technology, who began using Skype and Windows Live Messenger for free PC-2-PC phone calls. Of this small group, however, only 4% continued to use VoIP for some or all of their private calls, while 3% gave up.

Also, says the report, current telcos and cabelcos are competing head to head with Google Talk, ICQ, Skype, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo! Messenger. Fixed-network operators such as British Telecom and Orange are now offering triple play services (VoIP bundled with digital TV and broadband) and the VoIP market is becoming more and more congested.

The study finds that next to the five top players in the VoIP market are contesters such as Gizmo Project, Hullo, Jajah and SightSpeed, as well as device manufacturers like Creative Labs, and a number of telecom and cable incumbents like Deutsche Telekom, Mobilkom Austria, Telefónica and TeliaSonera.

Jajah founder Roman Scharf believes the Forrester report highlights why the traditional PC-2-PC VoIP companies are struggling to attract and keep customers. "The complexity and hassle of VoIP software solutions have inspired us at Jajah to develop an approach to VoIP that is designed for everyone, not just techies," he says. "Users of Jajah initiate calls on [our] website. The service connects their phone to any other phone on the globe for free or at very low Internet rates."

According to the study, the main flaws that need to be addressed by VoIP vendors regarding consumer needs are value, navigation, presentation and trust/security.

Forrester says that VoIP navigation systems present a problem because the menu categories are inappropriately described, confusing consumers with unclear terms. Icons, graphics, buttons, rollovers and navigation menus are not clearly symbolized, which leads to confusion when trying to discern whether a phone symbol represents voice or video calling, for example.

Also, the study suggests that mainstream consumers might worry about privacy and security policies, as these are not displayed on all relevant pages. The study also found the surveyed VoIP systems deficient in key-word based searches. While tool bars exists, the tested applications showed very poor integration of any powerful search capability, which makes it harder to cut through tech jargon, says the firm.

According to Forrester, currently Yahoo! has the best record for usability, although improvements need to be made with installation and set-up as well as with search functions. Further, offline-messaging, functionality and connectivity testing need to be integrated, says the firm. Such tests are currently only offered by Skype.

More about the study, "The VoIP Customer Experience: Work in Progress," can be found at the Forrester Research Web site, www.forrester.com.

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