Staying connectedAugust 4, 2009: 6:00 PM ET
Let's face it, landlines are out.
The sale of home phones is expected to fall again this year and next — just like it has for the past four years. In 2005, more than 55,000 home phone units were sold, totaling about $1.14 billion. Compare that to next year's projected sales of a measly $369 million, according to the Consumer Electronic Association.
Consumers have been dropping their landline for years now — in 2007, a government survey found that one out of every six American homes relied solely on cellphones. It was a shocker back then, but makes sense now. "It came down to a question of cost and benefit for the consumer," says Shawn DuBravac, the director of research at Consumer Electronic Association.
And now these customers are up for grabs, and practically every telecommunications company is trying to figure out the best way to help future consumers simply have a conversation — whether it be on a landline, cellphone, over the web or all three.
Start-up TelCentris and telephone manufacturing company Siemens Gigaset, a licensee of electronics powerhouse Siemens, recently stopped by FORTUNE to demo their new products that aim to address this very issue.
TelCentris walked us through its new software program called VoxOx, which the company promises will help consumers "take control" of all forms of communication — from phone calls to IMs to faxes.
"The problem that we address is this interconnected lifestyle in terms of being constantly connected through electronic means…that generally don't communicate with each other," says Michael Faught, TelCentris' president and chief financial officer. "This creates a big problem: communication overload and we're trying to fix that."
VoxOx gives users a phone number, which functions as a portal for the software application that's managed on a computer desktop. Phone calls are then pushed through the number and can be redirected to other lines for easy access. Right now, VoxOx is free to download and long-distance calls are still cheaper than typical rates, but a bit more expensive than Skype.
It also acts as a hub for every instant-messaging service or social-networking site so all IMs and tweets can be viewed in one spot. Other features include being able to listen and grab the call while someone is leaving a voicemail, recording phone calls and programming a "personal assistant" to answer calls.
The folks from Siemens Gigaset showed FORTUNE its latest product Gigaset One, which allows consumers to control where phone calls will be received. It's the same idea as VoxOx, but instead of being a software application, it's a small base station that relies on Bluetooth technology to send cellphone calls to a home phone. By taking the call on a home phone, the idea is that the consumer could get around problems like poor reception and dropped calls. This is targeted specifically at consumers who are still deciding whether they should drop their landline. The GigaSet One will be available in stores this month and retails for $99.99.
When asked whether Siemens was concerned about the shrinking consumer base in home phone technology, North American President and CEO Rod Keller told us that integration products, like GigaSet One, can appeal to both the landline and cellphone markets.
"We think we've got a value proposition that addresses not just people who have landline service but also cellphone service," he says. "The vast majority of people would like the convenience of not having to remember where they left their cellphones or using their cellphone for a long call. This allows cellphone users to answer phone calls where they want to rather than be dictated by reception."
While these two products both work to improve customer experience, we expect more innovations from the industry as platform integration continues to be a hot area of development in the telephony world.