With voice over IP consumer usage poised to become a mass market, existing users are fairly satisfied with their service, according to a new survey released on May 31 by SupportSoft.
Sixty one percent of the 100 VOIP users subscribing to a cable-based service surveyed said that they are satisfied with their service, despite the finding that 34 percent of them had to have a technician come out within 90 days of the initial service installation because of a problem, and that 16 percent had to have a technician come out two or more times due to service problems.
Why the disconnect? "Early adopters tend to be more tolerant of working out glitches," theorized Marc Itzkowitz, director of product marketing and management at SupportSoft, a real time service management provider in Redwood City, Calif.
The survey—which included 100 cable subscribers using VOIP and another 167 using a specialized VOIP service from providers such as Skype and Vonage or DSL or satellite providers—found that 57 percent of the hand-set based VOIP users, such as those using Vonage, expressed satisfaction with their service, while 48 percent of the PC-based VOIP users working with a service such as Skype expressed satisfaction.
The survey also found that cable VOIP subscribers are nearly twice as confident in the reliability of their VOIP service as those using specialized services focused specifically on VOIP delivery.
There are a couple of reasons for that difference, said Boyd Peterson, senior vice president of consumer research at the Yankee Group in Boston.
"The customers with video, data and voice service are much more valuable to that cable operator, and so [the cable operator is] more interested in providing highly supported services," he said.
At the same time, a VOIP service such as that from Skype or Vonage is "just an application, so the expectation for quality is lower for those service providers. Customers know the ability to get support will be lower. Its like a cell phone. Its not quite as good as a land line, but the cost is so much better, its worth it," said Peterson.
Yankee Groups forecast for the total number of VOIP usage by years end is 8.4 million.
With VOIP-only services such as those from Skype or Vonage, where the service provider doesnt control the physical connection to the subscriber, servicing customers with problems "depends on the kindness of strangers," added Itzkowitz.
The service providers in that case "are at the mercy of the high speed data line" provider," he said.
The survey validated that the cable VOIP users did often receive multiple services from their cable provider. It found that 80 percent of the cable VOIP customers surveyed also received their broadband (data) service from their cable provider.
"Everyone has gotten savvy to the finger-pointing problem. One throat to choke makes them confident," quipped Itzkowitz.
And the cable operators are stepping up to the support challenge, believes Yankee Groups Peterson.
"Cable companies have shown a willingness to provide that support," Peterson said. "Theyre not shy to roll a truck, because they know that customers represent the accumulation of voice, video and data or some combination of that.
"The cable operators could be more aggressive in their rollout of VOIP services, but they are trying to make sure they understand the operational components and maintain customer satisfaction to a pretty high degree.
"For Skype and Vonage, it is a market share game. Theyre putting money in awareness. Cable operators dont have to worry about that as much as Vonage does," Peterson said.
One former Vonage user, who found the service to be "sketchy," agreed that marketing is a stronger focus than service. Joe Meadows of Ashland, Ore., said, "When it was working it was great, but Vonage was spending more money on marketing than they were on service," he said.
For those cable VOIP subscribers who had problems with their VOIP service, 29 percent reported that they had recurring quality problems and 24 percent experienced recurring reliability problems.
Such problems often happen when users try to upload or download data while simultaneously talking on the phone. Such events most often led to call quality problems, according to the survey results.
Of the 39 percent of users who said they had a problem while uploading or downloading data, 59 percent found that their voice transmission was hard to understand.
Such problems can be avoided if the installation is done right the first time. With quality of service prioritization for voice traffic in place, the issue comes down to verification, according to SupportSofts Itzkowitz.
"The holistic view is critical during the install and ongoing service experience. As we move to self-installs, it is not uncommon for someone to put the equipment in wrong.
"You want to put the VOIP modem before your home network, so that its the first thing that touches the signal. It is not uncommon for people to put the VOIP modem after the wireless gateway. Thats where verification comes in," he said.