published Saturday, January 26th, 2013

Comcast launches cloud-based phone service

Comcast has launched a cloud-based phone service targeted at small businesses, which will compete with similar offerings from EPB and AT&T.

Aimed at emerging companies with up to 280 workers, Business VoiceEdge costs between $25 and $35 and comes with the phones needed to make it work, said Robert Deckard, regional vice president for Comcast Business Services.

"There's not a whole lot of products like this that the small business customer can go out and purchase, and have the same functionality as larger businesses they compete with every day," Deckard said. "It's a very cool product in my eyes."

The new service builds on existing phone offerings from Comcast like the cable giant's Business Class phone service and PRI Trunk lines that serve larger customers that already have switchboards. EPB also offers phone, video and Internet service to businesses in its service area, and AT&T sells a variety of phone services to businesses across the U.S.

Comcast's new cloud-based system allows workers at small businesses to automatically forward calls to a cell phone, and download voicemails through email, features that are also offered by others. What's new is the ability to seamlessly transfer a forwarded mobile call back to the desk phone just by picking up the receiver.

The company is working on a speech-to-text system that will send voicemails as text messages.

"There's really no need to give out more than one phone number, it'll follow you no matter where you're at," Deckard said.

Jim Weigert, vice president and general manager of Comcast Chattanooga, said he isn't afraid to face off against entrenched competitors.

"It provides really a better solution that in most cases doesn't exist," Weigert said. "AT&T has a similar product, just not as robust, and EPB has a more traditional digital voice product, but they don't have unified communications or managed services like us."

Individual users can manage their own settings for the most part, negating the need in some cases for a central administrator, Weigert said.

"You may be able to a la carte pieces and parts of that from these other providers, but that just adds to the complexity of figuring it out," he said.

Plans include nationwide calling and provide discounts for bundling the phone service with other Comcast products, but there are additional fees for installation and other options, Deckard said.

The launch covers Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, and many cities in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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