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Vonage in new Prospectus: our competitors may undercut, out-bundle us

 As I have already noted in a previous post, I have received a Prospectus for the sale of Vonage stock as part of its Vonage Share Customer Directed Program. The Prospectus is dated May 5.
Written by Russell Shaw, Contributor

As I have already noted in a previous post, I have received a Prospectus for the sale of Vonage stock as part of its Vonage Share Customer Directed Program. The Prospectus is dated May 5.

I have read the Prospectus, and have noted what Vonage says about its competitors. Since this information is far more extensive than the public pronouncements you will read from Vonage executives or even industry analysts, I would like to share three long but revealing paragraphs with you now.

First, Vonage speaks about the major wire-line companies, and their capacity for competing against Vonage both directly and indirectly. The bold-facing is mine:

The telecommunications industry is highly competitive. We face intense competition from traditional telephone companies, wireless companies, cable companies and alternative voice communication providers. Our principal competitors are the traditional telephone service providers, namely AT&T, Inc. (formerly SBC Communications Inc.), BellSouth Corp., Citizens Communications Corp., Qwest Communications International Inc. and Verizon Communications, Inc., which provide telephone service based on the public switched telephone network. Some of these traditional providers also have added or are planning to add VoIP services to their existing telephone and broadband offerings.

We also face, or expect to face, competition from cable companies, such as Cablevision Systems Corp., Charter Communications, Inc., Comcast Corporation, Cox Communications, Inc. and Time Warner Cable (a division of Time Warner Inc.), which have added or are planning to add VoIP services to their existing cable television, voice and broadband offerings.

Further, wireless providers, including Cingular Wireless LLC, Sprint Nextel Corporation, T-Mobile USA Inc. and Verizon Wireless, offer services that some customers may prefer over wireline service. In the future, as wireless companies offer more minutes at lower prices, their services may become more attractive to customers as a replacement for wireline service. Some of these providers may be developing a dual mode phone that will be able to use VoIP where broadband access is available and cellular phone service elsewhere, which will pose additional competition to our offerings.  

Next, the Prospectus addresses some of the competitive risks posed by deep-pocketed competitors who are likely to joust against Vonage by offering attractive service bundles of which VoIP is only one component. Once again, bold-facing is mine:

Most traditional wireline and wireless telephone service providers and cable companies are substantially larger and better capitalized than we are and have the advantage of a large existing customer base. Because most of our target customers are already purchasing communications services from one or more of these providers, our success is dependent upon our ability to attract target customers away from their existing providers.

Until recently, our target market has been composed largely of early adopters, or people who tend to seek out new technologies and services. Attracting customers away from their existing providers will become more difficult as the early adopter market becomes saturated and mainstream customers make up more of our target market. These competitors could focus their substantial financial resources to develop competing technology that may be more attractive to potential customers than what we offer.

Our competitors' financial resources may allow them to offer services at prices below cost or even for free in order to maintain and gain market share or otherwise improve their competitive positions.

Our competitors also could use their greater financial resources to offer VoIP services with more attractive service packages that include on-site installation and more robust customer service.

In addition, because of the other services our competitors provide, they may choose to offer VoIP services as part of a bundle that includes other products, such as video, high speed Internet access and wireless telephone service, which we do not offer. This bundle may enable our competitors to offer VoIP service at prices with which we may not be able to compete or to offer functionality that integrates VoIP service with their other offerings, both of which may be more desirable to consumers. Any of these competitive factors could make it more difficult for us to attract and retain customers, cause us to lower our prices in order to compete and reduce our market share and revenues.  

Next, Vonage talks about the competitive threat posed by what they call "alternative voice communications providers:"

We also compete against established alternative voice communication providers, such as Skype (a service of eBay Inc.), and face competition from other large, well-capitalized Internet companies, such as America Online, Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corporation and Yahoo! Inc., which have recently launched or plan to launch VoIP-enabled instant messaging services. In addition, we compete with independent VoIP service providers. Some of these service providers may choose to sacrifice revenue in order to gain market share and have offered their services at lower prices or for free. In order to compete with such service providers, we may have to significantly reduce our prices, which would delay or prevent our profitability.

Hang on, I say. It may be a rough ride.

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