Media Phones Poised for Prime Time

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New breed of telephony devices combine the connectivity of Internet-connected PCs with the always-on convenience of telephones. Solution providers see opportunity in key verticals for these devices.

As if we don’t have enough screens to look at already, media phones are slowly but surely infiltrating where we live and work, bridging that gap between the computer and the telephone.

According to research firm In-Stat in its report, “The Media Phone Has Arrived!” media phones for business will generate $3.3 billion (£2.31 billion) in annual revenue by 2013. Consumer-focused media phones, meanwhile, will generate anywhere between $4 billion (£2.8 billion) and $8 billion (£5.6 billion) in revenue for the same time period.

Media phones deliver direct access to Internet-based entertainment and applications via a large touch-screen and high-quality speakerphone. The media phone combines the power of a PC with the always-on functionality of the telephone, according to In-Stat.

Currently, media phones are available from vendors including AT&T, Verizon and LG-Nortel in the consumer market, but business-focused vendors have not embraced the technology fully. However, Avaya this week introduced its 9670G, which it bills as “the first media phone for enterprises,” allowing direct access to applications and Internet-based information through a large colour touch-screen. And some second-tier manufacturers including Grandstream and Germany’s snom have phones designed for videoconferencing and Web browsing.

“The business media phone will need to combine the best design characteristics of existing IP business devices, with one-touch access to communications features, as well as Web-based applications and content,” In-Stat noted.

Media phones stand to do well in niche markets such as hospitality, where concierge services could be delivered via the media phone as well as in-room business services such as videoconferencing or native language information.

“Among equipment vendors, there is almost universal agreement that the hospitality industry represents a large potential market for business media phones,” the report noted. “High-end hotels, where money is no object, will most certainly deploy media phones. Installing a few media phones in the hotel lobby to support concierge services is also a small investment.”

But even in the corporate setting, media phones will eventually establish their presence as a must-have technology, according to In-Stat. “Rather than being a distinct product, with a unique set of features and functions, business media phones will represent a next-generation IP phone platform, encompassing a full range of high-end, as well as possibly low-end devices,” according to the report. “The business media phone product segment will be driven by advancements in technology, cost reductions and most importantly, compelling benefits to both end-users and equipment suppliers.”

In-Stat believes the business media phone market is expected to start out slowly this year, but will dominate the mid-level to high-end business IP phone market by 2013. Within five years, the report states, nearly 10 million business media phones will be shipped worldwide, generating more than $3 billion (£2.1 billion) in annual revenue.

Dan Whalen, engineering director at Carousel Industries in Exeter, R.I., sees promise in Avaya’s new media phone. “I have seen it against a major competitor’s touch screen phone and there was no comparison. Avaya’s had more of an iPhone feel to it. “All the functions were touch-screen – it has a very nice user interface,” he said. “That’s where it shines.”

The 9670G also allows users to add applications, which gives it even more potential, Whalen said. “When you load on applications, the possibilities are really endless.”