With its presence already established in the small- to midsize business space, Whaleback Systems now is taking a run at the carrier market. The Portsmouth, N.H.-based managed IP telephony service provider today announced the release of a carrier version of its Crystal Blue Voice Service, called Crystal Blue Lite.
The new offering could broaden Whaleback’s footprint, while helping carriers speed their own entrance into the 5- to 99-user arena.
“The carriers are looking for ways to get these SIP trunks to grow in the marketplace, but if they just sell SIP trunks by themselves it is not a full solution. It’s an empty pipe,” said Dave Zwicker, Whaleback vice president of marketing. With the company’s plug and play offering, “they now get to bring a full solution to market that doesn’t require a heavy upfront cash investment.”
Crystal Blue Lite includes a SIP trunk circuit and up to 20 Polycom HD IP phones. The cornerstone of the product is a new carrier-class, fault tolerant IP PBX appliance that resides at the customer site. Whaleback deploys the remotely managed plug and play appliance, which integrates with carriers’ SIP trunking services and broadband access circuits.
Whaleback sees a big potential market for managed services in the 5- to 99-person space, with about 2 million businesses of that size operating in the United States. “We see this as an underserved segment. Nobody has really cracked the code on how to serve that market,” Zwicker said. “They are resistant to spending cash, especially during the recession. That was really the prime motivator in our coming up with a zero capital-expenditure program.”
Whaleback takes no upfront payment for Crystal Blue Lite. The company provides all the necessary hardware, then wraps up the cost into a monthly recurring charge, available in 24-, 36- and 48-month contracts. Pricing ranges from $40 to $60 per station per month, depending on functionality. The base package includes voicemail, call forwarding, auto attendant, and other business features. A higher-level option includes toll-free service, while the highest-level contract delivers mobile access in addition to a range of basic telephony features.
The company already has gained traction among SMBs, with 500 customers and 10,000 stations, Zwicker said. Whaleback has landed those contracts through the usual webinars and reseller conversations, but also through an aggressive referral program, which generates the majority of new business.
Paired with carriers’ often extensive reach, that momentum could help boost the new offering. Carriers “have the brand awareness, the access to the market, and the ability to get to a larger pool of customers, while Whaleback brings all this enabling technology, along with our formula for reaching the SMBs,” Zwicker said.
The company expects to announce its first carrier relationships in two to three months, Zwicker said. Right now Crystal Blue Lite is in trials in four geographic areas. Whaleback presently operates in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, with additional operations in Florida and the Midwest.
While the sheer number of possible prospects has helped drive the company in the carrier direction, Whaleback also is responding to technological evolutions in the marketplace. “We see the emergence of SIP trunking as game-changing. Now there are carriers with national footprints who want to help the market move from old TDM circuits to new IP circuits, and we want to be a part of that,” Zwicker said.
In order to get into that game in a big way, Whaleback first will need to convince carriers that its product is not just affordable, but also easy to explain and easy to use. “They want to see a sales model where the value to the customer is extremely simple to communicate and where the system is really plug and play,” Zwicker said.
Ultimately, though, it may be the cost factor that gives Whaleback the leg up. Thus far the target market has been tough to crack largely because of price pressures, Zwicker said. “The equipment providers are reluctant to drop their prices low enough that the buyers in that market will be willing to part with the cash. As a result there is a lot of competition, but no winners yet.”