Frontier Communications plans to offer a landline phone service designed for emergency use only, said Frontier CEO Maggie Wilderotter at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference yesterday. Also at the event, Wilderotter said Frontier is planning a residential VoIP product to be launched in the second half of this year.
Frontier Emergency Phone
Frontier’s planned emergency phone service targets rural areas, which represent a large portion of Frontier’s customer base.
Like all local phone companies, Frontier is seeing customers canceling landline service and moving to cellular or other alternatives. But as Wilderotter noted, rural areas experience frequent power outages. And because traditional phone service is powered from the phone company’s central office, it could provide a reliable communications method even during an extended outage.
Frontier believes there is a market for an emergency landline phone, which would be capable only of dialing Frontier or a 911 operator. The service will have “four nines” reliability, Wilderotter said, using telecom jargon for a service that is available 99.99% of the time.
Wilderotter didn’t provide details about the VoIP offering the company is planning, other than to note that the company sees the broadband pipe as the main pipe into the home and is where the company’s future lies – and that VoIP is a logical extension of that view.
A Bit Less Bearish on Backhaul
Wilderotter and Frontier Chief Financial Officer John Jureller expressed a bit more positive attitude towards mobile backhaul at the J.P. Morgan conference than we have heard from them in the past.
As mobile data traffic booms, wireless operators are seeking higher-bandwidth, lower-cost connectivity to cell towers based on fiber. For Frontier, meeting that demand means investing in fiber, despite a resulting decrease in backhaul revenues.
“For every tower we upgrade, [there is a] revenue write-down,” Wilderotter said.
Back in December Jureller noted that Frontier had plans to upgrade only 45% of cell towers in its territory to fiber, with another 15% under consideration. Upgrades had been ruled out for 40% of towers because “it wasn’t the right economic decision,” Jureller said at that time.
Jureller and Wilderotter didn’t discuss those percentages on yesterday’s call. Instead, they likened the mobile backhaul business to “headwinds” that will cause backhaul revenues to drop for a limited time until backhaul business increases and the impact of the upgrade becomes revenue-neutral. And on yesterday’s call, Wilderotter said, “We’re coming to the end of that transition.”
The Internet of Things
Also at yesterday’s event, Wilderotter said Frontier is pursuing opportunities involving the Internet of Things. The types of offerings the company is considering include home automation, security, monitoring and “lifestyle” products, she said. The company envisions pursuing these opportunities through partnerships and sees an opportunity to gain recurring monthly revenue that would leverage the company’s strong tech support resources, said Wilderotter.