Comcast Integrates Email, Voicemail, and IM

U.S. cable operator Comcast has announced it plans to offer its customers a new application integrating email, voicemail, and instant messaging capabilities. Dubbed SmartZone, the Web-based service is a partnership with Hewlett-Packard and Plaxo, and builds on the open source Zimbra Collaboration Suite. Using SmartZone, users will be able to check their voice mail, send instant messages, manage their address book, plus send and receive email all from a single online location. The service is scheduled to debut later this year.

“With the SmartZone communications center, we continue to provide superior value to Triple Play customers by putting a suite of communications tools right at their fingertips,” said Greg Butz, Comcast’s Senior CP for Product Development. “From one central dashboard, they will now be able to manage all of their communications needs as well as customize their experience.”

Once deployed, SmartZone will enable customers to log into Comcast’s comcast.net site. Features will include “Visual voicemail” (enabling customers to listen to voicemail messages online and forward the messages via email to anyone), sending both instant messages and video instant messages, managing calling features (like call forwarding, voice mail playback, and do-not-disturb services), and collecting contacts into a single “Smart Address Book” which synchronizes with a range of services and Web-based tools.

The service will be free to Comcast customers; Comcast is apparently viewing SmartZone a value-added service which will boost its appeal to subscribers who may be tempted away from cable service by VoIP phone services, nascent IPTV services, and satellite television. Comcast currently boasts about 3 million digital phone subscribers and 12 million high-speed Internet customers.

There’s no denying the appeal of an integrated messaging suite which is available anywhere users can get to the Internet; however, industry watchers have already raised privacy and security concerns, noting that bringing together voicemail, email, instant messaging, communication management, and contacts to one globally-accessible service also creates a single point of failure—or intrusion—should the system be compromised or data fall into the wrong hands. Comcast says the SmartZone service has been developed with security in mind, and will incorporate Bizanga’s email anti-abuse system, Cloudmark’s email antispam and antiphishing tools, and Trend Micro antivirus software.

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