Much speculation and rumor surrounds AOL's mooted VoIP foray, and while I would generally agree with some of the downbeat assessments coming out of the US market (http://blog.tmcnet.com/blog/tom-keating/voip/voip-blog/aol-and-dialup-voip-update.asp), I would also say that AOL Europe is a very different beast, and I see Europe as a market where an AOL VoIP offering might have much sharper teeth.
- AOL Europe accounts for about 20% (c. 6.3m) of AOL's total customer base, and unlike the US business, has seen more stable customer numbers (and even some growth) over the past three years (see page 6 of http://ir.timewarner.com/downloads/trending_07_28_04.pdf).
- The last official data I can find for the UK, for example (August 2003), shows AOL's overall internet market share stable at 18%, which made it at that time the country's third largest, just behind Wanadoo. Sadly, new super-mega regulator OFCOM doesn't seem to track this stat any longer (not that I can find), but generally speaking AOL's broadband pricing is much more in line with competitors in Europe (http://www.aol.co.uk/ and check out France where 1Mbps AOL DSL costs the same as 60-hours of dial-up http://sabonner.aol.fr/accueil/accueil.html?promocode=524187), and I have every reason to believe the company is holding its own on this side of the pond on the access side.
- Arguably, in markets like France, where DSL/VoIP bundling is gaining significant traction, AOL will find that having a similar product is a defensive, rather than market share expansion, tool. In other words, they probably have to do it just to stay in the game.
- Lastly, Nielsen//Netratings data for Europe from April shows over 10m AIM users, and 4.7m ICQ users (ICQ is still hugely popular in Germany), so it's reasonable to make a case that AOL Europe has some pretty attractive cross-marketing opportunities through these channels.