WorldGate's Videophone a Tool for Deaf

Hal Krisbergh's WorldGate Communications Corp. has found a unique potential market for its new Ojo videophones – the deaf.

Among those attending a WorldGate investor and media briefing here last week were executives from Aequus Technologies LLC, a company that provides translation services for the deaf and hard of hearing communities.

Aequus CEO Richard Schatzberg said the firm is considering a large purchase of WorldGate's Ojo videophone, currently priced at $700 apiece. While Schatzberg declined to discuss details of the potential purchase order, he said the Pine Brook, N.J.-based company could use the videophones to help deaf people make phone calls.

The plan: Aequus would supply deaf customers with videophones. Hard-of-hearing users could either use the videophones to communicate with each other directly using sign language, or a deaf person could have a conversation with someone using a traditional phone with an Aequus sign-language translator — also equipped with an Ojo videophone — relaying the conversation.

The videophones, coupled with translation service, which can cost $8 per minute, aren't cheap. But Schatzberg said the Federal Communications Commission could pay the service fees for deaf Ojo users.

Through its Universal Service fund, the FCC spent more than $30 million on video relay services in 2003, Schatzberg said.

WorldGate hasn't yet cut any deals with cable operators to commercially deploy the Ojo videophones, but Krisbergh said Ojo expects to score its first commercial rollouts next year.

Krisbergh said WorldGate hopes to sell the Ojo videophones through retail outlets. He said he also expects cable operators to buy the phones and lease them to cable subscribers for $25 to $30 per month, in addition to service fees that could run $5 to $10 a month.

Motorola Corp. showed off the Ojo phones at a “connected home” event at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom last Wednesday. The set-top vendor, which has agreed to distribute the Ojo phones to its cable customers, placed a $5 million order for the videophones in July.