Customers who have signed up for Vonage Holdings’ broadband VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service will be offered the chance to buy shares in the company when it floats its stock.
Vonage, which helped pioneer VoIP phone service in the US and has grown to become the country’s largest independent internet phone service provider with 1.6m customers, said as much as 15 per cent of its planned initial public offering will be set aside for customers.
Anyone who opened an account on or before December 15 will be eligible to buy shares at the IPO price.
“Because much of our success is attributable to our customers, we have asked the underwriters of the IPO to reserve shares of common stock for sale to certain Vonage customers at the IPO price in a directed share programme,” said Vonage.
When Google, the internet search and advertising group, floated two years ago, it organised an online auction that favoured smaller investors.
Vonage, which began offering internet phone services in October 2002 but has yet to make a profit, initially explored a trade sale but failed to attract buyers and announced last month that it planned to sell a 20 per cent stake.
In a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said it planned to offer 31.25m shares priced at between $16 and $18 a share. On that basis, the company, backed by private equity firms including Britain’s 3i Group and Bain Capital, would be valued at as much as $2.82bn.
Vonage said it expected the offering to raise up to $563m, which it will use for expansion, general corporate purposes and to cover its operating loss.
The company faces growing competition from rivals including Skype, the personal computer-based VoIP service that was acquired by eBay for $2.5bn in October.
It also faces a challenge from the traditional telecommunications companies such as Verizon Communications, which just last week lowered the cost of its VoiceWing VoIP plan to compete more effectively with Vonage.
In its SEC filing Vonage reiterated that it continued to pursue growth rather than profitability in the near term and expected to report more losses.