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Focus On
July 2000

 

Partnering Is The Name Of The Game

BY JOHN SHAW

Whether breaking into a new market or striving to maintain a competitive edge in their traditional markets, service providers (SPs) must make critical decisions about how best to move forward into today's new world of IP-based telecommunications. In a move that is illustrative to any SP contemplating these challenges, Teltran International has chosen Cisco System's voice gateways, TCS' VoIP call control software, and MIND's calling card and billing solutions to offer prepaid VoIP calling card services.

Since it began originating and terminating VoIP traffic in 1998, Teltran, a global facilities-based common carrier, has terminated millions of minutes worldwide for its customers, telecom partners, and affiliates. The company selected the Cisco/TCS/MIND solution to help it increase the quality, capacity, and reliability of its VoIP network and products.

Prepaid calling cards constitute one of the fastest growing enhanced voice services in the industry. Created on open platforms and offering comprehensive billing solutions, the cards allow SPs to provision carrier-class data services for both the PSTN and packet telephony networks. This ensures a smooth migration to the new world while generating high-margin revenue today.

"We're from the wholesale long-distance world, but the margins are getting much smaller so we have moved over to VoIP and retail services," says Peter Biagioli, vice president, sales and marketing for Teltran. "Prepaid VoIP calling cards offered the best transition for us, but we needed help."

TREMENDOUS MARKET POTENTIAL
International Data Corporation estimates that the IP telephony market will grow from 2.7 billion minutes in 1999 to 135 billion minutes in 2004. It expects IP telephony service revenue to increase from $480 million to nearly $19 billion in the same time frame.

To take full advantage of this opportunity, Teltran sought a solution that it could take to market rapidly. "By hand-picking each part of this solution, we were able to deploy our VoIP service much faster -- and thus more profitably -- than we could have otherwise," explains Teltran's vice president of operations, Mitchell Hershkowitz.

Further, the company required a system that would serve its current strategy -- offering prepaid IP calling cards -- and at the same time establish an open architecture base from which to upgrade and offer future services in the most cost-effective manner. "Our ultimate goal is to provide a variety of value-added applications with a low cost per minute," Biagioli says. "The architecture and billing support systems we have chosen allow us to build upon this first step -- generating high-margin revenue today -- while ensuring a smooth migration to the provisioning of future services."

SYSTEM DEPLOYMENT
By selecting vendors that work in partnership, Teltran was able to take advantage of each partner's strengths to build an exact solution that fits its particular application needs, service size, and support requirements. "Cisco asked us about our current operations and future plans, and helped tailor this solution to guide us down that path," Hershkowitz explains.

Cisco Provides The VoIP Gateway
Cisco's VoIP gateway solution consists of several interoperable components. These include the AS5300/Voice Gateway, the VCO/4K programmable switch, and the 3660 router.

The Cisco AS5300/Voice Gateway is a high-performance H.323-compliant gateway optimized for VoIP applications. Supporting up to four T1/E1 digital trunks, it connects with existing telephones and fax machines through the PSTN, key systems, and PBXs, making the process of placing calls over the IP network transparent to users. Teltran's configuration enables it to handle a significant number of simultaneous voice calls over a single dial-in telephone number.

Cisco's VCO/4K open, programmable switch is a carrier-grade services platform that enables multiple voice applications. In addition to calling cards, these include voice/fax messaging, single-number service, voice-activated dialing, interactive voice response, and Web-initiated services. It integrates seamlessly into existing telecommunication infrastructures to deliver core and enhanced voice services for the PSTN as well as new world, packet-based networks. In this solution, TCS programmed Teltran's VoIP application into the VCO/4K switch.

The Cisco 3660 is a multifunction access router. With multiple modular interface options, the Cisco 3660 provides solutions for voice/data integration, VPN dial access and multiprotocol data routing. The modular architecture of this access router integrates the functions of several devices (here, the AS5300/Voice Gateway and the VCO/4K) into a single, manageable solution.

The Cisco VoIP solution is scalable -- from small systems to 500 million-plus end user accounts. It also offers an interface to value-added systems such as those of TCS and MIND.

TCS VoIP Call Control
TCS is providing Teltran with a next-generation network solution that facilitates VoIP transmission and the integration of new, value-added voice and data services. TCS is providing its LiteSwitch Intelligent Services Architecture, a "softswitch" layer that controls Cisco's voice and data network devices and integrates service creation, media management, and SS7 signaling in an IP environment.

In addition to the call control functionality, TCS offers a suite of enhanced voice applications such as unified messaging, Internet/PRI offload, card services, and find-me/follow-me functionality. These applications can be integrated through the service creation environment or sourced from third parties using TCS' published API and developer toolkit.

Initially, TCS will be configuring LiteSwitch to allow Teltran to expand and more efficiently manage its Cisco-powered international VoIP network. The companies are collaborating on future plans to add new applications and additional Web-based operations support systems (OSS) management tools to enhance Teltran's next-generation network further.

MIND's Billing, Customer Care, and Calling Card Solutions
The dynamic field of IP telephony billing, unlike traditional telephony billing, demands real-time call handling. MIND-iPhonEX is a carrier-grade, real-time billing and customer care system for the emerging VoIP industry. It was recently enhanced to handle convergent billing for diverse IP services.

MIND-iPhonEX handles both prepaid and post-paid billing, creation and management of prepaid calling cards, real-time cut-off of calls, individualized customer rate tables, and flexible fax charge options by page, duration, or priority (real time or store and forward). Support systems provide call management reports, traffic analysis (monitoring of the load on each gateway and line) and tracking of excessive use, including fraud alarms.

Web interfaces simplify customer care, registration, and subscriber verification of real-time balances and call details. The interfaces allow customers to access up-to-the-minute account information quickly and conveniently, and represent an effective tool for customer service representatives.

Teltran expects to be providing 15 to 20 million minutes per month by the fourth quarter of this year. "We specified the equipment to reach that level," Hershkowitz says. "And the great thing about this solution is that it's fully scalable -- when we reach that level we will simply upgrade the system to handle additional traffic."

WORLDWIDE APPLICATION
Deregulation around the globe is enabling more and more companies to compete in the dynamic international telecommunications market. This has fueled unprecedented competition, which in turn is forcing SPs to re-think their services as they strive to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

"Everyone is recognizing the need to partner with others to create a tailored, turnkey solution for the customer," says Teltran's director of marketing and public relations, Melanie Gordon. "If the customer doesn't see the value added, they'll go elsewhere."

Selecting flexible, "best-of-breed" solutions based on open architecture offers SPs the opportunity to serve their customers' current needs and establish a base for longer-term growth as they move into the new world of IP-based telecommunications. The Teltran strategy is one that SPs worldwide can emulate as they migrate their services to packet-switched networks, where their future success lies.

John Shaw is director of marketing for the Enhanced Services and Migration Business Unit of Cisco Systems. Cisco provides end-to-end networking solutions that customers use to build a unified information infrastructure of their own, or to connect to someone else's network. An end-to-end networking solution is one that provides a common architecture that delivers consistent network services to all users. For additional information, visit Cisco's Web site at www.cisco.com.

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