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Publisher's Outlook
November 2000

Rich Tehrani  

It's A Service Provider's World, After All

BY RICH TEHRANI

Go Right To: Vegas In December, A Conference To Remember

Envy the service provider, for he is the lucky one that everyone wants to befriend. Perhaps befriend is a not quite the right sentiment... Maybe "supply" is more fitting. Judging by my continual packing and unpacking of suitcases, it can only mean one thing: Trade show season is once again in full swing. As I begin this current leg of my ongoing tour of the nation's convention centers, it's evident that everyone wants to sell products to service providers. The reasons are fairly obvious -- vendors spend almost the same amount of time selling to a service provider as they do any other customer, yet when they make the sale, the volume of products sold is usually an order of magnitude greater. And this doesn't take into account the fact that industry analysts and prognosticators predict that corporations have embarked on a shift from buying products to buying services.

VocalTec was one of the first companies I was aware of to abandon their strategy of attracting enterprise customers in order to focus on the service provider market. That was a few years back. Now it seems that everyone is after companies that supply communications services. This is even true of vendors that traditionally served the consumer market.

MEGA-CONTROLLER
Another such company is the Hammer Division of Empirix; formerly Hammer Technologies) whose new product -- the Mega-Controller -- is designed to provide a unified interface for controlling multiple Hammer test systems that can scale to an excess of 20,000 channels! The goal is of course to allow extremely large, real-world traffic profiles of tone, voice, and fax traffic supporting a range of protocols, including ISDN and SS7.

Our own in-house TMC Labs uses Hammer's equipment, albeit our test system is rather compact by comparison. (Still, you will often come across a reference to TMC Labs' experiences with Hammer equipment in this publication.) So you can imagine my surprise to discover the sheer scale that the Mega-Controller delivers. This announcement puts Hammer in a new class. Prior to this release, Hammer users were restricted to an interface that supported only 1,344 ports.

The Mega-Controller is a 2U rack-mountable unit that includes a set of predefined tests. Users can create custom tests as well using a standard call flow ladder diagram and precoded telephony action objects. Users can also schedule tests using a UNIX or Windows NT command line interface if they choose. I was curious to learn more about the Mega-Controller (and looking forward to a break from the trade show hustle) so I sat down and asked a few questions about the system.

RT - What products does the Mega-Controller compete with?

Hammer - Our Hammer DS3 System is the highest density test system in the industry today, with the ability to send and receive telephony traffic on 1,344 channels. Our customers have told us that one of the biggest benefits of this system is its ability to give them a single interface for all scheduling, monitoring, and reporting of such a large number of test ports.

They haven't been able to realize the same benefits with existing competitive testing products. Multiple systems can be cobbled together to provide the number of ports needed, but multiple user interfaces are required to control this group of systems. This is inefficient and difficult to use. The Hammer DS3 system is the only solution capable of providing a unified interface and real world traffic profiles. With the Mega-Controller, we now offer the same unified interface and traffic profiles on a scale that's increased by an order of magnitude -- 20,000+ ports.

RT - When I visit with other players in the industry, I often find that they employ their own testing and hardware. Compared to these, what are some advantages that Hammer offers?

Hammer - In addition to the advantages stated above the Hammer products can be quickly set up out of the box. There's no additional cost of purchasing multiplexers or in-house labor needed to put these test systems together. We also have an entire organization dedicated and focused on meeting present and future testing challenges. Finally we offer an unbiased, independent third-party testing platform that is used positively by our customer's customers.

RT - What comments have your customers made about the product?

Hammer - They particularly like the unified interface and traffic profiles. We've also been told that the flexibility to create groups consisting of multiple Hammer systems is very valuable because these groups can be treated as individual units for scheduling. The fact that the user is controlling multiple testers is transparent -- they're essentially controlling a large number of test ports as a single unit. Also those customers that are automating their entire lab appreciate the ability to access the Mega-Controller remotely using a command line interface.

RT - Briefly describe the cost benefit analysis of a product that can scale to 20,000 channels.

Hammer - We believe the cost of the Mega-Controller is far outweighed by the convenience and efficiency of having a single user interface and the value our customers realize by fully leveraging their investment in Hammer test equipment. They can use a single Hammer to perform complex functional testing as well as multiple Hammers to perform large scale load testing.

RT - What does such a system cost?

Hammer - The Mega-Controller itself is $15,000. The total number of test ports is dependent on the number of Hammer LoadBlasters and DS3s the customer owns.

MicroTelco
Having rested my weary legs, my interesting journey next led me to Quicknet Technologies, a company I always believed to be in the consumer space. Much to my surprise, Quicknet has also developed a Telco strategy, but their approach is unlike anything I've seen to this point. In most every other case, a Telco strategy involves building larger and larger systems; this announcement is altogether dissimilar.

Stacey Reineccius (Quicknet's founder) had some interesting viewpoints on the telecom market during my recent conversation with him. Reineccius started off by telling me that SIP, the up and coming protocol considered by many to potentially dominate the service provider space, faces a significant challenge in competing with open H.323, a less costly open-source protocol. Developers already know H.323 inside and out and will not want to shoulder the burden of paying for more costly and redundant SIP development.

Reineccius went on to say that we must grow the market -- there is not enough focus on growing the number of Internet telephony minutes. "We are forgetting about the customers!" he exclaimed. In order to grow the market, he insisted, we must take care of the value chain by engaging resellers and interconnects -- those people who deliver systems to users -- giving them a financial incentive to spread the word of cost-saving Internet telephony products and services.

Quicknet's strategy is to plug what they see as a gap in the market with a product called MicroTelco. This ingenious concept can be best described as a grass roots approach to Internet telephony deployment. Quicknet has coined a new service provider acronym -- they are a self-proclaimed Global CLEC (GLEC) or micro-telephone company. Taking advantage of their worldwide distribution channel, Quicknet can leverage all that Internet telephony equipment and software to offer their customers tremendous improvements in IP telephony efficiency, reliability, and value. Essentially, control of Internet telephony ends up in the hands of the end-user, not the service provider.

By leveraging the serial number on each Quicknet card to identify individual users, MicroTelco offers distributed call control, which service providers can accurately bill for. Quicknet customers are able to set up their individual calling preferences, in fact, MicroTelco allows Internet telephony users the ability to gain access to many features once available only on top-of-the-line PBXs. Users can actually set up their preferences to work with multiple Internet telephony service providers just like the "big-boy PBXs." Users can specify the lowest cost carrier or set up preferred carriers to various destinations based on call quality. The immediate benefit is the use of redundant networks. In this case, the redundant systems are the various service provider networks. Reineccius gave an example of some Internet telephony service providers that offer 65 percent reliability. By aggregating two of these less than reliable service providers together, the result is telephone calling success rates of up to 90 percent! So, the more service providers you have, the greater level of fault tolerance you can achieve.

In this scenario, where the customer can easily switch to the best service provider depending on their preferences, every provider will be forced to upgrade the reliability of their network while driving down the per-minute cost. MicroTelco customers are able to pay for this service online, and since each Quicknet board has a serial number, all the participants in the value chain get a share of revenue.

The reason I feel this model will succeed is that we have finally "Napsterized" long-distance purchasing. In the Napster model, when you search for the file or song you want, you are presented with a list of songs as well as a ping time (the time it takes for the remote computer to respond to yours). Napster then sorts by ping time allowing computers with the fastest connection to be listed first. Users can then choose to download the song that has the fastest ping time, which invariably is the one that downloads most quickly. MicroTelco gives users access to the same functionality, allowing them to access the service provider with the best price or best connection. Quicknet currently works with only two service providers but if their strategy proves successful, other service providers will certainly make their services available as well.

If you are an ISP, you can distribute MicroTelco and immediately compete with the ILECs. These ILECs are in big trouble; there is no way to compete with this type of service. If Quicknet does indeed bring a sufficient number of Internet telephony service providers to the table, they will have no problem attracting and keeping customers. In this scenario, ISPs are in control of the service providers and eliminate the need for building their own telecom infrastructure. ITSPs benefit because they get more minutes than they normally would have. The network is built from the endpoints up.

VoiceGenie
Years ago, when this magazine was in its infancy, I met Stuart Berkowitz, the founder of Array Telecom. Array Telecom developed and sold Internet telephony gateways. What set them apart from the early gateway players was their unique minute-bartering system that allowed people in charge of individual gateways to barter minutes on their gateways for minutes on other gateways around the world. Berkowitz later sold his company to Comdial and has more recently set his sites on what he calls the "next big thing" in communications.

Berkowitz' newest project is VoiceGenie a company devoted to supplying building blocks to service providers looking to offer voice portals to their customers. Berkowitz feels that voice is the best interface going. He maintains that of all the inexpensive self service technologies such as WAP, IVR, and others, voice is the easiest to use and better yet, there are 2.2 billion phones out there versus only 400 million PCs. Voice portals offer the ability to talk with Web portals such as MyYahoo!, where you have preprogrammed your preferences such as sports teams, stocks to watch, and other information. According to Berkowitz, voice portals are the ultimate fat and sticky application in a world that considers fat and sticky apps to be the holy grail of the service provider market. In fact, he believes Webtone will soon replace traditional dial tone. He has a point: Voice dialing cell phones already have similar functionality and have proven truly useful.

So there we have it, just a small sampling of three incredibly diverse companies all vying to provide products to service providers. If you are a service provider, you've never been in a better position to capitalize on the new world of competitive communications and if you are an end user, you can expect the competitive landscape to provide you with more options, better value, and new services, destined to make you more productive, increase your sales, and with a little effort, fatten up the bottom line. 

[ Return To The November 2000 Table Of Contents ]


Vegas In December, A Conference To Remember

As the mad dash to attract the service provider continues among the communications industry vendors, you may wonder where all the vendors who are targeting the enterprise market have gone. The vision of Communications Solutions EXPO was to create a venue where you would be able to see all of the leading vendors supplying service providers, enterprise customers, and developers under a single roof. This show continues to grow at a rapid pace, as it is the only show that delivers the entire communications market in one place.

In addition to bringing together the leading vendors, Communications Solutions EXPO offers perhaps the industry's finest conference program. In fact we at TMC have developed a conference track at Communications Solutions EXPO that is so cutting edge, you will find yourself right on the leading edge of this exciting technology after just three short days. As always, I enlisted the help of the editors and TMC Labs engineers to develop each track.

Communications Solutions EXPO Fall 2000 will mark our second year in Las Vegas. This time we have moved to the Sands Convention Center, which means our show hotel is the beautiful new Venetian. The conference dates are December 57 and I personally hope to see you there.

This month, I thought I would list a smattering of enterprise and developer tracks to give you a more precise overview of what we believe is the latest in technology in the communications market. For a complete list of the conference sessions, visit our Web site at www.csexpo.com.

Enterprise Sessions

  • Unified Messaging Repositions Itself For The New Century
  • Big Iron Trembles At The Approach Of The PC-PBX
  • One Wire Over The WAN, One Wire Over The LAN
  • IADs Are AOK For Small To Medium-Sized Businesses -- And Branch Offices, Too
  • Remote But Not Forgotten: Telecommuters, Road Warriors And Branch Offices
  • Web Portals For Improved CRM
  • Implementing CRM -- Turnkey Or ASP?
  • Itchy For New Services? Try Preparation "E"
  • Promethean Dreams -- Business Unbound Via Mobile IP
  • When A Problem Comes Along You Must WAP It...WAP It Good
  • Productivity Is In The Air, With In-Building Wireless
  • The Ultimate End-Run: The Wireless Local Loop
  • Talking 'Bout My Generation...3G Wireless Is A Big Sensation
  • Enriching Applications With Speech Recognition
  • Squeezing More From You PBX With IP Migration Strategies
  • VPNs: More Than Remote Access
  • Enterprise IP Telephony Gateway Selection
  • H.323 And SIP: A Distinction Without A Difference?
  • Collaboration With Voice And Video Over IP
  • Irrigation Schemes For Streaming Media
  • Value-Added Countdown: The Top 10 Enhanced Services
  • Sprinkle Pixel Dust On Your Web Site And Benefit From Chat And IM Interactivity
  • Spinning A Sticky Web -- Self Service By Design
  • The Thin Green Line: E-Commerce Security

Developer Sessions

  • Draw The Right DSP Resource Cards For A Winning Application
  • No Time To Develop From Scratch? App-Gens Get You To The Bake-Off Fast
  • Does Your App Have The Right Stuff? A Rigorous Testing Program Will Tell
  • Hardware As Paint, Software As Brush -- The Color Possibilities Of Resource Management
  • The Well-Configured System; Industrial PCs Tune Into Application Requirements

ABOUT LAS VEGAS IN DECEMBER
December is absolutely the best time to be in Vegas. In December it is downright cheap to fly there and find a great hotel room. I love the Venetian-- every room is a suite and they have high-speed Internet access in every room. But even if your taste in hotels is different than mine, you will get the best deals of the year in December.

Another benefit to Vegas in December is the lack of long lines. You can see all the shows you can take in, shop in the malls, tour the casinos, eat in all the finest restaurants, and just about anything else you can imagine without waiting in line.

We are extremely excited to be back in Vegas for the second year, and judging by all the happy attendees we saw last year, I can guarantee you a first-class event that will keep you informed and abreast of all the information you need to make you successful in your career.

Sign up now and don't forget, the show dates are December 5-7. 

[ Return To The November 2000 Table Of Contents ]







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