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AireSpring Discusses Future of Telecom with TMC
By Rich Tehrani, President and Editor-in-Chief
AireSpring Senior Vice President of Marketing, Todd Regan, answers some questions regarding the telecommunications industry and the current economy posed by Rich Tehrani, President of Technology Marketing Corporation (TMC (News - Alert)).
RT: Are you generally optimistic, pessimistic or realistic?
TR: I'm a realist. I like to "future-think", I want to know what the potential results are likely to be (good or bad). But that doesn't mean I'm a pessimist. I do try to look for solutions which are most likely to have a positive result. If you want to be successful in business, you can't just assume that everything you do is going to be warmly received. Sometimes you've got to go looking for the potholes so you don't fall into them.
RT: How many frequent flyer miles have you amassed?
TR: I have over 250,000 frequent flyer miles spread across three networks. They are a holdover from a previous time when I traveled frequently to India and China. I'd have used them long ago, but the airlines make that so difficult these days. Who knows, perhaps one day I'll retire and use the miles for a no-frills coach seat to Omaha, Nebraska.
RT: How surprised are you at the global financial situation?
TR: Somewhat. I had been expecting a financial backlash to overpriced housing and over-extended business and consumer debt, but did not expect the dramatic downturn in the stock market and chain reaction of failed companies and lost jobs. It is going to be a rough couple of years for sure.
RT: How is your company changing the way it does business as a result?
TR: We are very lucky. Since we offer lowest cost telecom services, it is as though the market has come to us, rather than the other way around. More customers and agents are seeking us out now than ever before. Low cost IP phone equipment is really taking off and AireSpring's lowest cost SIP services are in high demand. We just happen to be in the right place at the right time with the right products.
RT: How have customers reacted to the slowing global markets?
TR: There is a group of customers who have started to rethink all of their contracts and services. These folks are more likely than ever to sign a contract with AireSpring. And then there is the problematic group of companies which are going out of business all together. When they fail, they take their ongoing revenue with them and often the last month's payment as well. So far, we've managed to bring in far more new customers than ones we lose to bad debt or bankruptcy. But we'll have to keep a close eye on the situation to make sure it stays that way.
RT: Do you see this time as an opportunity or a rough spot to get through quickly?
TR: It is clearly both. We must continue to innovate products and services which will help us get through the recession. However, it is also a great opportunity. We have broadened our reach and customer base since the start of this crisis. This is a growth phase for us, but we are still mindful of potential pitfalls.
RT: What will companies need to do to survive this downturn?
TR: Offer services that their customers need at rates they can actually afford. Too many companies are either sticking to their guns and keeping their prices high, or are rolling out products that their customers don't need or really can't afford right now. The Nortel bankruptcy is just an example that customers can't afford big ticket telecom products right now. But Asterisk (The low cost Open Source PBX) just had a record year. That's the situation in a nutshell.
RT: How do your company's products help customers in a slow market?
TR: We help companies lower their telecommunications costs with creative Long Distance, Local, and Data offerings. That's what we've always done, but it is more important now than ever before. With AireSpring, a company can get the benefits of low cost SIP services even if they don't have an IP enabled PBX. That's a powerful position to be in right now. If an agent or VAR comes to us with a customer who needs to cut costs, we can almost always make that happen for them.
RT: What do you feel is the strongest segment of the communications space? Technology?
TR: There are three areas that still seem to be very strong: Mobile Data, SIP Trunking, and big pipe bandwidth. We don't offer the mobile services, but we are heavily into SIP and Data. That's good news for us as well. There are signs that other technologies will benefit from the new presidential administration, but I think it will take a couple of years for some of the newer technologies to get off the ground and become cheap enough for mass consumption.
RT: Which would you rather be president of and why? Google (News - Alert), Yahoo, Microsoft, Cisco, the United States.
TR: Do you have an inside track on a job offer for me, or are you just being a tease? I've thought about this. Microsoft, Cisco, and Google all have too much to prove. Microsoft is struggling and I would not want to try to change the direction of that ship. No one in their right mind would want to be president of the United States. I'd want the Yahoo job for sure. They are still the number one web site traffic wise and have the broadest content available. However, the failure of the Microsoft deal has left everyone falsely believing that Yahoo is dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a company with VERY strong bone structure, they just need to rethink some of their revenue model and build some positive press with a series of exciting new products, gadgets, and widgets. Stop spending so much money buying other companies and leverage what they already have! Yahoo is probably one of the most undervalued players out there. I'd love to be king of the Internet one day. I'll get there somehow.
RT: What does President Bush need to accomplish before he leaves office?
TR: Too late on this one. He just needs to stay out of the way and keep ducking shoes. Spend some time golfing and work on the legacy thing. Not enough time left to get anything done.
RT: What does an Obama administration need to do to help communications and technology become more pervasive?
TR: We are going to see much more competition and support for research and technology under an Obama administration. He is in favor of Net Neutrality which is a good thing for innovation and consumers. I fully expect that he'll support broad access to high speed Internet for all American households. So much needs to be done to ensure that resellers and start-ups have a fair chance. Allowing the mega-carriers to get any more "Mega" will only result in stagnation and higher prices. Does anyone remember the early days of deregulation? Remember how crazy but fun it was with everyone and their mother coming up with a new idea? I miss that. Let's see what people have on their minds and get more innovation out there. If forced to play nice, AT&T (News - Alert) and the other carriers might still make some money off of openness, even if they don't call all the shots. But it will take a very strong arm from the FCC to make that happen.
RT: Will this slowdown present an opportunity to reinvest in your company/market?
TR: We've never stopped. Slowdown or not, the executives at AireSpring are in constant motion researching new products and services. I've never seen anything like it from a company of our size. We have so many potential products in the pipeline that all we really need to do is follow the demand. It is energizing and fun to work in this environment. We've invested more into growing the AireSpring network since the start of the economic slowdown than at any time before it. It has been a remarkable couple of years for us.
RT: What device(s) do you use and wish you used?
TR: As far as personal technology goes, I'm an early adopter. I've used both versions of the iPhone (News - Alert) and love them. The cynic in me realizes the flaws, but the child in me loves how fun and easy it is to use. That one device has cut my computer time in half. I read all of my new mail on my iPhone, surf the web, do my research, check the news, trade stocks, and IM from the phone. It seems like the only thing I use the computer for any more is writing. I tried to get into the Google Phone and the new Blackberry, but just didn't have the time. I am excited about the new Palm Pre. Let's see if it is cool enough to save the company.
RT: If Nokia, RIM, Google and Apple devices are stranded together on an island, who survives and why?
TR: Let's face it, they will all lose their battery after a couple of hours of constant use and lay baking in the sun until their warranties are voided by an afternoon rain storm. Nothing kills a Smart Phone quicker than being stranded on a tropical island.
RT: I understand you are exhibiting at ITEXPO which takes place Feb 2-4 2009 in Miami. What will you be showing there?
TR: We'll be in our fancy "Just SIP It" booth. We feature all the flavors of our Local and Long Distance SIP trunking products as well as our High Speed IP options. The hard thing about our products is that we don't have anything physical to show off in the booth. No fancy phones, or neat gadget - Just some sales guys and product info. But somehow our booth is always packed with interested telecom agents and vars. ITEXPO is a lot of fun, stop by and say hello.
RT: What sorts of companies/people should come to your exhibit?
TR: Anyone looking to lower their Local, Long Distance, or Data costs. We have a product for everything and every one these days. We'd really like to meet Agents and VARs who haven't signed with us yet. What's holding you guys up? We've got piles of cash to give you!
RT: I am a purchasing decision-maker, why do I need to speak with you before I buy?
TR: If you don't, you might be leaving a lot of savings on the table. Our Agents and Sales Engineers have helped companies figure out how to squeeze savings out of their existing systems and helped them find the lowest cost solutions for their new equipment. The key is not to just look for lower rates on your current services but to think outside the box and ask if there are newer technologies and services which we can help get you into which would save you even more. For example, we have come up with a Long Distance T-1 service which delivers twice the capacity of a traditional T-1 over a single circuit. We call it "AireSpring Network LD," we've won some awards on this product and even more praise from our customers.
RT: What is your favorite part of your job?
TR: The creativity. We are encouraged to help think up new products, promotions, and services at AireSpring. Everyone from the front line customer service agent to the smartest engineer is empowered to pitch a needed product or service. I've really never seen a company more engaged in forward motion. These guys are so clever and so focused on what the customers want and the Agents and VARs need. And the speed with which they are able to identify, research, create, test, and turn up new product is staggering. When you focus your efforts and challenge your staff to do exciting new things, they'll produce great results. It has been a an amazing ride.
RT: What do you look forward to in the future and why?
TR: Our industry is changing, the whole world is. IP is the new connecting fabric of the telecom world. It is fascinating to watch. My grandmother switched telephone calls by hand in the Mid-West for AT&T when she was a girl, now I can call my brother in Japan for free with a peer-to-peer VoIP phone. Soon the real value will come from Data and how it is delivered. WiMAX (News - Alert), High Speed IP, 4G, Fiber, broadband over power lines . . . that's where the future is hidden. We know how it will be connected, just not how it will be carried and what sorts of applications will need it. Let the shakeout and the craziness begin!
Rich Tehrani is President and Group Editor-in-Chief of TMC. In addition, he is the Chairman of the world’s best-attended communications conference, INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO (ITEXPO). He is also the author of his own communications and technology blog.
Edited by Michelle Robart