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April 1999

rich.gif (5262 bytes) Deregulation (And The Horse It Rode In On)


I'm a car guy. I especially love to drive impractical cars as long as they are fun to drive. Granted, I guess I could use mass transit more often, but whenever it's possible, I jump in my car, turn on the radio and drive. Perhaps it's the independence. There was a time when a train was the most effective form of transit (please, no e-mails about horses unless you are currently using one in your daily commute). I, for one, would have gone crazy in a world where a train was the best way to traverse long distances. I really enjoy controlling my own destiny. But then again, who doesn't?

Now. Back when AT&T was a monopoly, they controlled everyone's telecommunications destiny. Need a phone? A new line? Need a PBX? You had to call AT&T and they would lease it to you. It was, after all, their equipment. Their lines. Their choice.

Those days are gone. We can now purchase our own equipment and whether we choose to do so from AT&T spin-off Lucent Technologies or any other equipment vendor, the point is that it is our choice: Our PBX and our decision to deal with whomever we wish.

Those of you in telecom long enough realize how novel it was to most people that they could actually purchase telephony equipment. I still hear stories about how the first salespeople of PBXs (outside of AT&T) - those first interconnects - couldn't convince potential customers that companies could own their own equipment. It was simply impossible to do so before, and a new mindset had to be developed.

Let's take a look at what has happened to telecommunications since deregulation. Entire new industries such as CTI, call centers, and Internet telephony have evolved, due in large part to the fact that telephony equipment is being developed in a free market by thousands of innovative companies. Unified messaging, fax servers, IVR systems, PC PBXs, voice/data switches - these and countless other new product offerings have taken the telecommunications market by storm. Who would have thought that this much innovation was possible in such a short amount of time?

Just as cars have freed up travelers to control their own destiny, deregulation has allowed new industries to spring up allowing us to control our telecommunications as we feel is best for our given situation.

Last month, I mentioned that today's automobiles are increasingly coming to rely on computers and microprocessors. This dependence threatens to change the very way I view my car. New and inexpensive microprocessor technology makes it increasingly simple for your car's trip computer to map your trip from point A to point B. Next on the horizon, technology will enable your car to take you anywhere you need to go without any driver involvement! Imagine that! No need to steer or pay attention to other drivers. No thrill of accelerating when the spirit moves you. Sniff! I feel a tear coming on.

Just as the future of automobiles may be in the hands of a large navigational networks, making them more efficient, so too will the telecom service providers of the future allow us to use their networks in ways that will be invaluable to customers.

Perhaps the example that best illustrates my point is voice mail service. Maybe it's just me, but I believe that we should all be using voice mail service from our local telephone company. I can't think of a single reason to own an answering machine. They break. The tape runs out and cuts off messages. (But only important ones. If it's not important, then callers can leave as much info as they want.) If the power goes out, you lose messages and (yikes!) have to reset the time.

For one reason, most of us still use answering machines because ILECs (incumbent local exchange carriers) haven't figured out how to sell a service against other entrenched options (such as the answering machines). I wish I was the marketing manager of an ILEC and was paid commission every time someone signed up for voice mail. All they need to do is offer free voice mail service for 6 months to everyone. During this time, make it easy to forward messages to other people in the local calling area. In fact, why not work with other ILECs, so that your voice mail systems interoperate nationwide? After the 6 months is over, no one will want to give up the convenience of being able to transfer messages between subscribers and presto! You have a wonderfully high retention rate. This very same principle works for cell phones and it will work for voice mail.

The point is that the number of potential services is limited only by the developer community's imagination. Almost 2 years ago, Netspeak (www.netspeak.com) opened my eyes to the potential of offering an IP Centrex call center service that next-gen telcos could sell. Keep in mind that call centers are extremely expensive to equip. Starting a small call center requires a tremendous investment in equipment and support and staff, etc… If your service provider purchases the equipment and just provides you with the service as you need it - your cost is dramatically lowered.

As telephony continues its migration to IP networks it will become ever easier for service providers to differentiate themselves through the use of innovative applications such as cable telephony, Web/Java-based call control applications, and group video conferencing services. Some of these services will be purchased because no alternative exists and some will be purchased because the cost can be justified on a monthly basis.

Sure there is a thrill to owning your own equipment or vehicle and driving it when and where you want, but in the end, we do what makes good healthy sense for ourselves and our businesses. Service providers of tomorrow are gearing up to offer you more than you ever expected from them. The offerings are expected to ramp up so quickly that we have launched a new Services section to keep you current on all the activity happening in the services marketplace. The new section makes its debut this month. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the new Services section, or for that matter anything else that's on your mind. Let me know at rtehrani@tmcnet.com.

TMC Labs: Integrity Comes First

Many of you already know the history of TMC Labs. You'll recall that as a Computer Engineering student, I used to read each and every possible computer publication I could find. I would devour these magazines from cover to cover, paying special attention to the products they reviewed in their testing facilities. Upon graduation, I became the Director of MIS at Technology Marketing Corporation (TMC). I would scour computer magazine test drives before purchasing any product. I was obsessed, sometimes reading hundreds of pages of reviews before making a purchasing decision.

Over the years I realized that some of the magazines really devoted time and energy to developing a laboratory that tested products objectively and based purely on technological merit, while other magazines chose to cater their reviews to their advertisers. These magazines would simply write glowing reviews about any product submitted by a vendor who happened to advertise in the magazine! Now, I was spending hard earned company money and believe me, every penny was precious. The purchasing decisions I made could have broken the company if they were wrong.

Having grown up in this environment, I felt it was imperative to establish the telecom industry's first objective and in-depth telecom testing lab, and when I became Group Publisher of TMC's magazines, that's exactly what I did. TMC Labs serves the needs of our readers, not our advertisers. Many industry vendors use our lab as the benchmark of success. Many products we start out to review don't even make it into our publications because frankly, they don't meet our standards or yours.

Lately, we have received complaints from a few vendors that our reviews of their products are too harsh or that we don't give them enough credit for this feature or for that one. Most recently, we received a complaint from a large and reputable computer company. I always take customer complaints very seriously. Let me add that this product was reviewed by a leading PC magazine around the same time as TMC Labs reviewed it.

I reread the TMC Labs review in question and that of the PC publication and I couldn't believe how much more realistic the TMC Labs review was compared to the one from the other magazine. Could you believe the other review found no flaws with the product: No installation snafus; No room for improvement; No suggestions at all. In their eyes, the product was perfect.

I assume that as a reader of this magazine you actually use a computer and as such, you know that nothing ever works perfectly - EVER - under any circumstance. Let's face it. Every product has room for improvement and doesn't always install correctly.

In the last few years, many publishing companies have become publicly traded or have been acquired by publicly traded companies and this has had a major effect on their editorial quality. As a public company, your first loyalty must be to your public shareholders and not your readers. If your review states that an advertiser's product is inadequate and that advertiser decides to pull their advertising from your publication, you miss your earnings estimates and Wall Street hammers your stock - it's that simple.

At TMC Labs we have no such fear. We are a privately held publishing company and we depend on our reputation of providing you with the most objective, in-depth editorial coverage. We take our time with each and every review and we report on every nuance of the testing procedure. If the product fails during the installation process, we report that to you. If there's a problem, we report it. If the documentation seems to have been improperly translated from Martian, we tell you.

Our first and only loyalty is to our readers. We know that the reason for the success of TMC publications is due to readers like yourself that depend on objective and in-depth reviews you can trust to make product purchase decisions.

A "Capitol" Idea

CTI EXPO Spring '99 is coming to Washington, DC this May 24-26. And, the show that brought a wealth of Internet telephony vendors and products and services to over 23,000 attendees in 1998 is set to do it again in 1999.

Also in the Exhibit Hall, we will be featuring 5 FREE objective Learning Centers - each of which has its hooks deep into the Internet telephony market! Each Learning Center will contain approximately 6 vendors objectively educating you on various technologies.

The CLEC/ISP Learning Center will feature companies like Lucent, displaying IP call waiting technology, Netcentric, showing off their IP-based fax, Wildfire, showing a virtual/automated receptionist, and Delta Three displaying prepaid Internet telephony calling.

There will also be an Internet Telephony Learning Center featuring Internet telephony gateway vendors and a Voice/Data Switch Learning Center featuring the future of the PBX - a PBX based on IP.

The Unified Messaging Learning Center will showcase several vendors educating you about the benefits and potential reach of this technology.

Finally, the Microsoft TAPI 3.0 Learning Center will preview the latest companies demonstrating products based on TAPI 3.0, the first IP telephony API to be supported by Microsoft and bundled into Windows.

Here's a sneak preview of just a handful of the Internet telephony vendors who will be at the spring show. The Exhibit Hall will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 25 and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 26. For a complete list of exhibitors, visit our Web site at www.ctiexpo.com.

AltiGen Communications, Inc. #451
Web site: www.altigen.com
AltiGen's easy-to-use AltiServ system with AltiWare Open Editorial software leverages the technologies of the Internet, Windows NT, and Microsoft TAPI and MAPI to deliver the most sophisticated, fully integrated phone systems available to small businesses today. When combined with AltiGen's Quantum board and Windows NT or Microsoft Small Business Server, AliServ delivers an advanced PBX with corporate-strength voice mail, auto attendant, and Exchange integrated e-mail.

AudioCodes, Ltd. #1146
Web site: www.audiocodes.com
AudioCodes is a leading provider of VoIP voice, fax, and data compression boards for Internet telephony, which are used by leading carrier-grade gateway manufacturers. The TrunkPack - VoIP series includes quad-trunk CompactPCI boards, single and dual trunk PCI boards, and four-line analog boards.

Brooktrout Software #715
Web site: www.brooktrout.com
Brooktrout Software, headquartered in Southborough, MA, is the leading provider of Windows NT-based rapid application development platforms for Integrated Voice Response (IVR) applications and other computer telephony solutions. Brooktrout Software's open architecture supports many enterprise business systems (SAP, Microsoft, Exchange, Oracle), and services are scaleable across the enterprise.

Calista, Inc. #1046
Web site: www.calista.com
The PBX over IP allows almost any digital PBX telephone to be used from a remote location using the latest voice over IP technology. The PBX over IP works over ethernet or dial up modem lines.

Comdial Corporation #352
Web site: www.comdial.com
CT Voice is a turnkey Internet telephony gateway designed for use by businesses with multiple locations. The system is designed to provide high-quality, real-time voice and fax communications over an IP network.

Inter-Tel #1133
Web site: www.inter-tel.com
A leader in the Internet telephony industry, Inter-Tel "The Voice of the Internet" offers complete Internet telephony solutions for carriers and corporations. NextGen service providers can benefit from Vocal'Net's scalable, carrier-grade solutions and software packages. Any size business can save on voice and fax with InterPrise products. Plus, Inter-Tel.net's global reach can extend, manage, and monitor an Internet telephony network.

Megahertz-NKO, Inc. #567
Web site: www.megahertz-nko.com
Megahertz, a leading provider of Internet access and e-commerce solutions, and NKO, provider Internet telephony services, have merged. The company offers prepaid phone cards, and converged solutions for voice, data, fax, and video over IP. The NKOnet Global Backbone provides global network management along with converged billing and administrative solutions.

Natural MicroSystems #715
Web site: www.nmss.com
Natural MicroSystems is a leading provider of open CT platforms, and open telecommunications solutions. Its technology enables partners to shorten time-to-market for high-value CT systems, integrated voice response (IVR) systems, and call centers integrated with Web sites.

NBX Corporation #340
Web site: www.nbxcorp.com
The NBX 100 Communications System: The only reliable multiline business telephone system with full PBX functionality. The system has built-in, robust (free!) Voice Messaging/AA, a built-in TAPI driver for TAPI 1.4 and 2.x applications, and support for Caller ID services. It offers reliable integration of voice and data, while delivering crystal clear voice quality.

NETRIX Corporation #851
Web site: www.netrix.com
NETRIX Corporation is a leading worldwide provider of voice and data networking products, designed to transport voice over data networks, enabling customers to realize significant cost savings. Combining patented, switched, compressed-voice technology and advanced networking capabilities, NETRIX delivers networking solutions that improve network performance and achieve substantial operational savings. NETRIX's customers include multinational corporations, emerging service providers, and government agencies in over 60 countries worldwide.

Nortel Networks #526
Web site: www.nortelnetworks.com
Nortel works with customers worldwide to design, build, and deliver telecommunications and IP-optimized networks. Customers include public and private enterprises and institutions; ISPs; local, long distance, cellular, and PCS communications companies; and cable television carriers and utilities.

Nuera Communications, Inc. #133
Web site: www.nuera.com
Nuera is known worldwide as the leading provider of high-quality, low-delay voice compression systems which improve communications capabilities and reduce costs in carrier and high-demand corporate satellite, TDM, frame relay, and IP network applications.

Oki Network Technologies #533
Web site: www.okint.com
Oki will be featuring their Internet Voice Gateway (IVG), which provides users with a reliable, one-box "plug and play" solution for sending voice and fax over a TCP/IP Network. IVG decreases costs while ensuring high quality, and exceptionally clear voice communications.

PakNetX Corporation #739
Web site: www.paknetx.com
The PNX/ACD is the industry's first and only software-based, telephone switching system designed specifically for Internet telephony and multimedia call centers. The PNX/ACD software application provides the key functions of traditional hardware based, audio-only communication to the Internet call center environment.

Quicknet Technologies, Inc. #148
Web site: www.quicknet.net
Integrated with leading IP telephone applications and gateways, individuals and small businesses can make high quality, low cost, PC-to-Phone, PC-to-PC and phone-to-PC calls with Quicknet's award winning products: The Internet PhoneJack, Internet LineJack, and the new high performance H.323 Internet Switchboard low density gateway software.

Touchwave, Inc. #326
Web site: www.touchwave.com
Touchwave's Webswitch is a complete, network-integrated phone system that delivers full functionality and uses the network to provide desktop control, management, and expandability.

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