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
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.
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
RT - What comments have your customers made about the
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
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.
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
To The November 2000 Table Of Contents ]