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April 13, 2009

CEO Spotlight: AireSpring's Avi Lonstein

By Richard Grigonis, Executive Editor, IP Communications Group

(This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.)
AireSpring, headquartered in Los Angeles, is one of the fastest growing U.S. telecom carriers, with over three billion call records processed every year. AireSpring (News - Alert) is a privately held, diversified, and full service communications company that offers a wide range of innovative telecom services at competitive prices.
AireSpring offers next-generation integrated, SIP/VoIP, voice, and data products. AireSpring has been voted, by its peers in the Telecom Association, as the “Members Choice” top reseller for three consecutive years (2006-8). To date, AireSpring has set the record for more Telecom Association awards (11) than any other carrier/reseller.
As of January 1, 2009, AireSpring customers who are signed up for one of the AireSpring Network Local Phone Service products — available for TDM, Voice over IP (VoIP) and SIP-enabled equipment — will receive free calling between all of their offices and locations without the need for expensive VPN, MPLS, Frame Relay, or Private Line Networks. The new free calling feature allows any company with offices scattered across the country, or around the world, to slash its monthly phone bills. AireSpring services more than 160 cities worldwide, but customers can assign a U.S. number to an office located anywhere in the world.. There is no additional charge for Free Interoffice Calling and it is automatically included on all AireSpring Network Local Phone Service products.
The average multi-location company makes up to 85 percent of its calls between offices. With AireSpring’s free calling offer, all of those interoffice calls would be free. Any company can take advantage of AireSpring Free Calling by setting up AireSpring Network Local Service at all of their branches/office locations.
Recently, Yours Truly held a Q&A session with AireSpring CEO Avi Lonstein. As the former President of ADDTEL Communications, Mr. Lonstein took ADDTEL from a start-up operation to one the country’s most successful nationwide long distance resellers. Under Lonstein’s direction, ADDTEL was recognized as one of the industries most innovative and well-managed companies, and experienced substantial growth during his tenure. Lonstein is well-known in the resale telecom industry, and was one of the founding members of the industry's trade association, the Association of Communications Enterprises (ASCENT). Prior to co-founding ADDTEL, Mr. Lonstein was Assistant Controller at Michael Baybak and Company, a corporate public relations firm.
RG: AireSpring emphasizes SIP Trunking, but it also offers local T1 service. Will T1 be a viable market as we move into the future?
AL: Demand for traditional T1 service remains robust, based on the huge installed legacy base of TDM CPE. In the current global economic crisis, businesses are less likely to replace their PBXs and this will prolong the lifecycle of the traditional T1.
At AireSpring, we have made a name for ourselves in SIP, and while SIP is a rapidly growing segment of our business, we still have more demand for T1 based services vs. pure SIP trunking. I’d venture to guess that is true across the industry.
Additionally, because our network is built on an all-IP architecture, we can provide many of the benefits associated with SIP trunking to customers who still have traditional T1 or analog line based phone systems. As a result, we can offer services such as free global on-net calling between branches, out of rate center DID’s at no extra charge, international local calling, and low SIP rates to our TDM customers.
RG: SIP Trunking appears to be a “no brainer,” so why aren’t more companies doing it?
AL: I think there are three main issues that affect customer adoption of SIP.
First, on the customer side, there remains a lot of misconception about VoIP and SIP. Early on, poor call quality and instability issues created a perception that VoIP wasn’t ready for prime time. Current SIP Trunking protocols and architecture are quite robust, flexible, and comparable with TDM in its quality, but it will take some time for the perception to change.
Second, unless a business is being forced to move to a new phone system due to aging equipment, the prevailing attitude is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Particularly in this economic climate, it is very difficult to get customers to assign CAPEX budgets to new hardware, unless they have no choice but to upgrade.
Third, much of the early push on VoIP, particularly in the consumer space, was focused on cost savings — think net2phone (News - Alert), Skype, etc. Some of this thinking still permeates the perception of SIP/VoIP as just “cheap phone calls.” While there are real cost savings available to businesses, we, as an industry, need to do a better job of evangelizing the feature benefits of VoIP for the average business user, as opposed to just focusing on price and cost.
RG: Do you see any new trends emerging?  Any hurdles that might upset the progress of SIP trunking and/or VoIP?
AL: There is no question that SIP/VoIP is going to continue to grow exponentially. That is the obvious direction in which the market is moving. SIP architecture in the core network is simply more efficient and much less expensive to maintain in the long run. But, the global recession will throw a bit of cold water on the current growth curve. When times are tough, you tend to make do with what you have. That holds true for carriers as well as customers.
The “perception” question will also need to be dealt with. At some point, you have to start convincing customers that SIP is their future. Sure, the savvy IT guys will be the first to adopt. But, then, you’ll have to deal with all those companies who tried some low quality peer to peer free calling service in the past and think that all VoIP happens in a tin can.
RG: Describe your view of the future of the IP communications industry.
AL: Carriers will quickly learn that they don’t need to wait for their customers to purchase IP-enabled equipment before transitioning their networks to IP. Just like digital TV, there are ways to connect older devices to an IP network. You can maintain an all-IP network at the core and still have customers with TDM hardware at the edge.
But, IP networks will have significant issues of their own to deal with. Bandwidth requirements are growing faster than the infrastructure can keep up. On the networks of the future, voice and data are the same. Voice is just another application, but one which uses very little bandwidth compared to the growth of video streaming and high definition audio visual mega-loads. Carriers are going to be forced to deal with this issue at some point — most likely sooner rather than later. As all communication becomes data, there must be some way to prioritize all that data across networks to assure highest call quality. The FCC (News - Alert) and the Industry are going to need to work this out.
Perhaps the communications users of the future won’t care as much about voice at all. Younger users seem perfectly happy to Twitter, text, and instant message, rather than making an old fashioned phone call. But, somehow, all those YouTube (News - Alert) videos will need to get pushed down to consumer devices and still leave room for critical business applications.
RG: In the longer term, conceivably, the human drive to get more for less will prompt the ultimate organic telecommunication network — telepathy — instant communication directly to the cerebral cortex. You can’t do any better than that! Who knows? Stranger things have happened. But let’s hope that some brilliant product with high profit margins arises instead.

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC (News - Alert)'s IP Communications Group. To read more of Richard's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Erik Linask

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