Hosted Communications Comes
BY FRANK PETKOVICH & MICHAEL
In late 2003 VoIP began an earnest move towards the
mainstream, heralded by coverage in leading business press outlets such as
the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and Time magazine and a flurry of press
releases issued by service providers and vendors. While many of these
articles and product announcements related to consumer-oriented services,
another class of packet-based communications services ï¿½ moving in parallel
but even more full-featured ï¿½ grew in popularity during that time period, as
well: Hosted communications services designed for business users, sometimes
called IP Centrex services.
Most of these announced consumer VoIP services transport calls over the
public Internet, with no management to ensure voice quality. Further, these
services provide only the minimal set of features that consumers tend to
need, such as voice mail, limited call forwarding, and Caller ID.
Hosted communications services (however, designed for businesses) are
typically housed in a service providerï¿½s serving office, and delivered to
the customer site via managed broadband service such as T1 or Frame Relay.
Bandwidth is carefully managed to ensure business-class voice quality, and
service-level agreements are often put into place. Service providers
delivering these IP-based, hosted services to their business customers have
thoroughly tested these applications, with a focus on voice quality and
scalability to millions of users. Hosted services offer the same ï¿½five
ninesï¿½ reliability as traditional Centrex or premise-based PBXs.
Further, business-class hosted communications services focus on offering
more advanced features capable of replacing existing business phone systems,
and offering advanced IP-based features that contribute to worker
productivity and flexibility. These capabilities are now being offered to
businesses in wide-scale deployments by leading carriers and other service
providers both in the U.S. and internationally.
SBC, for example ï¿½ a Fortune 30 company and one of the largest carriers in
the world ï¿½ announced its all-in-one type service, Hosted IP Communication
Service (HIPCS), in November 2003. Targeted toward businesses, HIPCS offers
PBX replacement features plus ï¿½click-to- callï¿½ functionality from PCs,
ï¿½find-me, follow-meï¿½ call routing, voice mail, conferencing, and many other
In addition, another major carrier, Level 3 Communications, announced its
(3) Tone hosted voice service in September, designed to augment or replace
PBX, IP-PBX and Centrex business communications systems. (3)Tone was named
product of the year by this magazine in December. These new service
offerings add to previously announced services by Verizon, Telia, and
others. Through hosted communications services, service providers gain new
revenue-generating and differentiating services for their product lines, and
regain some of the lines lost to PBXs and IP-PBXs.
For business users, perhaps one of the most attractive characteristics of
hosted communications is its ability to reduce both capital and operational
expenses. Unlike PBXs, IP-PBXs, or key systems, the hosted services
typically require no capital outlay other than desk phones ï¿½ and the service
can be scaled up or down as needed to accommodate changing staffing levels
without requiring the purchase of additional cards or cabinets. Business
users also gain support for remote and mobile workers, productivity
enhancing features such as click-to-call and find me/follow me. Hosted
communications services hold the potential to revolutionize the way
businesses get their phone and related communications services.
Management of these services is another distinguishing aspect for both the
users and administrators of a business. Users gain convenient new methods of
accessing and controlling communications features and functions, such as
browser-based portals; full integration and synchronization with popular
desktop applications such as Microsoft Outlook; and even WAP-based access
for Internet-enabled mobile phones. These features allow workers to adapt
their communications services to their work styles, location, and device of
choice ï¿½ whether working remotely or in the office. A wide range of desktop
and other devices are supported, giving businesses a choice of new IP
phones, soft phones, or even IP-enabling their existing digital or analog
sets to conserve their previous investment.
For IT or telecom administrators, business phone services have never been so
easy to manage. Hosted communications services offer browser-based
administrative interfaces that allow office personnel ï¿½ without requiring
third-party expense or special IT or telecom training ï¿½ to make standard
moves, adds, and changes on-the-fly, from any Internet-connected browser.
Adding a new employee or changing feature permissions no longer requires a
wait of several days and/or an expensive truck roll by a telecommunications
For service providers, hosted communications services provide a new,
differentiated product offering that can help regain lines lost to other
wireless and wireline services. These services provide a value-added
offering that gives business users a competitive edge in the marketplace
through productivity-enhancing features and new flexibility in
communications. Through enhanced services such as hosted communications,
service providers gain higher margins from their services and build a strong
partnership with their business customers, a true ï¿½win-winï¿½ proposition.
Service providers gain unprecedented flexibility in deploying new hosted
communications services, as well. Because of the distributed architecture of
these service offerings, servers and other associated equipment can be
deployed on an as-needed basis to accommodate new markets or geographically
distributed enterprises. Wholesale arrangements are also available that
allow service providers to ramp up their own offerings very quickly, without
requiring investment in infrastructure. The bottom line: there are many ways
for service providers to pursue this new and exciting revenue opportunity
whether in existing markets or as out-of-region services.
Frank Petkovich is Director of Product Marketing, Sylantro Systems (www.sylantro.com),
an International Packet Communications Consortium (IPCC) member company and
a leading provider of hosted communications and IP Centrex applications.
Michael Khalilian is Chairman and President of the International Packet
Communications Consortium (IPCC), an industry consortium of carriers and
solutions providers advancing packet-based communication technologies For
more information, visit www.packetcomm.org.
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