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Feature Article
July 2001


Rethinking The Broadband Menu

Feast On Value With Broadband Voice And Data


With the recent focus on delivering voice services to business users over broadband data networks, one larger issue has often been overlooked -- the value of delivering integrated broadband data and voice services and applications from one service provider that meet all of small and medium-sized business' (SMBs) communications needs. By treating voice as a data application integrated with other high-speed data offerings, broadband service providers (BSPs) make it easier and more affordable for SMBs to realize the true power of broadband data networks.

In the past, service providers have focused on data and voice as separate entities, offering them under separate service packages with multiple service contracts. Companies have had to pay for high-speed Internet connectivity, Web-based services like e-mail, and voice services separately. While this piecemeal approach may work for larger enterprises with deep pockets, it is inefficient and expensive, and has deterred smaller companies from deploying voice over broadband. Even when SMBs do use VoIP, the service usually is not integrated with other data network applications, and does not increase business efficiency as much as it would when integrated with other services.

When carriers have tried to add value by offering "bundled" services, their offers have been more of a billing phenomenon than a true integration of voice and data. Bundling services into one bill does make it easier for customers to understand what they are paying for, but it does not make it easier for them to use the services.

BSPs provide a unique value proposition for SMBs by delivering not your traditional voice but, rather, voice as a data application. Integrating all broadband services into one offering will allow SMBs to become more productive and run their businesses more effectively. In order for service providers to add value and differentiate their offerings, they will need to truly integrate individual services together rather than just bundling them on one bill.

Not Your Traditional Voice
Integrating services means the end of the inefficient "� la carte" approach to delivering business communications solutions. By providing service packages that combine a broad range of high-speed connectivity, voice over broadband, business communication applications, and managed IT services, BSPs help smaller companies increase productivity and save money in conducting their everyday business. BSPs benefit from increased sales, expanded service contracts, and heightened customer loyalty.

Today's service provider needs to become a complete communications provider, with fully integrated voice and data applications that provide added value over traditional voice and broadband services. For voice, this means delivering traditional PBX or key system features along with local, long-distance, unified messaging, and other services that only broadband data networks can provide. These additional features include Web-based call logs to track incoming and outgoing calls, integration to end users' directories, voice mail and e-mail integration, Find-Me/Follow-Me, and Click-to-Call voice service delivery. Treating voice as a data application allows service providers to integrate network provisioning and management, customer support, and back-office functions into one integrated offer that's easy to deploy.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
Integrated services provide SMBs with one package that addresses all of their business communications needs, and makes it less complex to manage and administer to their customers. Integrated broadband voice and data services mean simpler rates -- one price point, one service contract, one monthly bill, and only one check at the end of the month due to one BSP. Service packages also reduce overhead costs because they provide all of the popular PBX features, but without requiring long-term investment in equipment that quickly becomes obsolete.

In addition, integrated services provide flexibility for SMBs to plan their service options depending on their monthly needs. They can purchase more bandwidth and voice applications during busier months and less when they do not need it. This allows smaller companies to cost-effectively plan for growth and purchase data and voice without having to pay for unneeded functionality.

End users also can easily configure, program, and manage many of their phone services and options internally, eliminating the cost of outsourcing services for every minor network change. For example, companies that want to reconfigure phones to accommodate new employees, office moves, or additional phone numbers no longer have to call their phone company to make these changes. Instead they can make updates directly in the network, which was built specifically to support both their voice and data systems. BSPs no longer have to allocate resources to addressing minor network changes, and SMBs save money by handling day-to-day administration internally.

When all voice and data applications are delivered together on one service provider's network, there is less concern about interoperability. All equipment is based on standards that the service provider guarantees will work together, meaning a faster deployment time as well as increased reliability. End users can consolidate multiple voice mail and e-mail accounts, which simplifies communications and increases productivity.

Value-added voice-over-broadband services include support for back-office operations such as billing. For example, law firms and other professional service businesses that need to bill back the cost of long-distance calls to their customers can use call log tracking to automate the billing processes. Using voice as a data application tied in with other broadband network services allows companies to easily keep track and bill for these hours, and incorporate the data into other business functions.

Professional Services Guarantee Reliability
Including IT support services with voice and data offerings provides an additional value to SMBs. BSPs enjoy a competitive advantage because they can provide a level of customer service and network support that in the past was simply unaffordable for all but large enterprises.

Rather than provide an ad-hoc selection of IT services, BSPs now can implement a complete professional services offering to complement integrated voice and data services. Managed professional services ranging from on-demand to full-time managed IT support enable businesses to supplement their internal IT resources with a service provider's unique understanding of the SMB enterprise and the technical expertise of its professional services staff. Customers experience a significant cost savings typically associated with traditional IT services, while eliminating the need for outsourcing basic network maintenance projects to expensive independent contractors.

No More Multiple Contracts
In the end, business customers save time and money because they no longer need to consult and negotiate individual service contracts for multiple providers. Instead they receive broadband voice and data services, and flexible levels of connectivity speeds and bandwidth based upon their needs, from one provider, on one monthly bill. Enabling end users to administer their voice and data services reduces monthly maintenance costs, while self-provisioning capabilities provide increased flexibility and reduced total cost of ownership.

The bottom line is that service providers can serve up value for SMB customers by treating voice in a new way. Integrating a range of voice and data services and delivering them for one monthly price means the end to the "� la carte" approach to providing voice and data communications services. This capability levels the broadband playing field for smaller companies, translates into increased productivity and cost savings, and allows them to realize all of the benefits of broadband data networks.

David Noon serves as an executive director for Allied Riser Communications (ARC). Jeff Weiss serves as ARC's vice president of engineering. Allied Riser is a pioneer in providing innovative, in-building, high-speed broadband data services and applications to small- and medium-sized businesses.

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