June 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 6
Special Focus: It's a Service Provider World
By: Richard "Zippy" Grigonis
There’s no reason for smaller businesses to be stuck with cheap knock-offs of the kinds of advanced communications systems found in major enterprises. Service providers can now offer a wide range of high quality technologies and applications delivered as a service to SMBs. Services can either be completely hosted or “managed” in that the hardware is on premise but it is being taken care of by the provider. Service providers have always had a powerful economic argument going for them and many businesses now realize that they can partake of today’s VoIP and unified communications revolutions without any “fuss or muss”. Outside of the business world, inexpensive broadband has enabled service providers to bring exciting triple and quad play service bundles to homes everywhere. Truly, the Era of the Service Provider is upon us.
If the average business has heard anything about VoIP at all, it’s that they can somehow save money. In the case of the provider Lingo, for example, it offers three plans for small businesses, costing $39.95, $49.95 and $79.95 per month, respectively, plus over 20 calling features including voicemail, call forwarding, *69, and three-way calling. You keep your current phone number, and the included Office Assistant enables you to easily manage Lingo calling features directly from Microsoft (News - Alert) Outlook and Internet Explorer.
But providers are also increasingly fulfilling this “cheap VoIP” idea via SIP (Session Initiation Protocol (News - Alert)) Trunking, which converges voice and data onto one pipe. Enterprises with an IP PBX can now communicate not just internally over the LAN but outside the enterprise a SIP trunk provided by a carrier functioning as an ITSP (Internet Telephony (News - Alert) Service Provider) either directly to the IP interface of another company’s PBX or else via the provider’s gateway to the traditional PSTN. Old ISDN PRI service gives you 23 lines (timeslots) whether you want them all or not. With SIP trunking, you can buy however much bandwidth that you need, and it’s dynamically allocated.
For example, in the case of a Broadvox (News - Alert) GO! SIP Trunking line, a call can travel most of its path over the Broadvox network instead of the PSTN, then it drops back down to the destination at the last mile. Traditional local and long distance charges decrease dramatically because the call travels mostly over the IP network and not the PSTN. Broadvox says that pricing for SIP Trunking is typically 40 to 70 percent below what legacy telcos can offer, and owning and maintaining a PSTN gateway is no longer your problem.
Many businesses don’t realize the number of applications now available to them that can be delivered as a service. Some businesses use 8x8’s popular and innovative Packet8 offerings, such as their hosted Packet8 Complete Contact Center (delivered as a Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS (News - Alert)), and the Packet8 Virtual Office Interface for Salesforce, a downloadable software client application for users that subscribe to both Salesforce and Packet8 Virtual Office. It enables you to make, receive and track calls directly from your contact database. You can place calls directly from the Salesforce application by either clicking the contact’s phone number or by using the dialpad on the Packet8 interface window. Incoming calls are displayed with pop up screens based on your Salesforce contacts.
Video-based services continue to gain in popularity, and service providers find it challenging to deal with multimedia in general, owing to fluctuations in bandwidth and quality of service (QoS) issues. Some of these providers will get help from Dilithium Networks (News - Alert), a master of converged video solutions for mobile and broadband networks and the Internet. Among other things, they have a huge 60 percent global market share in multimedia gateways, are the market share leader in 3G-324M/H.324M/H.324 Protocol Stacks and they offer the integrated multimedia gateway and service creation environment, ViVAS.
Paul Zuber, Dilithium’s CEO, “In the beginning we provided high quality multimedia delivery, initially over 3G mobile networks to any device, but over time over any type of network. Are CTO and technical founder was on the ITU Group that helped develop the worldwide standard for video telephony, the H.324 and H.324M protocols. We developed some of the first protocol stacks that are on the majority of 3G mobile phones in the world today, and about 85 percent of TD-SCDMA designs and chipsets in China incorporate our chipsets too. We then moved into multimedia gateways that connect mobile switching centers and enable the delivery of all types of 2-way interactive high quality video services. Over the years we’ve evolved from being just a pure network equipment to also developing service creation software to help customers rapidly create and deploy applications on the network, and well as many of the applications themselves, so over time, we’ve evolved to become an end-to-end provider of multimedia solutions. We believe we have the most comprehensive portfolio in the world today. Our customer list reads like a Who’s Who of the industry.”
“Our new Dilithium Content Adapter, or DCA, was really developed for the Internet, media and content market,” says Zuber. “To our surprise there has been strong interest from the service providers and there have been deployments already and many trials going on in Europe and Asia. It’s a product that’s ready now. We come from the service provider world, which is very complex, having a multitude of codecs and devices and network infrastructure. When we first started talking with aggregators and content delivery networks and Internet companies, their view of the world was very simple — ‘We’re in an all-IP world, so it’s pretty easy — we just deliver IP to IP’. When we asked how they were going to be taking their content to the mobile world or how they were doing it, we were told that they stored content in anywhere from 25 to 250 different formats. They had to do that because they didn’t know what the devices were going to look like or what the bit rates were going to be, or what the media codecs were.”
“When we told them they could store the content in one format or maybe a couple, and that we could take care of it on-the-fly, they didn’t understand how that was possible,” says Zuber. “We explained that in a telecom network we can’t tell people to wait 30 minutes when they make a phone call so we can figure out what the devices look like in the network. So we decided to solve the most difficult problems first and now in coming to the Internet world, many issues involving network diversity and provisioning have already been solved by us. So it’s very easy for us to take our underlying technology and our deployment experience in 50 countries and use that for the Internet world to spread their audience to the vast mobile audience.”
Unmesh Mehta, Senior VP of Value Added Services, “In talking with broadband and media companies, they have a lot of digital content, but there are challenges in that it’s much easier to distribute content in the broadband space because it’s a more controlled environment where you can manage the pipe and provide high quality services. But that’s not the case when it comes to mobile, because the three fundamental mobile challenges are: First, transcoding. There are different codecs, different bitrates that must be managed, and so the content transformation from one format to another is one of the biggest challenges. The second challenge is bandwidth reliability, because the dynamic nature of the network and bandwidth reliability is a constraint when you are delivering major content on the mobile. And the third is dealing with the different sizes of screens while maintaining video quality.”
“Beyond that, we also recognized that the mobile industry and especially video, has a lot to do with user-generated content and real-time access. People aren’t watching three hours or 12 hours of movies on the mobile, but they would be very much interested in a brand new movie trailer or somebody’s blog with regard to what was seen just seen on the road and has been distributed via a social networking environment. These are some of the key challenges facing those who want to bring content to the mobile space. That’s why our Dilithium Content Adapter was developed. We had tackled the problem in the 3G space, but the DCA is primarily focused on packet-to-packet solutions, and on how to bring about content conversion, whether it happens to be at the protocol level, network level, streaming level or screen size level. How do you do that in a most efficient way? That’s the problem we solve.”
The fact that America is just starting to catch up to the rest of the world broadband-wise in itself presents opportunities to international carriers establishing a presence here.
Tiscali International Network (TINet), the wholesale carrier division of the Tiscali Group, is said to be the only carrier exclusively dedicated to the wholesale IP/VoIP-MPLS market and has network presence and customers in EMEA, Americas and APAC. TINet brand international products include Global IP Connectivity, providing connectivity to the Global Internet; MPLS lines, supporting Remote Peering services and Data back-up links; voice services: voice termination and collection services based on VoIP technology delivered by what’s said to be the largest pan-European VoIP network to date. TINet sells services to customers demanding high capacity and availability, such as telecom carriers, cable TV operators, web hosting companies, and to smaller ISPs, also known as Tier 2 carriers.
Palo Gambini, Chief Marketing Officer of TINet, says, “We operate a large IP and MPLS network across Europe and across the U.S. from Washington, New York, Chicago, Miami, all the way to San Jose. We’re now building in Seattle and Dallas, and the Asia-Pacific region such as Singapore. We apply transit for Internet connectivity, and MPLS transport services to major operators, carriers, content providers such as Amazon and Yahoo, DoubleClick (News - Alert), and so forth. We’ve been active in the U.S. since 2005 and now we’re expanding our scope into the U.S.”
TINet and high-performance networking company Juniper Networks (News - Alert) recently announced that TINet is scaling its core infrastructure to support the growing demand for multiplay services with the Juniper Networks T1600 multi-terabit core router. TINet will deploy the T1600s in several Points of Presence (POPs) throughout Europe and America, to accommodate its traffic growth and to support the latest 40 Gbps technologies. The service-aware core router, capable of delivering 1.6 Tbps of throughput in a single half-rack chassis, will enable the company to scale-up the delivery of multiple high capacity services over its global MPLS infrastructure.
Since the world is still a hybrid network, major service providers still tend to separate their telecom and broadband operations. This is the case with the Atlas Group of Companies, created in 1995, which encompasses Atlas Telecom, a group that terminates international voice traffic into “hard-to-reach” countries and mobile operators, and Atlas Broadband, which covers the full range of the broadband value chain, thus providing a complete solution. Atlas Broadband manages projects from telecom infrastructure deployment to service provisioning and distribution of triple play services. Atlas has done everything from selling minutes wholesale to telemedicine to international collect services. (Don’t confuse them with Atlas Telecom of www.goatlastelecom.com, a manufacturer since 1988 of fine communications devices, including the inexpensive yet feature-laden Atlas IP PBX (News - Alert).)
Out of Sight
Although we associate service providers with fixed-line and wireless environments that we experience daily, we forget that geosynchronous satellites in orbit 22,300 miles (35,786 kilometers) above the earth — owned by companies such as SES AMERICOM (News - Alert) — help financial institutions complete everyday card-swipe transactions at the ATM, gas pump or grocery store. Some television programming delivered by cable companies is first distributed via satellites, and some airlines have been experimenting with offering in-flight broadband via satellite to their passengers. SES AMERICOM satellite technology is already used to deliver broadband Internet connectivity to cruise ships, enabling both passengers and crew on cruise ships and yachts to make VoIP phone calls from ship-to-shore or check email from the middle of the ocean. Moreover, corporations or telecom service providers wanting to expand, extend and ensure their networking capabilities in remote and offshore commercial data networks often resort to satellite solutions.
Businesses fathoming the depths of the service provider world will be astonished to discover the number and variety of IP communications-based providers, such as classic ITSPs. IP communications opened the doors for many entrepreneurs who jumped aboard the IP voice/video/data bandwagon. For example, Speakeasy (News - Alert), now one of America’s leading providers of voice, data and IT solutions, started out in 1994 as an Internet café. By providing top-notch Internet service and superlative customer service, Speakeasy grew rapidly, starting a hosted voice (VoIP) service in 2005 and an Integrated Voice offer for customers wanting to hold onto their existing phone system.
In an ocean of providers, differentiation and flexibility are important, and, rather than create a ‘walled garden’ scenario where customers must use the voice service of the broadband provider (or use off-net voice services), Speakeasy has instituted a remarkably flexible policy wherein their customers are allowed to choose their broadband provider with any of Speakeasy’s voice services. Of course, Speakeasy would like them to use Speakeasy’s voice services with Speakeasy’s own broadband service to enjoy the best quality of service, as their voice packets are prioritized over data packets, along with dynamically allocated bandwidth. But by making this an option, many small businesses can effortlessly switch to Speakeasy services while maintaining their current telecom infrastructure.
Once you’ve got a broadband connection and subscribe to one or more services, you might want to buy some inexpensive, high quality USB IP phones for your PC or laptop from companies such as Eutectics. Founded in 2001, Eutectics says that conventional Ethernet-based IP Phones are more expensive than their USB Phones because in order to connect to the Ethernet additional components are needed as compared to Eutectics USB based products, which provide superior sound quality, the ability to make free phone calls, convert your PC to a phone, and have been tested with Windows XP, Cisco (News - Alert) AVVID, Broadsoft, 3Com NBX and CommWorks (now part of UTStarcom) softswitch solutions. They also support fax-over-IP.
Whether you’re looking for a simple VoIP service, a satellite link or a sophisticated hosted call center application, there’s a service provider out there that has exactly what you’re looking for. IT
The following companies were mentioned in this article:
Atlas Group of Companies (www.atlastelecom.com)
Atlas Telecom (www.goatlastelecom.com)
SES Americom (www.ses-americom.com)
Tiscali International Network (www.tiscali.net)
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