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In the CEO Spotlight section in Internet Telephony magazine, we recognize the outstanding work performed by exemplary companies. Each month we bring you the opinions of the heads of companies leading the Internet telephony industry now and helping to shape the future of the industry. This month, we spoke with Neal Shact, CEO and President of CommuniTech.


GG: What is your vision for CommuniTech and how is the company positioned in the next-generation telecom market?

NS: My vision is for CommuniTech is to leverage our relationships as a trusted supplier of our traditional products lines such as messaging and headsets, to our next generation products such as unified messaging and speech enabled products and VoIP endpoints.

The best way to be well positioned in the next-generation telecom market is to be in the current-generation telecom market while developing the expertise with next generation technologies. As new products and services emerge, customers will be facing a baffling array of offerings and alternative ways to access these offerings along with myriad vendors to provide them. In this environment, customers will find comfort and security by dealing with established vendors that have proven themselves over time by standing behind products and services. Those vendor-customer relationships are golden.

GG: What is it that sets CommuniTech apart from your competition?

NS: We have been in business since 1983. Over the years, we have established a large base of satisfied customers. We have added engineers and invested in training and updating the technical skills of our employees. This is a big differentiator because products and services are evolving at a rapid rate, but the number of highly skilled and experienced personnel has grown more slowly. We have been in a position to capitalize on these trends by being an early entrant into the VoIP markets, having been an active player for more than five years, and the founder of the VoIP Council (now part of the IPCC).

CommuniTech became an early pioneer in assisting ITSPs (Internet Telephony Service Providers) in offering their customers endpoint products to enhance their VoIP calling experience. This allowed the ITSPs to concentrate on their core strengths while we provided distribution and fulfillment services. We operate nearly all of the on-line stores for the ITSPs that offer VoIP telephony services. We learned early on that there is a direct correlation between higher quality devices and usage. The greater the usage the greater the revenue for the service provider.

Key elements of our VoIP product strategy include:

Provisioning of IP endpoints

Operating third-party fulfillment services of IP endpoints

Manufacturing the industry leading USB phone/speakerphone, the Claritel phone from Clarisys. Our Clarisys USB phone made us an early entrant in the softphone market. The unique nature of the product led key industry relationships with Cisco and Avaya writing software to integrate their softphones to our Clarisys software. We also have had success with independent softphone suppliers like DiamondWare, EyeP Media, IP blue, and Xten, all integrating their products with ours.

The North American distributorship of Swissvoice, a high-quality, low-cost VoIP (MGCP and SIP) phone.

Reselling Polycom, Sipura, and other IP phones

Distributing of Cisco, i3 Micro, Motorola, and Sipura analog terminal adaptors.

The extensive business that we do overseas, where the cost justification for VoIP is the strongest, has given us the foundation for our VoIP business. While domestic VoIP has many applications, many of these opportunities remain elective. Our strong foreign demand and global customer base gives us unbeatable economies of scale.

GG: Now that it appears that growth and opportunity are the trends in the VoIP industry, what possible hurdles do you see that might upset this momentum?

NS: As new, inexperienced players enter the market, they are prone to over-hyping and over-promising what new VoIP products and services can do. The danger is setting unrealistic customer expectations that will cause a backlash for the entire industry.

Another significant hurdle will be the emergence of ferocious competition among the three major segments, endpoints, transport, and platforms. Each segment is focused on adding value to their offerings while attempting to commoditize the other segments. In addition, there will be intense pricing pressure within each category (i.e., among IP phone vendors) as well. Unlike traditional products of the past, VoIP products and services require continued manufacturer investments to interoperate and remain compatible with the other required elements in their environment.

GG: What are some of the technology areas where CommuniTech is increasingly focusing, and why are these areas important to the future of your company?

NS: We are really focusing strongly on our voice messaging business. We support almost 4,000 voice-messaging platforms. In addition to selling systems, our national field service organization offers support, installation, project management, training, maintenance, and a help desk twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

As a VAR specializing in Mitel and SS8 messaging platforms, our greatest opportunities lie in helping our major end users migrate to next generation products that will support a variety of applications that are natural complements to Messaging. This goes beyond Unified Messaging. Applications include IVR, Instant Messaging/Presence and Speech Recognition. Our core customers want best-of-class capabilities and partners that can support them. We are uniquely positioned to offer it all.

Our specialization leads us to unusually tight working relationships with Mitel and SS8. Both are long term relationships that grew out of working with their common predecessor, Centigram that separated into Mitels line now focusing on enterprise customers and SS8s that targets Service Providers. Mitels new platform runs on a Linux operating system and SS8s equipment runs on Solaris.

GG: Describe your view of the future of the IP telephony industry.

NS: It is very bright, but it is going to take a while to get there. We have the best switched circuit infrastructure in the world and it takes exciting, compelling applications to drive the move to IP.


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