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Something for Everybody

BY RICH TEHRANI

Rich Tehrani

There�s so much happening in the world of IP Communications. As usual, I�ve been traveling all over meeting with many companies and getting a good sense of what the industry�s up to. And, as we get ready for next month�s Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO West (San Diego Convention Center; October 10�13) I also feel that our conference team has put together an event that truly covers the breadth of the industry. The show will feature content for everybody: Enterprise and Contact center decision makers; Service providers; Developers; and Resellers too. Co-located events such as IMS Expo and Call Center 2.0, as well as IPTV (News - Alert) and WiMAX content from our partners will ensure a thorough educational opportunity, no matter what segment of IP Communications you represent. To mirror a bit of what you�ll find at our upcoming event in San Diego, I�d like to share with you some of the exciting news I�ve heard in the last few weeks.

NEC (News - Alert) Managed IP Telephony
When it comes to hosted communications I have heard it all. I really have. After all, as some of you may recall, I launched a magazine called Communications ASP years ago � just before the bubble burst, in fact. I was always a believer in hosting. But as is sometimes the case, we were a bit early in the market and the VCs all pulled funding from the hosted companies we used to call application service providers or ASPs. Then, as is often the case, everyone seems to forget about a market for a number of years and, eventually, it becomes hot once again. This has happened more than once in the VoIP market.

So when I heard NEC wanted to share something new in hosting called Managed IP Telephony (MIPT) with me, I imagined being bored. After all, hosting is hosting. Well, NEC is doing something different enough and novel enough to make you consider hosting, even if hosting isn�t for you.

You see, in many cases hosting means losing control and it can mean you can�t customize your PBX (News - Alert) to meet your needs. So NEC decided to take the best of the hosted world and the best of the customer premise equipment or CPE world and blend them together. The way this is done is simple. Unlike a traditional hosted provider, who typically hosts everything from the cloud and provides phones or gateways, NEC actually provides the hardware for you. So it is really like a lease, but not exactly.

You see, the company will take care of the patches and keeping the system up and running, but here is the interesting part: After your hosted term, which could be a period of three, four, or five years, you are able to get new equipment if you choose to continue to host with NEC.

This gives some intriguing options, such as the ability to use the NEC APIs to build new applications or to go to third-party companies for their applications. You also have the security and satisfaction of knowing the equipment is in your office � if of course this is important to you.

NEC will also remotely monitor your IP communications network and can for an added fee monitor your entire network and help with security. In fact, the company can provide lots of value-adds.

Oh and here is the weird thing. They can also provide you with Cisco equipment if you like, as they are already doing this as part of an agreement they have with the hosted offering from Verizon (News - Alert) Business.

Another interesting idea is that you can add up to 10 percent more seats through the term of your lease for no added cost. Generally, NEC thinks most companies won�t grow more than this amount in a few years.

In an example the company uses, a 500-station install over five years would cost about $25 per station, per month and that would include a SV700 � 2xPRI with conference bridge capability.

So just when I thought I had heard it all, there you go... I have heard something new. In my opinion this is an interesting offering from NEC and the only downside is how people may confuse it with leasing. But other than that, it makes a good deal of sense for people who want the lower initial expenditures and other benefits that come with hosting while enjoying the benefits of keeping the communications equipment in their offices.

VoIP/IP Communications Development Trends
The world of IP Communications is continuously evolving and last month�s VoIP Developer (News - Alert) Conference afforded me the opportunity to speak with people from many companies who aren�t allowed to officially disclose much about what they are doing. Most of the people at this show were engineers � technical people who likely shouldn�t have been talking with the media about what they are doing.

Out of respect for these attendees and the companies that sent them to this event I am honor-bound not to disclose company names or products, but instead I will dwell on concepts and mention companies where there is no risk of divulging confidential information.

There is an insane battle taking place for the desktop IP communications client. Everyone wants in. We know about AOL, Google (News - Alert), and Yahoo! but many companies who make software that already sits on every computer and most devices are looking for ways to extend their software by adding IP communications functionality.

This can only help the market, as it will allow native VoIP conversations to take place without the need to install software. In a perfect world, all of this software will interoperate, but I am not holding my breath just yet.

In addition, expect companies who make high-end audio products and technology to be adding VoIP and perhaps broader IP communications capabilities into their wares.

Moreover, the recent sale of Intel (News - Alert)�s media and signaling group means some companies who have policies in place ensuring they don�t rely on a single vendor are now looking for product. Interestingly there were a number of shoppers at the VoIP Developer Conference looking for alternative DSP board development platforms.

Another trend worth noting is the mainstreaming of VoIP, which was made obvious by the attention showed to the conference by FOX News TV.

Many exhibitors told me IMS and dual-mode devices are being requested in large quantities for trials around the world. Open-source, too, continued to be a hot topic and many at the event were talking about how they can max out open source servers, enabling them to perform in massive operations in service bureaus or even small service provider central offices.

The rumors I had been hearing about for so many months generally came from Dialogic competitors and I hear so many rumors that I tend to discount them until I hear the same rumor from multiple sources. In this case, my intuition proved to be true. The feeling of the show attendees was that this announcement has the potential to be great news for all. Even Dialogic competitors seemed happy with the news.

For me, this show closes out an era. It seems the audience of this event now is past the �does VoIP work?� phase and is now firmly in the �how do I make money?� phase. This last question is getting more complicated to figure out because the obvious arbitrage opportunities are going to be limited leaving the market with other ways in which to have to make profit.

Ecosystems were a major focus of the event and AOL, who announced that they will open up their AIM PhoneLine APIs, was given great feedback by the developers in the audience. Most people here recognize how successful Skype (News - Alert) has been building their ecosystem and they also want to get into the act.

In other AOL news, the company mentioned they will be giving out phone numbers with free inbound calling. This only makes the VoIP game that much more competitive. Oh and for less than ten dollars per month you can speak for an unlimited amount of time to 30 countries.

In the PBX space, Avaya (News - Alert) and Inter-Tel (News - Alert) have been doing an utterly fantastic job of evangelizing the opportunities in the enterprise development space and there was lots of positive feedback about Avaya�s DevConnect Developer Day from attendees I spoke with.

From my vantage point, virtually every segment of the market has tremendous promise. The call center market will see large amounts of spending on IP as the cost savings and flexibility of IP contact centers just makes so much sense. Service providers, fueled by massive competition will spend hundreds of billions on new technology in the upcoming decade. The specific competition will be from wireless carries � cellular to WiMAX, and of course landline and cable. Satellite providers too are working to make more attractive IP communications alternatives.

That leaves the enterprises that are behind the curve. The technology to allow much more efficient communication in the enterprise is out there but vendors have confused this sector to death. Enterprise decision makers are trying to figure out why they should spend millions on new telecom equipment and, as an industry, we keep telling them this exciting new collaboration and communications technology is called unified communications or real-time communications. I prefer Just in Time Communications as the term of choice. The point is, there is confusion in the market and I believe it stems from terminology.

Why should a CFO budget for this great productivity boosting technology if it doesn�t have a name? We need a buzzword as powerful as CRM was and unified communications, a term that is a decade old, may be too dated to get any traction.

Of course, this is one person�s opinion and I would prefer to be proven wrong on this point.

Still, the opportunities are there and the enterprise market will soon catch up with the available technology on the market and start replacing their switches in larger numbers and buying more communications applications.

I remain optimistic about the communications market overall. Generally speaking, when the service provider sector spends, the enterprise takes a breather, and it could just be that the enterprise market will experience modest growth for a few years while service providers spend tens of billions. In the ideal world all sectors will grow together.

Certainly the developers who attended the show last month are all eager to get back to their labs and start working on those next-generation products and services that will be indispensable to companies around the globe.

I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Verizon Wireless: A Call Center 2.0 Case Study
The wireless communications sector is one of the more interesting businesses around as they generate billions and billions in revenue, and spend millions on ad campaigns such as �We have the fewest dropped calls.� It just seems so weird in the world of business. Could you imagine a hospital billboard with a slogan like �Fewest accidental deaths?� How about a political campaign ad � �Lowest infidelity rate.� Or better still, how about a slogan from McDonalds � �Fewest obesity-related illnesses!�

But the people in the wireless industry don�t see things as funny as I do, and some of them are clearly looking for ways to annihilate their competition.

Over the past years, I have written about Verizon Wireless many times. I always said their network was fantastic but they had a slew of other problems. Some of my early articles discussed problems the company was facing with customer service issues. I then went on to a phase of complaining about the company�s devices and how they were behind most other carriers in the world.

Amazingly, the company has turned around all of my objections in a period of a few years. Their service levels have dramatically improved and instead of ignoring leading-edge devices they are actually on the leading edge as far as U.S. carriers go.

In addition, the company saw it as an important task to ensure the world understands how Verizon Wireless is focusing on being a success in the U.S. To that end they sent Tom Pica, executive director, corporate communications for Verizon Wireless to TMC headquarters recently to discuss what the company is up to.

It became apparent early in our conversation that wireless data is a huge part of the company�s business and seems to be growing rapidly. Support is a critical area for Verizon Wireless and they have 26 first-tier call centers throughout the U.S. and three of these are wireless data technical support centers. This includes advanced support for the latest devices.

Tom tells me the number one call driver is wireless data, and I am not surprised, as the level of complexity and integration that is needed to get these devices configured and working is not trivial. There are the back end servers, the front end devices, the firewalls, the VPNs, and a host of other things that need to be taken into account when setting these devices up to work with corporate infrastructure in a secure and productive and cost-effective manner.

The technicians get continuing training every month and also get training on every new device as it comes out. In fact, the new flagship data technical support center will be in New Mexico. Verizon Wireless set up a temporary tech support center there with 300 people back in January of this year and now expects about 1,000 people by year�s end. Obviously, this is rapid growth and it is impressive that the company has decided to keep these jobs in the U.S.

Specifically, Tom tells me �Our business model is to own and operate our own call centers and use outsourcers for seasonal and specialty situations. This is due to the increasing complexity of devices.�

The company has a number of device emulators and actual devices in their centers so they can reproduce customer problems and help to rapidly fix the problems they may be experiencing.

I asked what the biggest areas of focus are and Tom answered the area of first call resolution. Basically, they don�t want customers calling back with same problem, as it leads to dissatisfied customers and costs more money for the company. It is for this reason they don�t rank their support people based on call length but on first call resolution.

Simply stated, Verizon Wireless has taken many steps to fix the problems that once plagued the company. I must congratulate them on doing a great job and doing an even better job of telling the story to the media. Either of these in a vacuum just doesn�t get the job accomplished. I suppose after all my years of suggesting how Verizon Wireless can improve, they really could hear me then and hopefully can hear me now.

Are you working in the call center 1.0 world when you should be in Call Center 2.0 like Verizon Wireless? Are your customers satisfied? Are you using the latest technology to ensure 100% customer satisfaction? If you have a call center in your company you owe it to your customers and bottom line to send them to the Call Center 2.0 Conference October 10-13, 2006 at the San Diego Convention Center. IT

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