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A la Carte Telecom Market Share

The past and present methods for measuring market share may not leave statisticians mesmerized, but they certainly don't portray a clear picture. There will be winners and losers but it seems that some of the winners keep winning.Our Verizon FIOS service is among the best TELCO services I have ever had next to 3-way calling, transfer and conferencing features all bundled in on POTS or Centrex lines. Internet access is awesome using FIOS. Some in the IP and SIP world don't understand these simplistic telephony features and nor do they understand the value of TBCT. Instead, the new providers are interested in hitting targeted markets but not interested in creating competitive solutions.

I want these "traditional" features, as do many other SMBs along with some of the large enterprises. Instead, the IP/SIP carriers don't want to lose VARs'/Interconnects' business (revenue) and cite that they don't want to offer "features" that compete with the equipment these folks (including me) are selling and they don't want to jeopardize what the MSPs are offering either. Of course it wouldn't be fair if I didn't point out that most traditional and IP manufacturers of gear don't support advanced PRI or TBCT.

For years, folks in the business have given ISDN the rap of "It's Some Dumb Network" and other labels. While the dumb isn't the network, instead it's the equipment not being able to support the network's advanced ISDN features. I'll go one further and say that I think it's been ignored and instead of developing the communications glue found in TBCT, that manufacturers are on a different and disparate roll to get to mobility. The question of using a single number to connect calls to either a deskphone or the user's mobile phone shouldn't be a question or an issue. Using PRI with TBCT and a feature known as Primary Directory Number (PDN) and Secondary Directory Number (SDN) is the combination that could unlock the mystery. The issue is twofold: first the hardware manufacturers aren't going to pony up and support advanced PRI features, and then the TELCOS aren't going to provide the software to use the SDNs as target mobile numbers, at least anytime soon. Everybody seems to focus on protecting handset sales and software licenses.

I've also argued that some, not all of the new players "don't get it" and simply because while we do sell TDM, Hybrid and IP solutions--we still sell them with "competitive" TELCO features. More disturbing is that while some of the new guys don't get it--they clearly missed the history on telecom and what stirred the industry into a "competitive mode"--it's the older guys that should know better and should get it but sadly not all do. When will Telecom As A Service (TAAS) become a reality? (My apologies to Trunk Answer from Any Station users)

Several years ago we dumped our vendors: Skytel (they could never bill right), a long distance provider (I don't remember which one), an 800 provider, Nextel our wireless provider and Adelphia our broadband provider. We rolled everything into Verizon and the process took over a year to complete and to get the billing straightened out. Each month for several months, I'd call Verizon and dispute the bill to get the proper credit until Verizon's billing process was corrected. While we streamlined our "communications" tools, our operating costs were reduced from this exercise.

My disappointment is that Verizon doesn't have the connectivity with iPhones and our iPhones do have connectivity/compatibility (3G) with our desktops, laptops and Apple's hosted services MobileMe, so long as you use AT&T. This issue is changing with Yellowsn0w and with AT&T's whining about not making enough money on iPhone subscribers and having to subsidize the iPhone crowd. Apple has deals underway with other carriers in reaction to Yellowsn0w--meaning: don't jack with the users, Apple. This isn't the first time that Apple users have taught Mr. Jobs a lesson.

Today, the climate is changing again. Verizon will lose more of our business since they don't offer SIP trunking, another disappointment since I couldn't get to the right department. (They do offer SIP trunking, good luck--you call them!) Long ago I also said "you won't pry my 2500 sets (Antiques) from my cold dead hands" and I meant that. Yes, I have phones that are older than dirt and they are in and working on my new IP box from Panasonic (KX-NCP1000). Our NCP was installed last year and I'll offer more details on this project later. As we evaluated the gear and other services, we moved into a SIP trunk service with Broadvox. Again, more details will follow on this later but I'll pony up one tidbit as a teaser--do you really need a TELCO to do business?

Currently, we can reduce our costs with Broadvox. We can also do a few things that are pretty cool. For one, if I want to move my office again (not really) I could be almost independent of the telephone company. Meaning I only need a bandwidth connection. Realistically, I don't recommend this and still believe that POTS in the form of 1MB or Centrex/CustoPak is the best, cheapest functional backup service available. Secondly we can procure DID (Direct Inward Dial) service for a fraction of the cost over any TELCO. What I like even more is the ability to converge our traffic on FIOS.

Still, with all this cool technology bringing services once too expensive for us and giving us a choice of alternative carriers there comes reality. While everyone is proclaiming they own market share, it seems everyone else is either grabbing market share or diluting what they think the TELCO cares about. The old idiom that all roads lead to the TELCO is still true. I'll point out again that the analysts on Wall Street are giving Verizon a strong evaluation and I'll also mention that the TELCOs aren't showing red ink. While you won't find the TELCOS hemorrhaging cash, you will find that they are sucking it in like giant vacuums.

The principles, and they may or may not apply to you, remain pretty basic for me. I really want value in my telecom services and I'd prefer one vendor and one bill. It would be exceptional that when I call for support that I don't get the penalty routine of "if we send someone out and find that the problem is YOURS then you will be billed excessive amounts of money for bothering us." I must disclose however, that since February 2006, we've had only one FIOS service disruption and that was due to Verizon changing from PPTP to dynamic (DHCP), and the FIOS tech called me and offered to drive over. Our service was restored in a couple of minutes after I logged into the router and made the change. Then, when I do see discrepancies and ways for improvement to what is being offered as service to my company, I ask to be heard and if my case is reasonable, then why not implement what we are asking for? In telecom today as in the past, the same old same of "it can't be done, we're a big company, they're too big a company or that's too easy and makes sense--what are you thinking?" mindsets must change. Maybe the grass isn't any greener on the other side but when you stop and think about it or map it out on a napkin, notepad or PDA--the TELCO is pretty much on both sides. It's pretty hard to avoid the TELCOs completely. While the TELCOS dominate the cash inflows, long term repercussions I think will give rise to a paring down of TDM/Wire Center assets and real estate. This could raise the current cost effectiveness of analog services and there's not much in the way of preventing the TELCOs from doing this; these are called tariffs. Knowing Verizon, they will end up dominating or continuing to dominate and still be latent as ever in offering what the market wants, all the while leading everyone back to Verizon. In short, where does your traffic originate or terminate to and/or from? Another hit to come will be the US government followed by state and then local jurisdictions wanting to exercise their taxing authority to raise the revenues coming into the treasuries. Look carefully at how your broadband services are taxed and then compare that to TELCO and carrier services. The former MCI didn't spare customers on taxes and often enough they didn't get them right (the pass throughs) and customers were overcharged. Telecom is I believe a national asset and still could advance further than what we could possibly imagine. The outlook on energy and how we do business or live our lives will be changed and telecom will be a significant part of this change. So, while we burn less fossil fuel or use less electricity, the government still wants taxes. Efficiency isn't a good thing for tax revenue when government can shake the per gallon at the pump piggy banks or raise the taxes and surcharges on electrical generation. Telecom has always been a good vehicle to line the coffers. Once governments figure out that the revenues for energy and traditional telephony are decreasing, they will act. At least in theory the taxes are and will decrease but if and when the governments decide to recapture lost revenues, will businesses and voters speak or act out, or just suffer the costs?

While the MSPs offer SLAs enforced by cash penalties back to their customers for downtime, will they not offer: "if we send someone out and find that the problem is YOURS then you will be billed excessive amounts of money for bothering us"? Again, government will be tempted as in the past to tax MSPs and their users just as they do for alarm monitoring and answering services.

It seems that I am getting back into the churn that we went through in the 1980's-1990's era of telecom. Break it all up, stuff it in different pockets; consolidate and then look for alternatives. Maybe it's just part of the natural business cycle, part evolution on behalf of the technology and part trying to get what we want. Then in this process of trying to get what we want laced with the challenge of doing more for less; how does telephony on the server, at the hosted shop, on the IP-PBX-Hybrid-TDM, wireless or PCs with 2500 sets or carriers with SIP/IP services reduce revenue from the TELCOS?

As for my shop, we see a shift in our dependencies. Our IT wares must be in good working order and we must be able to get support when we need it. The ADTRAN gear we use and sell is proven very worthy and reliable, as is support from ADTRAN. The Panasonic IP box we installed doesn't give me any worries and it's built on a good platform. Our Verizon FIOS service has been exceptional. So what's left to worry about?