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A Software Company Plays Host

I had a chance last week to visit with a company here in the Chicago area that's trying to reverse that trend. PosTrack is a Joliet, IL-based company that was founded more than 20 years ago by Don Heidrich, who still serves as the company's CEO. Don started the company as a software vendor making point-of-sales systems, and has expanded over the years into a variety of other application development areas, and most recently (about 5 years ago) got into the hosted services business; they've gained Enhanced Information Provider regulatory status (similar to CLEC status) and now provide hosted service to K-12 districts and higher education institutions in 37 states.

The company's partners at Siemens wanted to show off PosTrack's latest implementation, a Siemens HiPath 8000 (or OpenScape Voice, as the product is now called) that resides in a cage that PosTrack rents out inside Level 3's datacenter in downtown Chicago. PosTrack's main operation in Joliet runs the company's legacy HiPath 4000, which eventually will migrate to an 8000 platform, but having the space in Chicago provides physically redundant operations, to bolster PosTrack's hosting credentials. It also lets PosTrack use 1 Gbps fiber to hook directly into the massive Level 3 backbone, again in redundant spots at Level 3 facilities in 2 Chicago locations. "We're all about the survivability," remarked Tony Brncich, a PosTrack VP who joined Don Heidrich on our datacenter tour.

PosTrack offers 5 main hosted services:

* SIP trunking--They're one of the good guys in this respect; Tony Brncich observed that the large carriers, who have been dragging their feet on full SIP trunk availability, "don't like us" on this score.

* Unified messaging--The PosTrack guys said this has been especially appealing for K-12, because it lets teachers have more up-to-date dial-in messaging capabilities, without having to do a lot of retrofitting to facilities in older school buildings in order to implement converged CPE.

* Unified Plus--A variant of the previous offering that adds outbound dialing, an important application for schools that may have to notify parents of closings, etc., as well as for universities looking to build more effective emergency-notification systems.

* Hosted IP-telephony--This is the full hosted OpenScape Voice platform.

* Mobility--This is the one that Don Heidrich thinks is going to become really big. It's targeted at colleges and universities, and provides a dual-mode cellular/WiFi smartphone, which works internally on the Wi-Fi when the students are on campus. Besides the potential savings to students on their cellular costs--both voice and text/Internet--the service provides multiple channels for the aforementioned emergency notifications. And in these emergency scenarios, it offers a better option for students to call out to loved ones and classmates. Tony Brncich noted that in the recent shooting at nearby Northern Illinois University, "The weak link there was the cellular network," which quickly maxed out its capacity and blocked outbound calls to and from worried students and parents. Having a VoWiFi-to-Internet outbound calling capability avoids this. That's particularly useful because many large universities are located in secondary market, where cellular coverage is especially thin, Don Heidrich noted.

PosTrack's hosted service also potentially gets the university back in business as a telecom reseller. Tony Brncich said PosTrack sells the mobility service to the university for $40-$50 per student, and the university charges the students whatever it sees fit. Given students' devotion to wireless and near-indifference to landline, this kind of service could have potential. If your university IT department is interested in getting back into the business of being a telecom provider, that is.