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March 10, 2009
By Khali Henderson
If you were an agent say 15 years ago, you probably sold long-distance (interstate, intrastate, toll-free, maybe international) and maybe conference calling. Today, your options for providing voice and data communications have expanded considerably. This offers a greater opportunity to serve customers and make money, but also a greater burden to educate yourself on the benefits and applications of each.
The following is a summary of some of the services you can offer. It is by no means a complete list. And, it does not include premises-based hardware and software that might be offered in concert with subscription-based services.
These are basic communications services that agents should offer unless they choose to specialize in another area, such as data services or conferencing.
Local dial tone is a standard local telephone line that residences and some businesses use. It’s sometimes called a POTS line.
Long-distance is service between local access transport areas (LATAs). It can be offered through switched lines or dedicated connections.
Toll-Free is inbound long-distance service paid by the recipient.
International Long-distance is long distance from the United States to other countries.
High-speed Internet Access can be provided through DSL, cable modem, T1 or DS3.
DSL, or digital subscriber line, is Internet access over regular phone lines at speeds around 1.5mbps.
Cable modem service uses the cable network infrastructure and runs between 1-6mbps for downloads, and 128-768kbps for uploads.
T1 lines can carry 24 digitized voice channels or can be configured as one 1.5mpbs data pipe for dedicated Internet access or point-to-point links.
PRI , or primary rate interface, is a standard applied to a T1 that is used to connect premises-based PBXs to the public switched telephone network.
Integrated T1 is a T1 line in which some channels are designated for voice and some for data traffic. A dynamic T1 allows the traffic to be allocated on the fly.
VoIP, voice over IP, is voice conversations transmitted over Internet protocol. Voice is digitized into discrete packets that are transferred independently over the network, instead of through the traditional circuit-committed protocols of the PSTN.
SIP Trunking is logical connection between a PBX and a provider network for VoIP traffic. Since it’s not a physical connection, it is sold based on the desired number of concurrent call paths. It is a cost-effective replacement for traditional PRI or analog circuits.
Audio Conferencing is offered in reservationless and operator-assisted versions for both small group meetings and larger events.
Web Conferencing includes a range of Web-based presentation and collaboration functions.
Video Conferencing is available in elaborate room-based systems or inexpensive IP desktop systems.
Private Lines are point-to-point circuits, e.g. T1, DS3, optical circuits or Ethernet.
T1 is a point-to-point line with a 1.54mbps capacity for data (or 24 voice channels).
Fractional T1 is leased to a customer at a fraction of its data-carrying capacity and at a correspondingly lower cost.
DS3 is a dedicated circuit delivered by a LEC over copper or fiber networks with the capacity of 28 T1s. It can be channelized to deliver voice as well as data.
Optical circuits carry digital signals over SONET fiber-optic networks and commonly are sold at the following levels — OC3, OC12, OC48 and OC192. The general rule for calculating the speed of OCn lines is n × 51.8mbps.
Frame Relay/ATM are legacy WAN technologies that are being replaced by Ethernet and IP MPLS VPNs.
Ethernet Private Lines, or E-Line services, are available in speeds of 10mbps, 100mbps, 1gigabit and 10 gigabit. Some carriers also offer 40 gigabit Ethernet, but it is not widely available.
Ethernet LAN, or E-LAN, services are multipoint-to-multipoint Ethernet services.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) offer a cheaper alternative to private circuits connecting multiple sites by using links over the public Internet or an operator’s own IP or MPLS network.
Wavelengths are high-capacity links at 2.5gbps and 10gbps. Wavelength services use dense wave division multiplexing (DWDM) technology to create multiple “virtual fibers” on a single fiber strand and are used for point-to-point connections. Wavelength services are protocol agnostic and can carry different traffic types, such as IP, Ethernet and Fibre Channel.
Wireless WAN connections are enabled by wireless routers connected to cellular networks. These often are used for backup and temporary connectivity.
Mobility has become a key part of the business telecommunications environment, so increasingly agents are adding mobile services to their portfolios. Mobile wireless is offered over cellular networks. There are other technologies coming to market, such as WiMAX, but those are not yet commercially available. Working with a wireless carrier can be very different than working with a wireline carrier. If you are new to the market, consider working through a master agency.
Mobile Voice is basically cellular phone service.
Mobile Data basically is mobile Internet access with the killer app being e-mail, but increasingly it also includes other data services, such as Web browsing and access to desktop applications. Mobile data services can be embedded in mobile phones or laptops. In addition, external wireless or wireless cards can be purchased to outfit laptops with data services.
A data center is where telecom and IT gear is housed. Most businesses have a data center on their premises, but some will outsource all or part to a third-party. These following services are commonly sold by telecom agents.
Colocation is the placement of telecommunications gear or IT gear at a carrier or neutral facility instead of the customer’s premises. This can include racks, cabinets, cages and even private rooms. Often times, network services also are sold to companies requiring colocation space.
Web Hosting is the outsourcing of Web hosting to a third party. This can be done on a shared or dedicated server, depending on the customer’s needs.
Virtualization is a newer opportunity for agents. It is an outsourcing strategy wherein a virtual (rather than actual) version of an asset, such as an operating system, a server, a storage device or network resources, is created. This allows for cost-effective asset utilization and also disaster recovery planning.
Generally, hosted services take typically premises-based solutions and place them in a remote data center and deliver them via the Internet to customers on demand.
Software as a Service (SaaS) is a method of delivering software on demand by hosting applications in a remote data center using shared infrastructure.
Hosted Unified Communications coordinates telephony, video, e-mail, voice mail, short message services, conferencing and other communications in real-time. UC typically is deployed as a hardware solution, but there are companies that are hosting Microsoft OCS and other UC solutions and delivering them on a subscription basis.
Hosted IP PBX, also known as hosted VoIP, hosted IP telephony, is providing PBX features and functions from a platform hosted in a remote data center.
Hosted Contact Center, similar to an IP PBX, offers the features of a contact center, e.g. automated call distribution (ACD), on a hosted basis. The advantage is that call center representatives can be located anywhere, including their homes.
Managed services is an evolving area, but generally includes the management of network-based services, applications and equipment. As an agent, you can become a managed services provider (MSP) or you can sell the services of an existing MSP. There is an ever-expanding list of managed services, but the following are commonly sold by agents in part because these services are offered by their existing carrier suppliers in increasing numbers.
Remote Network Monitoring is as it sounds the remote monitoring of network health to ensure maximum uptime.
Remote Network Security is the remote monitoring and protection of a customer’s network using techniques, such as antivirus, antispam, intrusion prevention and intrusion detection.
Remote Data Backup & Restore also called storage as a service or storage on demand, enables companies to store data offsite as part of a business continuity or disaster recovery plan.
As an agent you may offer professional services directly or you may outsource these to a third party or to your carrier/supplier. These may be billed to the client separately or subsidized by commissions on services ordered through the agent.
Auditing is the reconciliation of the inventory (lines/circuits) and the rate plans contracted against the monthly billing.
Consulting is the analysis of a telecom environment or problem followed by recommendations for products and services that will address the client’s needs.
Network Assessment of a customer’s data environment usually is conducted in advance of a VoIP implementation.
Telecom Expense Management (TEM) is the systematic and usually automated reconciliation of telecom billing and allocation of expenses.
Mobile Device Management (MDM) is the management of a customer’s mobile device inventory from procurement to end of life. It also may include help desk services for a customer’s employees and rate plan optimization.
Looking for more information on getting started in the telephony business? This article is from the PHONE+ Fact Book, The Telecom Agent’s Go-To Guide. This compilation of advice, tutorials, glossaries and best practices from the editors of PHONE+ and other contributors provides basic information on how to become an agent and how to build a business. To download your free copy, click here.
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