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April 1, 2005
By Khali Henderson
IP telephony technology has ushered in an era where almost any company with a sales and marketing department and a server can become a “phone company,” and many have. VARs, agents and switchless resellers (former UNE-P players included) are among those taking advantage of the lowered barriers to entry by offering shared hosted services to their customers off of a softswitch, opensource IP PBX software or even a Cisco Call Manager system.
To complete their transformations, these companies have to be able to get on and off the PSTN and provide services, such as local access numbers, directory assistance and emergency services. To do that, traditionally, they have had to become CLECs by securing regulatory status in the states where they operate and by connecting with the local phone company via PRIs and colocated IP-to- TDM media gateways in every market where they require originating service.
Now, VoIP providers have another option in a slew of offers from local, regional and national CLECs that are productizing PSTN gateway services targeted at these infrastructure-light providers. The offers typically include call origination, termination, local access numbers, LNP, E911 and DA. And, most importantly, many CLECs are enabling local access in multiple rate centers through one connection to a local PoP, speeding time-to-market and lowering operating costs for their resellers.
Straticom International Inc., a nineyear- old interconnect and professional services firm in New York City, tapped local CLEC Eureka Networks Inc. for its PSTN gateway services. Straticom was the first reseller in Manhattan to sell Cisco’s Call Manager and, in 2001 before it was vogue, began hosting VoIP services for its customers using the platform, says Straticom President and CEO Mario Bai.
“After we got a couple of enterprise wins under our belt and, listening to the market, we realized there was an opportunity to sell this IP telephony platform to small and medium businesses - typically guys that didn’t have the capital to deploy the entire solution or technical expertise to deploy it themselves,” he says. The company ran point-to-point connections to these customers and ran the IP telephony platform centrally as a multitenant-managed PBX solution.
“We obviously need to connect to the PSTN to originate our calls and to terminate them for people who are outside our platform,” he says, noting Straticom worked with several CLECs before settling on Eureka about 18 months ago. “Eureka we found was more flexible. They got what we were trying to do and had a lot more of the functionality in place that we needed.”
Specifically, that meant how the companies passed information, such as 911 information. “A lot of carriers did not have the flexibility to dynamically pass the [right address corresponding to the phone number] information back and forth where Eureka had those capabilities,” Bai says. “That’s what makes them a valuable partner to us.”
Other carriers also are seeking to be partners for companies like Straticom.
Pac-West Telecomm Inc., for example, rolled out at the CompTel/ASCENT Convention & Expo in mid-February an enhancement to the PSTN On-Ramp service it launched in fall 2004 to provide just such a service. The upgrade, called VoiceSource, combines Pac-West’s PSTN On Ramp, Network Database Services (NDS) and Driver’s Seat, the CLEC’s secure Web portal. PSTN On Ramp includes origination and termination, local access numbers and two-way connectivity. It enables resellers to serve 671 rate centers in five states from one SuperPOP, which allows them to offer originating service throughout the Southwest. This reduces costs by eliminating the need to locate equipment and establish trunks in multiple rate centers and LATAs.
CallWave Inc., a provider of VoIP applications for mobile operators, uses the PSTN On Ramp service to expand coverage of its Mobile Call Screening and Mobile Call Transfer services in California. Dave Trinkel, vice president of operations for CallWave, says the ASP is colocating its softswitch and feature servers in one location and backhauling to the other two PoPs. “It’s a huge operational advantage to have our equipment in one location but get broad reach,” he says. Subscribers get their local number from CallWave (via Pac-West) and calls are routed to Pac-West and terminated on CallWave’s softswitch where a new call is originated to the subscriber’s cell phone.
Building on the PSTN On Ramp service Pac-West’s NDS enables customers to update end-user information in industry telephone databases and facilitates LNP. The Driver’s Seat portal enables customers to manage their VoiceSource account online, including ordering local access numbers, activating end users, updating industry telephone databases, and viewing bills and call detail records.
Covad Communications Group Inc. was one of the first service providers to sign up for VoiceSource. Covad uses VoiceSource for two-way PSTN connectivity and access to the industry telephone databases required to deliver Covad VoIP, its nationwide businessclass broadband service. Jeff Ahlquist, vice president of product development and management for Covad, commented, “Pac-West’s VoiceSource solution enabled us to effectively accelerate rollout and growth of our VoIP offering.”
Broadwing Communications Inc. also used the CompTel/ASCENT event to announce an enhancement to its PRIorityConnect product to support SIP. Broadwing PRIorityConnect SIP will provide carriers with a VoIP aggregation solution, allowing them to originate and terminate VoIP calls to the PSTN through Broadwing’s local and long-haul voice services platform.
Like the Pac-West offer, customers will be able to consolidate traffic from around the country to a single location for connection to the PSTN. The addition of a SIP interface to Broadwing’s service will enable customers to hand traffic to Broadwing as IP, eliminating the need for customers to purchase and maintain voice gateways. “They don’t have to buy a gateway, they can use the elements they have,” says Mark Pugerude, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Broadwing. “It’s one less piece of equipment they have to buy and manage.”
Harry Lalor, vice president of voice product management for Broadwing, says the PRIorityConnect SIP takes the cost of expanding service and makes it predictable. It is priced by the number of concurrent calls, starting at 24 and increasing by increments of 12, he says. Pugerude adds it enables local IP telcos to be more opportunistic about providing service since, for example, they don’t have to have a presence in every market where a multilocation client resides.
MCI Inc. also announced at the CompTel/ASCENT show it will roll out in fourth quarter SIP and TDM Gateway Services that will allow providers to convert IP-enabled voice traffic to traditional traffic for call completion. MCI’s local reach provides functionality, such as access to operator services, directory assistance, directory listings and the line identification databases. MCI’s service also is compliant with current local number portability requirements. Both gateway products include full E911 functionality through the entire MCI offering area.
The TDM gateway is ideal for wholesale customers that already have purchased media gateway equipment or desire speed-to-market. The SIP Gateway service suits those that have established SIP signaling on their network or who have not invested in their own media gateways.
MCIs Mike Yancy, director of wholesale voice product management, says the company began looking at the proposition two years ago recognizing that PSTN phones would proliferate for a long time. The new offers will leverage the carrier’s long-haul network and its Class 5 network, which touches about 40 states and 50 percent of the U.S. population. The company plans to drive to 80 percent of the market, which means the addition of 1,500 rate centers to the existing 1,300. Yancy says it will be fall before that happens.
Yancy says Time Warner Cable is using the company’s TDM Gateway Service; the cable company owns its own media gateway for the IP-to-TDM translation. “Long term, the market wants SIP,” says Yancy says, noting a significant advantage is a single connection while the TDM Gateway Service requires connectivity at the Class 5 level. One challenge with SIP, however, he says, is that it’s a relatively new protocol and the implementations of it are not guaranteed to interoperate. The carrier is certifying softswitches that will work seamlessly with its network.
Right now, Yancy says MCI’s network is ready to fulfill service requests, and the delay in the rollout is to ensure the back office is set.
XO Communications Inc. also announced a VoIP Termination service in February that it will pair with a previously announced multimarket inbound service that allows a single connection to the XO network with access to inbound dialing at 81 gateways. Connection methods include TDM or SIP.
In contrast, early VoIP players would have to connect multiple times, which introduces expense and operational complexity, says Don MacNeil, executive director of sales operations for carrier sales at XO. The company is targeting ASPs as well as “Vonage wannabes” for this streamlined option. deltathree Inc. is an XO customer in 20 markets, MacNeil says.
The termination component was added as XO’s volume of business increased and the company is able to offer competitive pricing to other service providers in addition to lowering its own cost basis. XO currently supports more than 600 million minutes of IP voice traffic per month.
Level 3 Communications Inc. also told PHONE+ at the CompTel/ ASCENT trade show it will be focused over the next few months on helping its VoIP carrier customers ramp up, many in the next 90 to 120 days. The company offers a product called (3)VoIP Enhanced Local service, which includes PSTN interconnections, transport, directory services, operator assistance, TDD, E911 and more. The company, at an undisclosed future date, also expects to offer Broadband Telephony Exchange, a service to allow VoIP providers to connect with one another without having to go through the PSTN.
Among the customers of Level 3’s (3)VoIP Enhanced Local service is deltathree.
Additional reporting by Paula Bernier.
Broadwing Corp. www.broadwing.com
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