Archive by Carol Wilson

Telepresence draws investor $$$$ also

How hot is telepresence? Well, in a tight capital market, Teliris was able to get $11 million in new equty capital from its earlier investors, Fidelity Ventures and Columbia Capital, and a new investor.

Teliris is competing with Cisco and its service provider partners including AT&T and BT in the red-hot telepresence space as well as Polycom, Tandberg, LifeSize and others. The big play for Teliris, which is billing itself as the market leader, is its ability to interoperate with other telepresence equipment.

Teliris is also the kind of company that incumbent service providers have to fear in the managed services world - a tightly focused player in a solid niche with a strong base of enterprise customers.

Man bites dog:AT&T customer service leaves me smiling

It’s sure easy to pick on customer service reps. Sometimes they make it impossible not to — listen to this audio of Verizon reps repeatedly misunderstanding a customer — and we’ve all had our moments when we wanted to reach through the phone and strangle someone.

So I think it’s note-worthy to mention that the last two times I called AT&T, I got what I considered exceptional service. For one thing, each pereson I talked to was based in the U.S., which makes sense given what AT&T is saying about bringing jobs home in a tough economy. But more importantly, each CSR immediately understood my problem and addressed it.

The first time around, I was trying to see if I trim my phone bill, on the advice of Alan Weinkrantz, who’d discovered AT&T would lower his U-verse bill significantly just because he asked them to. In my case, I was trying to cut the cost of voice service. The CSR offered me a new bundle with voice service that was $20 a month cheaper,  but with a faster Internet offering for $5 more. The tradeoff seemed worth it, she set it up and I was done.

After two weeks at the faster service, my husband noticed, however, that we weren’t actually getting anything like the 6 Megabits per second for which we were paying. I called again, got another bright CSR who apologized and offered me two options: work with a tech to see if we could get the 6 Meg service or change my bill. I opted for the lower bill.

At this point, I have to admit two small frustrations: First, I only took the faster Internet service because the first CSR told me I had to, in order to get cheaper phone service.  Second, changing my Internet service required me to be transferred to another CSR who handles Internet service connections.

But that Internet services CSR made up for my frustration by offering me a $10 bill credit, so I was a happy camper.

I realize this is not an earth-shaking story or event, but I think it is probably reflective of what many consumers experience when they call customer support.  Those consumers don’t log on to broadbandreports.com to complain or post YouTube videos or audios, or set up entire Web sites to denigrate their service providers.

Business just isn’t sexy anymore

The AT&T earnings call focused heavily on wireless and on Uverse, with AT&T business services taking something of a back seat. Interestingly, the same thing was true a day earlier during Verizon’s call — the presentation of data certainly includes business results but the focus of most questions is on wireless and on FiOS.

I thought it was important to mention the news that Verizon COO Denny Strigl casually dropped halfway through the call that Verizon is teaming up with Accenture  on global sales of its network and professional services, but in checking out the competition, I find I was apparently wrong. No one else thought this was that big a deal.

When did global business become too boring to discuss? AT&T CFO Rick Lindner talked today about revenues from AT&T’s status as IBM’s primary global network services provider starting to kick in, as the two global giants move country by country through the process of moving IBM traffic onto AT&T’s network and learning how to work together. This seems to me to be significant, but again the headlines are fixated on iPhones and Uverse.

By Lindner’s own account, business sales make up 36% of AT&T’s revenues, trailing wireless at 41%. But as Lindner also repeatedly said, a growing number of AT&T’s business sales involve wireless services and that number is only going to grow with greater adoption of wireless data.

There was a time when business services drove everything else — consumers got technology only after businesses had helped drive economies of scale that made it cheaper and thus more affordable. Are those days gone?

Is green good business?

I’ve spent considerable time writing about green initiatives within the telecom industry — you can read it all here – and I personally consider the telecom industry to be at the heart of a lot of what we can do to save energy. But for all of that, I’ve seen very little in the way of advertising and promotion from telecom service providers where environmental benefits are concerned.

I don’t know if this is because advertising dollars are very tight, or because telecom players aren’t convinced consumers care. Enterprises certainly do - because energy savings affects the bottom line — but advertising may not be the way telecom service providers are getting their message out to their enterprise and SMB customers.

But I think promoting the envirnomental benefits of today’s telecom services has merit, and it’s something I’d like to see the industry do. Such advertising would raise the visibility of telework, telepresence, remote energy management, and remote monitoring services, all of which will be based on broadband connections. The current projections for 2009 revenues in telecom don’t look good, but lowering broadband prices and battaning down the expense hatches only goes so far.

I think telecom needs to take a broader view, and display some of its vision for what the future could be, if we made better use of telecom resources already available to us.

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What is Martin’s legacy?

Now that Kevin Martin is leaving the FCC, what is his legacy likely to be? The things that immediately come to mind are the negative ones - many within VoIP are convinced Martin singlehandedly undermined their industry while the cable industry is probably throwing wild parties tonight, quite certain that Martin singled out cable for particularly onerous attention such as his constant pushing for a la carte programming.

Martin is also criticized for backing incumbents too often and undermining competitors in the process. Under his watch, inaction by the FCC allowed Verizon to win some forbearance from competition, but later requests by Verizon and others for greater forbearance from competition were rejected.

I think the thing that most concerned me was how often the FCC simply ducked rather than deal with difficult issues - broadband penetration, Net Neutrality, the Universal Service Fund, intercarrier compensation — were all things that languished for years. Granted, Martin attempted to push an intercarrier compensation plan through in the final months — what if he taken that leadership stand earlier?

Having said all that, it’s unfair to expect one man to solve issues that have plagued this industry for years. And he must be given credit for establishing a regulatory environment such that both AT&T and Verizon - and particularly Verizon — were able to invest billions in their networks to upgrade their access networks.

So what am I missing here? How would you evaluate Martin’s performance as FCC Chairman?

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Death of Verizon copper greatly exaggerated

According to a Bloomberg News report, Verizon is preparing to retire its ”traditional phone” lines and move to VoIP within the next seven years.  USTelecom’s daily news digest took it even farther, headlining its reference to the Bloomberg report by saying Verizon was “eyeing the end of an era for its copper phone lines.”

Whoa, Nelly. That seemed a little preposterous for me. As it turns out, some confusion and some exaggeration seem to be at work here.  The story was based on an interview with Verizon CMO John Stratton, conducted at CES, but the conclusions are a little off base.

According to Eric Rabe, senior vice president of media relations for Verizon, and the go-to guy for all tough questions, Verizon has no plans to phase out its copper network, and no definitive plans for moving everyone to VoIP, although Verizon will begin moving its FiOS voice customers to a VoIP offering, probably very soon.

“You will see us move to VoIP for our fiber customers fairly near term — 09-ish, probably first half,” Rabe said, adding that this isn’t a definitive time table. “That will let us deliver some additional services.”

Having voice, data and video as part of the same IP-based service clearly facilitates convergence offferings.

As for the copper network, when Verizon started building its FiOS fiber-to-the-home network, it would remove the copper drop to each home it connected. Some people objected, Rabe said, so that practice was stopped. Now, aerial fiber lines are lashed to the existing copper lines and underground copper equipment is only removed if necessary for space reasons, Rabe said. While ultimately Verizon would love to operate only its fiber network, that won’t be practical for many years to come, Rabe said.

Verizon does have a VoIP service, called VoiceWing, which Rabe said has a small customer base and isn’t something Verizon actively markets.

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Comptel: Signs of things to come?

At the Comptel event in Orlando this week, there were the obvious signs of last-minute cutbacks and cancellations. The show floor was smaller and scattered throughout were empty booths, and booths that had expanded at the last minute to fill an empty space.

 To be sure, unlike at other events that include exhibits, Comptel’s business goes on equally in meeting rooms and in its deal center, as on the show floor. The wholesale service providers I talked to all said their meeting rooms were booked and few people, if any, had pulled out at the last minute.

But the halls were buzzing with talk of the global economic crisis and no one was pretending it didn’t matter.  While saying they hadn’t seen signs of business cutbacks yet, a number of industry leaders admitted a slowdown may be inevitable.

So how does the industry prepare for rocky times? One obvious answer is to be flexible in working with business customers, many of whom may be relectant to get locked into new long-term deals or may want to renegotiate existing contracts to reflect changes or cutbacks within their business.

The bad times could represent an opportunity for savvy service providers to develop cost-effective managed services that bring productivity to small to mid-sized businesses without requiring massive capital outlay or hiring new and expensive IT personnel.  The keys here are proper pricing and ease-of-use.

Telecom services aren’t going to become less valuable to busineses during a slowdown. Iif anything, they could become more valuable, if the telecom industry rises to the challenge and helps its customers find ways to reduce business travel expense and commuting, and more effectively use Web-based applications and other new tools to make employees more productive.

A little personal irony

Only days after casually tossing off an editor’s letter in which I noted that consumers had moved on from expecting their landline telephone service to also be a lifeline, I discovered this wasn’t entirely true.

For my sister and her family, living in Houston, a working home phone has been a lifeline. It has enabled them to contact family members and assure them that all was well. The phone line let my sister contact me and through me, access her email to notify work colleagues around the country that she wouldn’t be available for a while. 

And when the days stretched on with no sign of commercial power coming back, the phone line was my sister’s way of reaching out for help. How else would I have known that mail service in Houston was working even when the power wasn’t? The 12-pack of “D” batteries I sent via overnight mail comes in handy when the power’s still off and the stores aren’t restocked yet.

Of course, not everyone in Houston has working phones, despite AT&T’s efforts to get generators and fresh batteries out to their remote terminals and other sites, but for those that did, the landline phone was a lifeline.

Is it reason enough to keep a home phone, and not rely simply on a wireless service? Probably not for everyone. Power outages that last for days or weeks are still pretty rare.

But the Houston experience shows that we can’t be too casual in cutting the lifeline that landline phones do often provide, at least not until there’s something to replace it, like small, inexpensive generators for recharging cellphones.

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Greetings from NXTcomm

Sights and sounds from Tuesday at NXTcomm:

I struggle a bit to even type this, given that it puts my jaded journalist status somewhat at risk, but AT&T Chairman, President and CEO Randall Stephenson gave one of the better keynote speeches I’ve heard from an executive at his level yesterday to kick off NXTcomm.

 Stephenson took the stage after the obligatory 20 minutes of rock music blared out at a large audience that included the service provider customers for the show as well as exhibitor personnel.  (I’ve never understood why conferences use contemporary rock to introduce sessions which don’t feature any speakers under 40, but that’s just showing my age).

He proceeded to give an address that I thought was inspiring in that it highlighted the real potential ahead for telecom and challenged everyone present to work together to make it happen. I know that sounds cliched but he pulled it off, stressing the key points of velocity, connectivity and mobility as the way to stimulate economic growth and generate prosperity.

I happen to believe Stephenson is right - the telecom industry has much to contribute to improving the quality of life, reducing energy consumption and thus protecting our environment, improving education, lowering the cost and improving the quality of health care and helping stimulate our flagging economy.

Stephenson once again kicked off his speech with a bit of personal humor — last year, he had joked about discovering that becoming chairman of AT&T didn’t get him out of taking the trash out at home. This year, he confessed to watching Tiger Woods win the U.S. Open playoff round Monday on his iPhone, but quickly added, “I hope no one else at AT&T was doing that.”

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The Las Vegas heat has probably put a damper on some post-show activities and certainly prompted many to scramble from the air-conditioned convention center to the air-conditioned shuttle buses or cabs. I made a discovery early on — mix 110-degree heat with black handrails on outdoor escalators and you get a sticky black mess on your hands.  So those of you taking the monorail to get around Vegas, beware what lurks ahead on the escalator.

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Ever heard of the Water Coolers? I hadn’t either until Tuesday night’s NXTcomm Exception Reception in honor of the EOS Award Winners and DiversityNXT award winners.  The Water Coolers are a five-person a capella singing group that is also a comedy act, rewriting the words to familiar songs to poke fun at other topics, and last night they wowed the NXTcomm crowd with songs about airline delays, Blackberry addictions and even  Net Neutrality. The latter had the crowd hooting as the lead male singer sarcastically invited Congress to come in and take over running the telecom industry into which billions of private money had been invested. Maybe it’s the group’s San Francisco roots showing, however, when at the last minute, a female singer piped up about the other side of the story.

Calling all innovators

Okay folks, time to put up or shut up.

 I hear constantly from people in the industry about their efforts to design and deliver innovative new services.  Equipment vendors, software makers, service providers all talk about the telecom industry’s need to generate new services and new service revenues.

But what have you done about it, within the last year?

Here’s your chance to show the world. The nomination process for the Telephony Innovation Awards is well underway,  and we are looking for all different types of innovative services.

Hardware and software vendors, it’s time to nominate your best customers. Service providers, it’s time to do a little bragging.

The nomination process is open to everyone, although only service providers can win. It’s simple and straightforward — just log on, and tell us what you are doing right.

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