Rather than relying on venture capital firms and banks, Pannaway is 100 percent backed by private investors. Its largest investor is Bob Levine, founder of the former Cabletron Systems, who owns more than 60 percent of Pannaway. The company's other investors include Worcester, Mass., attorney Sumner B. Tilton Jr. and Carl P. Sherr, the head trader for a Worcester-based brokerage.
Pannaway says it is debt-free, a nice perk for a privately held company. "When we take a $15 million round, we can actually invest that amount into our business," says Dale Allaire, Pannaway's director of marketing communications.
The company also is adamant about selling directly instead of going through distributors. Its executives maintain that this helps Pannaway to get more involved in its customer deployments and, in turn, helps them build loyalty for future access equipment purchases.
Indeed, Pannaway doesn’t just drop off a box and run. It goes so far as to help carriers market their IP-based services to their customers -- a roundabout way of building more demand for Pannaway gear down the road.
Another way Pannaway sets itself apart is that the company is not a one-box solution. Though small, the company addresses every point of the access network. The two primary components of its access menu are its broadband access switch (BAS), which is an ADSL2+ aggregator and digital loop carrier, and its broadband aggregation router (BAR), which replaces a DSLAM and ATM-to-IP gateway and manages the converged traffic of up to 11 BAS devices. Here's a quick rundown of the different flavors of the BAS product line: Table 1: Pannaway's BAS Products
|Part number||Port Count||ADSL2+||POTS||Integrated Splitters|
|Source: Pannaway Technologies, Light Reading|
With those small form-factor, small line-count devices, Pannaway is chasing a logical market -- the rural independent operating carriers, of which there are about 1,100 in the U.S., each serving anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 access lines.
Finally, Pannaway sells IP-based systems, which is totally the norm now, but was a bit "out there" when Pannaway was founded in April 2002. "It was a little risky, but it turned out to be great timing for them," says Yankee Group analyst Matt Davis.
"Calix was built... to deliver big video. Occam had the small form factor but was one of the first VOIP guys to market. Pannaway was founded as an IP-based system with strong voice features and a migration path to video," Davis says.
Strong voice features? Oh, yes. In the rural IOCs, voice is still king and little innovations can go a long way -- especially if it allows for better quality service while migrating to an all-IP network.
One example: Pannaway touts its locally derived dial tone, which it generates at the customer premises rather than at the carrier's remote terminal or central office. In IPTV deployments that can be a big deal as it eliminates "ring trip," a noise blip created on ADSL lines when a phone connected to the line rings and is answered.
Ring trip over a telecom carrier IPTV connection can cause a few frames of a TV picture to be pixilated or dropped altogether. But Pannaway's method of eliminating ring trip, the company says, doesn't reduce the ADSL line's bandwidth, as do other methods, such as increasing the ADSL line's signal-to-noise ratio. That allows the service provider to support more set-top boxes per line at greater distances -- giving it more revenue per household.
That kind of small leap forward is a big deal to carriers that are in the throes of watching their government subsidies evaporate and their markets challenged by VOIP providers and satellite TV companies (see Rural Carriers Circle the Wagons).
"We felt the IOCs were going to be caught in a much more disruptive space in the next few years," says Mike Skubisz, Pannaway's CTO. He says the company has 21 commercial deployments so far and about as many customer trials. It also began its first field trial in Russia recently, and anticipates sending gear to India for a customer trial sometime later this month.
Pannaway's competition, besides Calix and Occam, includes Allied Telesyn International Inc., Zhone Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: ZHNE), TelStrat International, and, at larger carriers, Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA).
— Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading