So it's not surprising that some of the hottest trends in telecom networking are reflected in this year's crop of Leading Lights Awards finalists for Best New Service, Private Company. The candidates all present intriguing plays on the shifting nature of telephony and data networking.
The criteria for winning this award match those for the New Service, Public Company category. Namely, Light Reading editors and Heavy Reading analysts hope to celebrate the service provider or carrier that has most successfully deployed a market-leading, revenue-generating service based on next-generation telecommunications technology. (See LR Names Public Services Finalists.)
The winner in this and all other Leading Lights Award categories will be announced at our Awards Dinner after The Light Reading Telecom Investment Conference in New York City on December 14.
Here are the finalists, in alphabetical order:
AccessLine, a provider of managed voice services, has unveiled a service for corporates that pulls together employees' disparate cell phones into a single patchwork. One phone number gives customers a menu much like a regular corporate voicemail directory, except the employee directory connects directly to the staff's cell phones, even if the company uses multiple cellular carriers. (See AccessLine Powers 'Wireless Office'.)
The service, offered through Office Depot Inc., is a subtle example of VOIP's power. Yes, nobody likes those voicemail menus -- but it's a fast contact method for times when a customer has to reach anybody at the company, as they have a single contact point that reaches out to all employee cell phones. And there's something in it for the small- to medium-sized business, too; Office Depot claims comparable phone equipment to do this would cost $7,000 to $20,000, compared with "a few dollars a day" for Wireless Office.
As U.S. cellular users look forward to 3G nirvana, shouldn't something equally fancy be happening in backhaul? FiberTower appears to be the first company offering a truly innovative backhaul package, replacing tired T1 lines with microwave links that boost backhaul line speeds as high as OC3 (155 Mbit/s), compared with traditional speeds in increments of 1.5 Mbit/s.
There's more to this than speed, though. FiberTower is also seeking to improve provisioning and recovery times in backhaul. To that end, the company has developed its own OSS, giving technicians visibility into cell sites for a faster response to crises. After a nearly five-year rampup, FiberTower launched itself in March, grabbing onto nine major U.S. markets including New York, Boston, and Dallas.
Doing this isn't cheap. In July, FiberTower collected a fourth funding round of $150 million for a Vonage-like sum of $225 million raised. (See FiberTower Gets $150M Haul .) But with wireless data volumes ramping fast, FiberTower's ambitions, however expensive, strike at the heart of future wireless infrastructure requirements.
For all the talk of the havoc it could wreck on telecom revenues, VOIP can create moneymaking opportunities, too. Peering is one possibility, offering VOIP providers a chance to connect to one another while bypassing the public Internet if desired.
A VOIP peering fabric could be offered to many different sets of customers (see Stealth Communications, below). With VOIP Direct, launched in October, InfiniRoute is targeting the Tier 1 carriers. The pitch: A VOIP peering service can connect them with emerging markets they otherwise wouldn't reach, such as Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia/Pacific.
VOIP Direct sets up peering connections with smaller carriers, interconnecting IP and TDM calls. Granted, the Tier 1 carriers could connect to these markets anyway, but InfiniRoute claims to simplify the process by obviating the multiple handoffs normally required. (See InfiniRoute Offers Peering.)
The service focuses on call quality based on home-brewed routing optimization engines -- the pitch being that better quality calls lead to longer talk times. VOIP Direct packages range from 8 T1/E1 connections to multiple DS3/E3s, and InfiniRoute claims the service has attracted carriers in Europe, Asia, and North America.
The Voice Peering Fabric, more than any other service, emphasizes the potential for small VOIP outfits to upend the businesses of large, established carriers. Stealth provides a means of doing business purely in the IP domain, without touching the public telephone network -- so avoiding the requisite fees. Officials hope the service catches on with the CLEC world, and they attracted (OTC: XOXO) to the cause in October (before the carrier announced plans to separate into wired and wireless halves). (See XO Adds to VOIP 'Peer Pressure' and XO Unwinds & Unwires.)
Critics say anybody could start a VOIP fabric with a bunch of Ethernet boxes in a closet, making it likely Stealth will face competition soon; the startup's future might therefore depend on the loyalty of its customers. Stealth merits attention regardless, because it represents the more innovative possibilities behind VOIP and the reasons why the technology worries some incumbent carriers.
Veroxity stands out here in two dimensions. First, the company's U.S.-based service offers SAN extension at a longer distance than usual -- up to 2,000 miles. And to get at the data, Veroxity exploits the power of Sonet -- a bit retro sounding, yes, but Sonet gives the company speeds well beyond WAN-based storage options, not to mention the security blanket of 50-ms restoration. The company is taking advantage of the latest optical technology, especially ROADMs, to keep the network flexible.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading