Known for many years as a network builder and provider of high-speed wholesale links and a sizzling content delivery network, Level 3 Communications is now building out its services strategy, capitalizing on business interest in advanced voice services and cloud connections to create a stable of offerings. (See Level 3 Offers Private Links to Cloud.)
The voice business, in particular, is proving to be hot, given Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT)'s ability to replace legacy PRI connections, offered by incumbent telcos, with newer SIP-based services at a substantial savings, says Shaun Andrews, SVP of Global Voice and UCC Services for Level 3.
"Our Voice Complete product is one of our fastest growing services," Andrews tells Light Reading. "There is typically a 30% to 40% write-down on move to PRI to SIP, just on the cost of the service itself. On top of that you get total cost-of-ownership savings because you can manage it centrally, from a pure cost perspective -- very simple to sell and there's a huge demand for it."
Despite the savings potential fact that most if not all enterprises now operate IP-based gear on premises, some still view IP-based voice as risky business, Andrews admits. That's one of the reasons Level 3 has recently added the capability of including PRI connections to its SIP trunking for some or all locations of a multi-site business.
"There are those in financial services or healthcare that are still just a little nervous," he comments. "This new product lets them buy our SIP services and still connect locations that are PRI-based."
That can make IP voice something an enterprise can try out at a limited number of locations or something they use in growth areas as part of a more gradual move to what everyone acknowledges as an all-IP future.
The next step forward for Level 3 is to add other functions to its voice platform, as additional applications. Andrews is combining the carrier's contact center and collaboration services -- audio and videoconferencing -- as additional options for voice customers. And he is planning to combine Level 3's ReadyTalk voice conferencing service with Microsoft Lync so they can match the common messaging platform with audio conferencing. It's all part of helping enterprises move along a gradual progression to all-IP.
"People transition first by moving PBX to IP, then they switch their access to SIP, then we see that internally they move their IM and presence to the cloud via Lync Prime," Andrews says. "Then the next step before they go to rolling their telephones [to a hosted IP platform] they want a way to pull in audioconferencing."
Level 3 will be trialing hosted Lync services later this year and is exploring what its role will be in professional services, particularly in helping its large enterprise customers deal with what is often a wide range of mismatched CPE, collected through mergers and acquisitions, that can make moving forward more difficult.
With the move to more hosted and cloud-based offerings, the demarcation point between what is the premises and what is the network is becoming less clear, Andrews admits. "That's one of the things we are trying to learn," he says. "We have started a professional services group this year, and we are learning how to anticipate the customer's needs."
Many of Level 3's competitors already have professional services organizations in place so this isn't new turf for them. But as it gets deeper into the services business, Level 3 is hoping to capitalize on its large CLEC network and the financial advantages it can leverage, even in something as fundamental as voice services.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading