Paul Allen

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:43

Learning the telecom lingo

When the time comes to expand or move your business, you’ll have to address your company’s telecommunication needs.

If you’re like the rest of America, you’ve either added a laundry list of new acronyms to your vocabulary, or terms such as IXC, ISDN, CLEC, RBOC and PBX make you cringe in fear and confusion.

In the old days, a company shopping for business-to-business telephone services had no choice for its provider — AT&T was the only option. The federal government changed that in 1984, when it forced divestiture of AT&T and created one long distance entity and seven Regional Bell Operating Cos. (RBOCs).

The government stepped in again in 1996 with the implementation of the Telecommunications Act, which opened the market up even further, giving way to Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs). To business owners, this meant hundreds of choices for local and long distance communications providers instead of just one.

Therein lies the need for a basic understanding of telecommunications, because, as in dealings with any vendor, it’s helpful to have a basic knowledge of what you’re buying.

In its very basic form, a telecommunications system consists of a telephone set, a loop (or line), a central office switch and trunks. The system may grow in size, but the concept remains the same. When designing a telecommunications system, which now integrates voice and data capability, it is helpful to be familiar with the terminology. Here, then, is a quick guide to telecom lingo:

CO (central office) — (1) Location of telephone switching equipment where a customer’s lines are terminated and interconnected; (2) Switching center that provides local access to the public network.

CPE (customer premises equipment) — All telecommunications devices (except pay phones) and wiring that is located at the user’s location.

ISDN (integrated services digital network) — Switched network providing end-to-end digital connectivity for the simultaneous transmission of voice, data, video, imaging and fax over several multiplexed communications channels.

IXC (interexchange carrier) — Provider of long distance service.

LATA (local access and transport area) —Geographical area designated by the FCC for the provision and administration of telephone service to individual customers.

LEC (local exchange carrier) — Provider of local telephone service.

Local loop — Communications lines/services between the telephone subscriber and the LEC switching center (i.e. the network).

NPA (numbering plan area) — (1) Area code; (2) Geographic boundary within which no two telephones have the same seven-digit number.

POP (point-of-presence) — Physical location within an LATA where an IXC’s circuits connect with the lines of the local telephone company serving that LATA.

PBX (private branch exchange) — Small, local, telephone office, either manually or automatically operated, serving extensions in a business complex; provides access to the public domain.

PSTN (public switched telephone network) — Any switching system or telecom carrier network that provides circuit switching between public users.

Switch — Electronic device that opens or closes circuits, changes operating parameters or selects paths either on a space or time division basis.

Trunk — (1) Group of circuits that carry call traffic in and out of the switch; (2) Circuit or channel connecting two exchanges or two switching devices.

Understanding the terminology is a real benefit when discussing system design for a new location or expansion of your current operations. While this list is a fraction of the terms and acronyms used in the industry, there are numerous reference publications for the business owner who wants to become more telecommunications savvy.

Contact your local telecommunications provider for more information.

Paul Allen is general manager of Adelphia Business Solutions’ Northeast Ohio office. Adelphia provides voice and data communication services to business customers over a fiber optic network. Before joining Adelphia, Allen worked for MCI Worldwide and British Telecom (London), learning the lingo of telecom.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:36

Telecommunications 101

Telecommunications has come a long way since the days when Alexander Graham Bell introduced his "electrical speech machine" in the late 1800s.

What began as a device to educate the hearing impaired has evolved into one of the greatest and most important communications tools in the last 100 years -- the telephone. But as magnificent an invention as it was, the early telephone could only transmit voices.

Today, the world is not limited to voice communication. With fiber optic technology, data can be transmitted over telephone lines at the speed of light.

While advances in telecommunications data technology have simplified life for the business owner, they have also introduced a plethora of technologies from which to choose. Selecting an application depends on the needs of the organization.

Does the company want high-speed connections, but not have a large budget? Does it prefer versatility to speed? Does it need speed and high capacity regardless of cost? Following are solutions for these basic scenarios.

Dial-up service

Dial-up access is the telecommunications application of choice for the majority of small businesses. It relies on dial-up modems that enable users to send and receive data over telephone lines.

While it is inexpensive (about $20 a month), easy to install and universally available, it's slow, topping out at a speed of 56 Kbps (kilobits per second). Modem technology has increased connection speeds slightly, but the real performance issue lies in the wiring, as there are limits to the amount of information that can be transmitted over an analog telephone line.

ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network)

ISDN is a viable option for businesses that want to maximize use of their existing telephone lines with the added bonus of increased speed.

Using a digital signal transmitted over a company's analog telephone line, ISDN provides simultaneous voice, data and video communications, eliminating the need for separate lines for each application. At a cost of $50 to $130 a month, ISDN operates at twice the speed of dial-up modems (128 Kbps), but still relies on POTS (plain old telephone service), which was created for voice communication, not high-speed digital communication.

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)

DSL service is a relatively recent technology that is rapidly becoming the answer to many small businesses's telecommunications prayers.

DSL operates on unused higher frequencies on existing telephone wires and upgraded equipment at the telephone company's central office, resulting in connection speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps (megabits per second), nearly 50 times faster than an ordinary 56 Kbps modem. At a monthly cost of approximately $100 to $300, DSL provides businesses with performance equivalent to a T-1 line, but at a significantly more affordable price.

Another attractive feature is that it's always on; once a user turns on the computer, the connection is established until the computer is turned off. There are two notable disadvantages to DSL. Installation can be complex and costly, and the user's site typically must be within three miles of the telephone company's central office to achieve maximum performance.

Nonetheless, DSL is a solution worth serious consideration by any small business owner shopping for high-speed connectivity and convenience.

T-1

T-1 lines provide guaranteed high-speed Internet connections and quicker repair than DSL, but are out of the price range of most small businesses. A T-1 line can transmit at 1.5 Mpbs at a cost of up to $3,000 per month, not including installation and maintenance.

Installation usually requires costly, complex hardware that the typical small business simply can't afford, but may want to consider as an option as the business grows.

Frame relay

Frame relay is another high-speed option that offers the added bonus of high capacity. It is also a more expensive option for small companies at a monthly cost of $300 to $3,000.

Frame relay is most appropriate for companies that exchange large amounts of data between remote offices. Because it doesn't require a lot of bandwidth, a company won't have to pay for more capacity than it needs, reducing equipment, access and operational costs. A frame relay system is also quicker to repair than other systems, another attractive feature to businesses.

Identifying an adequate and effective telecommunications system is a job best left to a professional. However, understanding the communications needs of the organization is an important first step.

Before making any decisions about what type of service is most adequate, it is a good idea to consult with a telecommunications company experienced in helping the five-person office as well as the 5,000-person corporation. Paul Allen is general manager of Adelphia Business Solutions' Northeast Ohio office. He has extensive experience in the telecommunications industry, having held senior management and sales positions with MCI WorldCom and British Telecom (London), respectively. He can be reached at (216) 937-2900.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:36

Fiber optics

Fiber optic technology had its first commercial application in the telecommunication industry in 1977; since then, it has grown to become the industry standard for terrestrial transmission of all telecommunication information, including telephones, computers, cable television and industrial instrumentation.

Because of the technology's significant advantages, most experts agree that today, any communication system that does not use fiber optics is essentially obsolete.

By far, fiber optic's greatest application to date has been within the telephone industry. Telephone companies began replacing their old copper wire systems with optical fiber lines early in the technology's history. Now, fiber optics comprise the backbone of all competitive phone companies' architectures, as well as provide the long distance connection between city phone systems.

Unlike the old telecommunication technology, which used electronic pulses to transmit information down copper wire lines, fiber optic networks use light waves to carry information over fiber lines. Each fiber line consists of a bundle of very thin tubes of either glass or plastic, called optical fibers. Each fiber is thinner than a human hair and acts as a one-way channel for transmitting information; therefore, two optical fibers are needed for two-way communication.

The light-pulse method of transmitting information or data has many advantages over traditional copper-conductor systems, including:

  • The ability to send signals over greater distances. Because light signals encounter very little resistance during their journey over fiber lines, they can be sent over longer distances without the continuous boosting necessary to send and maintain electrical signals the same distance over copper line.

  • A wider bandwidth. Fiber optics have an information-carrying capacity, or bandwidth, that is thousands of times greater than that of copper circuits. This means that fiber optic technology can handle the tremendous amount of data generated by our Information Superhighway society and move it fast enough to meet its requirements.

  • Immunity to electrical noises, radio frequency interference, voltage surges and water, all of which can cause service interruptions in electronic pulse systems. Fiber optic networks are also immune to eavesdropping.

  • Much higher transmission speeds with very few errors.

  • Less attenuation. Electrical pulses suffer greater attenuation, or signal loss, on their journey down copper lines than light pulses do down fiber lines.

  • Cost effectiveness. Fiber optic technology is easy to upgrade to higher levels of speed and performance. In fact, many networks already consist of much greater bandwidth than customers currently require, making the initial investment in fiber optics a cost-effective strategy for telecommunications companies.

All of these advantages are part of a system that uses smaller and lighter cables than copper conductor systems at a price that is competitive with the old technology -- and continually declining with increasing demand.

The future of fiber optic technology is definitely bright. Recent changes in laws regulating the telecommunications industry, such as the Telecommunications Act of 1996, have opened competition in the telephone and television marketplaces, spurring tremendous growth in both industries and driving the expansion of fiber optic networks. In addition, companies that employ fiber optic technology are able to offer customers more services, greater reliability and faster and clearer communications than those which do not, ensuring them the competitive edge in a tight market.

New products, such as two-way television and videophones, too expensive to develop using the old technology, are now practical thanks to fiber optics and loom just over the horizon. As the Information Superhighway continues to expand at a phenomenal rate, the bandwidth and high-speed capabilities of fiber optic technology become not just a luxury but a necessity. Paul Allen is general manager of Adelphia Business Solutions' Northeast Ohio office. Allen has extensive experience in the telecommunications industry, having held senior management and sales positions with MCI WorldCom and British Telecom.