How to select the telecom product that best meets your needs Featured

8:01pm EDT May 31, 2011
How to select the telecom product that best meets your needs

Telecommunications technology just keeps hurtling forward, and while we may love the added conveniences and fresh, new features, staying current requires more time and effort than we’d like. Many companies have decided to skip the headache and work with a trusted adviser: someone who knows the industry and stays up to date with the swiftly evolving world of telecommunications.

“Proven telecom specialists will have knowledge of what’s available from the carriers, including detailed information regarding feature, product and pricing differences,” says Ginger Smith, business market manager with Simplify Inc. “From there, they know what questions to ask the business to determine what their real needs are so that they can make the right match.”

Smart Business spoke with Smith about how companies can sort out the differences between telecom products and services.

What makes it so difficult to assess the differences between the offers from different carriers?

The wonderful and the terrible thing about technology is that it is constantly changing.  We all like the improvements, but staying up to date on the differences between the vast array of products offered by telecommunications providers today can be a daunting task. There are so many providers today — global, domestic and regional, and each carrier has multiple products, most that come with their own special marketing name and slew of associated acronyms. Carriers will try to do everything for everyone, but no single carrier can do everything well.

What kinds of products do you see people migrating to for their data networks?

Most companies have abandoned the old private line or frame relay networks for fully meshed data networks using MPLS or some other form of IP VPN. However, even among these products, there is diversity. How do you know which you need? If you need MPLS, do you need Class of Service support and, if so, how much bandwidth per class? If you need IP VPN, should it be IP-Sec based or SSL based? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each technology? What are the security implications? Is one carrier’s MPLS really different from another’s?

The carriers would love to answer these questions for you, but each one has its own obvious bias. While most IT departments have a preference regarding the type of technology they employ, many do not have a full understanding of the difference between, for example, the various flavors of MPLS in the market and the carriers capable of providing it. A knowledgeable, carrier-neutral adviser is invaluable in these situations — someone that can explain that Carrier A charges a hefty fee for Class of Service, while Carrier B includes it for free, or that Carrier X rides the Internet while Carrier Y has a fully private backbone.  Understanding the distinctions between each carrier’s approach to WAN products results in an ability to choose the right product fit for your company’s needs by matching the product characteristics to your internal design specifications.

Are voice products simpler?

Great question. Comparing voice solutions can be equally confusing. One carrier may give great per-minute rates but charge high ‘mandatory fees,’ while another carrier waives these same fees entirely. Some carriers even charge account fees just for the privilege of having an account with them, while others have the audacity to charge a sub-account fee for every location in your enterprise. Those really do add up, and frequently don’t even appear on the proposal provided by the carrier. An experienced telecom specialist knows to look for these things. Getting an accurate bottom line cost comparison of multiple providers will make the true cost of services much easier to assess. Seeing the cost for all of the services you need plus any associated fees is much more valuable than just looking at a line rate or usage rate.

Many companies are now looking at converged voice and data services. How does that impact this process?

This can get even more cloudy when you get to integrated solutions: Voice Over IP, dynamic bandwidth allocation, SIP trunking, concurrent call paths, etc. Every carrier has a different twist on their offer. Comparing the features of these different products across the carriers is time-consuming, but absolutely necessary to determine what carrier/product best suits your needs.

How can partnering with a trusted adviser help companies make the right decision for their specific telecom needs?

Partnering with a telecom specialist introduces an adviser who is able to study your existing system and analyze your present and future needs, and then say, ‘Here are the products that fit your needs, here are the ones that are better or worse and the pricing associated with those.’

It’s a huge advantage to do that as part of a single process with one point of contact and one set of pricing comparisons, as opposed to your company doing the research on its own. You must meet with multiple carriers, get multiple quotes for pricing, and it’s probably still not an ‘apples to apples’ comparison.

When you have a single person handling that for you, getting pricing from everyone and putting it into a format that is ‘apples to apples,’ you have a real basis for comparison on the carrier, the product and the price. Then, you have a better, fuller understanding of how products work and how they are priced before you make a decision.

Ginger Smith is a business market manager with Simplify Inc. Reach her at (972) 393-5322 or Ginger.Smith@simplifycorp.com.