Ontario fibre provider to add managed voice services

A central Ontario fibre provider will soon become the latest network company to add voice products to its portfolio of products for business.

Atria Networks, which serves cities in a ring around Toronto as well as Ottawa, said this week that in the third quarter the company will add managed voice services to its transparent LAN and Internet services. The move comes as it upgrades its core network speed to 400 Gbps.

Voice “completes that business triple play,” Michael Stephens, vice-president for marketing and sales, explained in an interview. “You want to eliminate the competition. As long as we don’t have a voice offering the competition can always bring voice in and start upselling other services. The minute we bring in voice, it gives us the opportunity to basically own that customer.”

Atria, which owns its fibre after buying the telecom assets of a number of provincial utilities, has about 4,300 km. of network connecting cities as far west at Kitchener-Waterloo and north into Ontario cottage country. Stephens said the company will team up with third parties for its voice offerings.

“We recognize that with the pipes we have going to traditional PRIs (primary rate interfaces) and copper lines and twisted pair and then servicing the PBX, we want to give a whole managed services offering,” Stephens said. “Not just voice, but also encompassing unified messaging and presence and Web conference capabilities so that customers are looking at it as an application on a high-speed backbone.”

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The customer will have a number of options, ranging from a SIP-to-TDM trunking service to be hooked to an organization’s existing PBX, to having Atria host the PBX and providing– through its partners –desktop phones and/or softphones. Pricing is still being worked on, but Stephens suggested for a totally hosted service there will be a fixed dollar per client or phone a month, plus long distance fees. “We’ll have standard pricing for trunks and minutes, et cetera. But as a managed service offering we’ll also have professional services within the customer premises.”

The company hopes to start customer trials in the third quarter.

Adding voice is a logical move that Ontario service providers targeting the private and public sectors have to take to stand up to Bell Canada, said Iain Grant, managing director of SeaBoard Group, a telecommunications consultancy. In fact, he said Bell “has been thinking these guys would be offering voice for years and has been shaking their heads delightedly that they haven’t been.”

He said possible Atria partners could be Avaya Inc. and Ottawa’s Mitel Networks, which makes a hosted key system for providers. Another is Natural Convergence, whose Silhouette software lets providers host VoIP service for up to 50 users per office.

The ability to handle voice is one reason Atria is also upgrading its network core from 10 Gb to 400 Gb. The increasing bandwidth demands from customers is another, said Jay Gowans, Atria’s vice-president of network operations.

“We used to find we could put an OC-48 or OC-102 [line card into a chassis] and legitimately expect it to last for a few years,” he said, but not any more. “Our typical customers are buying 1 Gig (gigabit per second) services, so it doesn’t take much to exhaust the network.” “We seem to have enough requests from our customers and enough orders that we think are in the hopper that we can legitimately put in a 40-wavelength system, just to start off, with 10Gig [gigabits per second] for each of the wavelengths. We can grow that higher if we want, to 80 wavelengths, and we can expand from 10 Gig card to 40 Gig. ”

He expects to hit 400Gbps in July.

Atria’s customers are split between commercial and public sector organizations. They include Research in Motion, 200 of the federal government’s buildings in Ottawa, the city of Hamilton (for which it also manages the city’s Wi-Fi system) and the University of Waterloo.

The company was created in 2005 when the Waterloo and Guelph hydro utilities merged their telecom assets. A year later it was sold to Birch Hill Equity Partners, a private Toronto equity company whose investments range from bottled water providers to a British wireless backhaul firm. Last year it picked up more fibre by buying Telecom Ottawa and assets from Peterborough Utilities.

However, it missed a big opportunity to move into the lucativeToronto area when Cogeco Cable snapped up Toronto Hydro Telecom for $200 million. In a briefing for reporters Wednesday, president and CEO Steven McCartney said Atria’s goal is to stick to Ontario and not expand to other provinces. Should Atria want to continue its focus on adding fibre by acquiring municipal telcos, there are only a few left in the province, including Oakville Hydro’s Blink Communications subsidiary.

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