Bell aims IP network at smaller, cash-strapped firms

Bell Canada recently introduced a private IP network designed to allow small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that don’t want to invest heavily in new technology the ability to share information over multiple locations across the country.

ProConnect is the IP tool that will help SMBs stay competitive against larger enterprise competition, according to Toronto-based Bell Canada. It is a fully managed service and is part of Bell’s Total IP suite of Internet protocol products.

Bell uses digital subscriber lines (DSLs) to give ProConnect users coverage of approximately 80 per cent of Bell’s territory. The 20 per cent that isn’t covered by DSL — including remote areas — can be serviced by dedicated dial or secure access over the Internet.

Because the service is managed on the telco’s network, Bell said there is no major capital investment required by SMBs. This is good news for smaller organizations with thinner pocket books, according to Iain Grant, managing director of Montreal-based SeaBoard Group.

In a report published in November 2003 by the SeaBoard Group entitled Beyond ‘Ernestine’: The Evolution of Canadian Business Communications, it states that, according to Statistics Canada, there are several reasons why Canadian SMBs have a significantly lower technology adoption rate than their U.S. neighbors.

These reasons include: Limited access to information that larger enterprises have; smaller firms have modest financial means and in-house technical capabilities are less developed; implementation costs are higher due to the risks involved in altering larger portions of a business; and the smaller Canadian market presents less opportunities for expansion and full use of technology tools.

Bell’s ProConnect addresses these issues that tend to slow Canadian adoption, Grant noted. He said SMBs have been waiting for a company like Bell to offer a simplistic and affordable solution to fit their needs.

“I think from a company’s point of view, the sorts of things we see the ProConnect represent are good news.” Although in the past Bell has offered similar technology to its larger clients, Grant said this is the first time the telco has brought the offering down to its SMB market.

Reaching out to SMBs is difficult, Grant explained. “You can’t do it with a salesperson because (the companies) are all over the place and just because they happen to be an (SMB) because we term them that way, doesn’t mean they consider themselves an (SMB).”

Although most telecom companies today recognize that there is a huge market for SMBs in Canada — there are over 2 million SMBs in the country, according to SeaBoard Group — most of them are still attracted by the larger clientele.

ProConnect’s network structure offers a range of bandwidth speeds and service options starting at 64Kbps up to 4Mbps. Bell also said that customers requiring higher bandwidth can connect to its IP virtual private network (VPN) and access speeds from 10Mbps to 150Mbps. Grant called ProConnect’s entry price of $150 (US$113) per month “unheard of for a sophisticated technology like this.”

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