KITCHENER, Ont. — Cloud-based messaging, collaboration and videoconferencing are just some of the telecom-related services that service providers have started to offer in the past two years.

But some of the country’s biggest carriers were told at a conference here Thursday that organizations still need assurance providers are serious about it.

“This is the top question my clients are asking me right now,” Roberta Fox, who heads the Fox Group telecommunications consultancy, told a panel of providers at the annual meeting of the Communications Technology Consultants Association (CTCA).

Telecom providers are known for starting and discontinuing service, she told a panel with executives from BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada, Rogers Communications, Telus Corp., MTS Allstream and Cogeco Data Services. So, she wondered is cloud “the strategy de jour?”

Her customers are asking “if we put our hearts and souls of our business into your hands and data centres …. are you guys going to stick with it for 8 to 10 years?”

“I’ve seen two or three of the companies here start to sell cloud-based services,” said another consultant, “but as they cut into revenues from your established base (products), the financial officers started cutting funding and it wasn’t long before those services were starved.

“Are in it for the long haul or are you just dipping your toe in to see how cold the water is?”

To a man, the officials insisted cloud-based telecom services are here to stay.

Allstream president Dean Prevost said all carriers realize legacy services have no future. “We are looking to replace them with a new service model, and the cloud has the prospect of being that,” he said.

If a carrier doesn’t have a cloud offering it risks losing customers, said Cogeco president Tony Ciciretto. “Legacy days are gone,” said Lloyd Switzer, senior vice-president of network transformation at Telus, while Heather Tulk, Bell’s senior vice-president of marketing for business markets said there’s no area her company is investing more in that the cloud.

However, the panel acknowledged that they do have to educate customers more about the reliability, security and scalability of cloud-based telecom services.

Cloud-delivered voice and data services aren’t new, Switzer pointed out. Now service providers are moving up the IT stack to offer more business and application services. But he acknowledged that trust in adding those services is a hurdle carriers have to get over.

The good news is carriers have a long history of building reliable networks.

“If we crack that code of trust customers will embrace the cloud,” he said, “but if we can’t get over that hurdle they won’t give up control, and rightly so.”

Until Wednesday the CTCA was known as the Canadian Telecommunications Consultants Association. It changed the name this week as part of a strategy to expand the reach of the group.