Competition in the business world is generally thought to be a good thing. And generally it is. When firms compete, customers of those firms can expect to get better pricing, superior service and more variety.

Unfortunately, competition can also cause confusion – especially in a market that’s not accustomed to having more than one option. The Canadian telecommunications market is a perfect example of this. Long accustomed to dealing with only the local Stentor incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC), business users now face an array of feisty competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) boasting “next-generation” this and “bundled” that.

How does an enterprise differentiate one service provider from another? Should it go with the provider sporting the sexiest central office switch? Or perhaps the provider with the most robust OSS system? Or maybe the enterprise will choose to go with the carrier that can put the phrase ‘best-of-breed’ in front of ten obscure acronyms and sound halfway intelligent about it. While technology can be a valid differentiator, most businesses would be wise to stick to tried and true measurables like price, services and support in selecting a service provider.

Carrier technology will matter to some enterprise customers, particularly larger ones, and outfits with legacy equipment. Such businesses will understandably want to ensure that their existing gear can be accomodated by a service provider and they will want assurances there is appropriate redundancy in a service provider’s network to support mission-critical applications. Also, larger enterprises will want to be sure that as their technology needs grow, their carrier’s technology will grow with those needs.

The problem with picking a provider based on technology is that unless an enterprise has an experienced telecom manager with a solid grounding in telecommunications and data networking, it’s easy to be bamboozled by hype and impressive sounding terms like Synchronous Optical Network (SONET), Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM), unified network and voice over IP. Toss in adjectives like ‘next-generation’, ‘leading-edge’ and ‘unique’ in front of the previously listed terms and you have a potent alphabet stew that will look and sound appealing to all but the most knowledgeable telco types.

Instead of relying on technology to make a provider choice, telecom managers should concentrate on concrete qualities like pricing, services and support. The carrier that offers the best combination of competitive pricing, necessary services, solid service level agreements backed up by penalties for non-compliance, and good help desk and field support should be the one that wins an enterprise’s business. The technology behind the services a carrier is offering may be what allows the carrier to offer better pricing, service and support, but telecom managers don’t have to worry about that. They just have to worry about the bottom line results.

And what if a carrier doesn’t deliver on its promises on pricing, service and support, it’s not the end of the world. After all, there are plenty of other providers out there looking for enterprise business.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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