National Energy Equipment Inc., which plans to install wireless phones in its vehicles, is using a private wide-area network (WAN) managed by Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc. for its 15 offices.
Primus is not considered a facilities-based carrier because it resells last mile service from incumbent local exchange carriers (ILEC) and the Telecommunications Act prohibits foreign companies from owning a “common carrier” in Canada. Its parent company, Primus Telecommunications Group Inc., is based in McLean, Va.
National Energy, whose head office is beside Toronto/Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ont., is a wholesale supplier of natural gas equipment, and it distributes a variety of products, including fuel delivery and handling for agriculture, aviation, industrial, commercial and retail.
“We used to have for our WAN multiple service providers,” said Lloyd Shearer, National Energy’s MIS manager. “Coming out of Saskatoon, let’s say, we would have had SaskTel. Would have to put backhaul in because our head office is in Mississauga. We would have to route that and manage it all ourselves, which was a nightmare.”
Single point of contact
Buying managed WAN for its voice and data service from Primus means National Energy deals only with one provider, even though the traffic is running on different providers’ networks, Shearer said.
“Before, it could take days or weeks to get a change done,” he said. With Primus, he said, “pretty well anything I want done on the network I can get done with a phone call.”
Jeff Lorenz, vice-president of sales and marketing for Primus business services in Canada, said Primus resells network connectivity from up to 21 different incumbent local exchange carriers.
Shearer said National Energy also plans to equip mobile workers with office phones and computers. Colleagues will be able to reach National Energy technicians and drivers on the road by dialing their extensions rather than dialing cell phones.
“We have Primus hosted PBX (private branch exchange) phones working in our vehicles. Because of the managed network, it’s very easy to integrate all that and get it working,” Shearer said.
Primus started in Canada in 1997 reselling long distance service and since then it has increased the proportion of business customers.
“We are spending more time and investing more in growing the business side,” Lorenz said, adding that in the past, about two-thirds of the revenue was from residential customers. Today, he said, nearly half of Primus Canada’s business is from corporate clients.
Reduction in long distance
Eight years ago, about 75 per cent of Primus Canada’s revenue was from local and long distance. Last year, it was about half and within five years Primus Canada expects less than 10 per cent of its revenue will be from long distance.
It is now putting greater emphasis on corporate services such as hosted PBX, server collocation and managed servers, Lorenz said.
Shearer said National Energy’s WAN is managed through a Primus data centre.
How reporter found his residential service
Primus residential service has had some hiccups.
Two years ago, an IT World Canada reporter ordered TalkBroadband, which is Primus Canada’s voice over IP service for residential customers with broadband Internet connections. The reporter ordered TalkBroadband for personal use and it was not part of a product review.
After he ordered his service in October, 2008, Primus said it would send the reporter his modem on a Friday. So the reporter took a vacation day to wait at home but the modem did not arrive. The reporter then called on Tuesday to find out Primus had not even sent his router. When he asked to cancel his order, Primus billed him for a month of service.
When told about this experience, Lorenz said he handles the business side rather than the residential side.
“That’s unfortunate,” Lorenz said of the reporter’s experience. “We get thousands of orders on a weekly basis. These things can happen but I wouldn’t say they’re a regular occurrence by any means. I’ve heard as many instances of wonderful service.”
Virtual managed machine
On the business side, Primus’s data services could be classified as cloud computing, but Lorenz noted the term cloud means different things to different people.
“We intentionally did not call our products cloud computing,” he said. “We call it virtual managed machine.” This, he said, includes virtual machine software from VMware Inc. loaded on to hardware from Hewlett Packard Development Co. LP.
Virtualization can increase the utilization for each server, but Lorenz said this does not always decrease the total number of servers used.
“There was some talk about virtualization reducing the need for server space,” Lorenz said. “My personal experience at Primus is that’s not true. The ability to do things efficiently will mean people will do more things.”
Primus plans to build more network infrastructure in Canada if the federal government allows foreign ownership, but Lorenz did not get into specifics.
“We would build everywhere we can,” he said.
Primus cannot be a “common carrier” as defined by the federal government because the Telecommunications Act requires that 80 per cent of shares be owned by Canadians.
In March, the government announced through the Throne Speech in Parliament that it will relax the foreign ownership rules.
After months of submissions from industry and hearings before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, Industry Canada asked for feedback from Canadians.
Industry Minister Tony Clement presented three options for foreign ownership: Remove the limits entirely; increase the allowable limit from 20 to 49 per cent; and remove the limits for carriers with less than 10 per cent market share.
“Tony Clement should do everything he can to move this quickly,” Lorenz said. “I think it’s been well stated that as a country we fall well behind the global economy in investment in our communications infrastructure. The real question is how does it benefit the end user? If we can open up our doors to foreign investment, we can provide more technology to more people in the country at rates that they can stomach.”