U-telcos strive to answer bell

It’s always nice to have a choice when looking for an enterprise telecom provider.

These days there aren’t a lot of options. Many of the competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) that sprang up five or so years ago have gone out of business or been swallowed up by the incumbents.

Depending on an enterprise’s geographic location, that leaves one incumbent telecom provider and, if the enterprise is lucky, two or three of Bell, Telus, MTS/Allstream and Sprint. Fixed wireless is an option, but again is only available in a limited number of markets.

The cable companies are gradually getting into the telecom game, but for now most are concentrating on the consumer market.

That’s why it’s good to see the telecom arms of the electrical companies working to become more serious enterprise players.

These utelcos don’t offer services like voice or managed virtual private networks, but they do offer dark and lit fibre. An enterprise could use that fibre to run a high-speed Ethernet service for large data transfers like backup or storage, or implement voice over IP.

If the enterprise doesn’t want to manage its own WAN services, it could buy a managed service from a third party provider, who would then use a utelco’s fibre to get the managed service to the customer premises.

Bell Canada is actually using an arrangement like this to serve GE Advanced Materials in Cobourg, Ont. Bell provides GE with a managed IP service, using fibre from Cobourg Utilities. Bell officials say it’s the first time the company has partnered with a utility to serve an enterprise, but they expect Bell will use more partnerships like this in the future.

The utelcos’ best business opportunity may lie in disaster recovery and redundancy offerings. Even if an enterprise buys services from both an incumbent provider and a competitive carrier, there’s a good chance the competitive carrier is using at least part of the incumbent’s network, meaning the two services aren’t completely separate. A fibre cut that takes down one service, could possibly take down both.

Utelco networks are completely separate from existing incumbent networks, so they can act as fully redundant, separate connections.

The big question is whether utelcos can be trusted.

While they may be relatively new to the telecom services game, utilities companies have a lot of experience in managing, large complex networks. Utilities have used networks for years to retrieve information from their eletrical grids. So there shouldn’t be many questions around whether they can manage mission-critical networks.

Where the questions arise are around issues such as billing systems and customer service, especially if the utilities are going to partner with other utilities or third-party providers. Getting billing systems to talk to one another can be tricky.

Even trickier is figuring out how to handle customer service in a relationship where there’s more than one firm serving the enterprise. No user wants to deal with more than one contact if something goes wrong. It’s still too early to tell how success the utelcos will have in the enterprise telecom market, but it’s at least nice to see that they’re trying.

Related links:

Managing IT as a utility

Resolutions for telecom managers

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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