September 1, 2008

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Making the World a Smaller Place

Web-based Telecom Connects Us All

Sammy Linebaugh

September 1, 2008

MediaRAIN President Andrew Howlett has a lot of new names to learn. In the past year, the Orem-based interactive marketing agency has grown from 15 to 25 employees, and Howlett expects to add more in the coming months. “We knew we were going to be growing. We wanted someone who was going to make that growth easy,” he says. “It was important for us to find a [telephone] system that was scaleable.” Add three new phone extensions? Easy. Want a 1-800 number? Done. Listen to voicemails from your email inbox? Howlett and his team do that every day now, using a VoIP (Voiceover Internet Protocol) telecom system. “I get voicemail just like any other email, so instead of dialing into a phone system every time I get a message, I just play the message on my laptop,” he says. And if he wants to work from home—or, say Florence, Italy—not only are his voicemails available anywhere he has access to the internet, so are common office functionalities like 3-digit dialing. “You may be in Italy, but it’s as if you’re sitting in your office in Utah,” explains Steve Jones, Alianza’s vice president of marketing and business development. Alianza is a VoIP platform provider based in Lindon, and one of a growing number of VoIP platform providers working to make the world a smaller place via Web-based telecom. “If there’s one constant in life it’s dial tone,” says Jones. “People have been with ‘Ma Bell’ for 100 years, but the time has come that the Internet will support all of our mission critical networking needs including voice,” he says. MediaRAIN made the leap from traditional telecom to VoIP using the Alianza platform in 2005. “We did some price comparisons and looked at some options,” says Howlett. “At that time [VoIP] was about half the price of traditional telecom setups, and for us, not only was cost and scalability important, but we knew there was going to be a learning curve and we wanted a provider that offered support.” In the beginning for example, Howlett discovered mediaRAIN’s Internet bandwidth was too small to accommodate the online traffic generated at peak periods between voice, data and other workflow. “Alianza worked with us and because they actually own their own lines, they have control over the quality of service you’re getting,” says Howlett. “There are a lot of groups out there that are re-selling or re-packaging [VoIP] lines owned by someone else, and if you aren’t talking to the people who actually own the lines, you don’t know who is ultimately accountable,” he says. “Plus, you’re probably paying a markup on the markup.” Smart shopping for a VoIP provider, says Howlett, starts with knowing a company’s history. “Find out how long they have been in business, and whether they’re going to be in business a year from now. Look at the functionalities they offer, and what’s included in the rates. Watch out for hidden add-ons,” he cautions. Currently, VoIP providers still work with traditional telecom companies to provide the so-called last mile of service to the end-user. According to Jones, “Another important question to ask is what sort of relationship a VoIP provider has with the termination company, and what sort of agreement they have to ensure the actual delivery of a phone call.” VoIP is exploding as a technology, Howlett believes, because the quality of the Voiceover IP experience is aligning with the budget demands particular to small businesses. “We have all the big business amenities without paying the big business price. It’s a fraction of the cost, really,” he says. Jones says to expect the same pattern when it comes to high-quality video conferencing. “Once quality and cost align, I think people will be on board in a heartbeat,” he predicts. Skype and other Webcam-style video conferencing options are already popular—and proving effective—for those looking for some cyber-face time that doesn’t require so many megapixels. But Jones says it’s only a matter of time before big business quality aligns with small business budgets. “Six months to a year from now, expect some really cool devices to hit the market.” Interested in a sneak peek? Check out the T-Mobile concept store at 700 East and 400 South in Salt Lake City. It is one of only four T-Mobile locations in the country where cell phone customers with more complex phone support needs are handled by the company’s most experienced technicians via video conferencing. “Say your phone is making a crackling noise. How do you explain that crackling? Or, how do you explain lines across your screen? A picture is worth a thousand words,” explains Matt Bybee, the store’s general manager. “The technicians can zoom in, zoom out and solve the problem 98 percent of the time.” A step above Webcam, it is a first-of-its-kind video conferencing system T-Mobile has built internally. “There’s no lag, no delay, no pixilation. The picture quality is perfect,” he says. Or at least perfectly innovative.
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