The indirect channel for communications network services has evolved somewhat differently than those for voice and data telephony gear. Those channels have a relatively straightforward structure with the vendor working directly with a dealer/reseller or using a distributor to supply product to its indirect sales partners. In the carrier world, there is a more complex structure (see graphic, Communications Services Supply Chain). Understanding the different players will help an agent understand his role in the supply chain.
Carriers, also called network service providers, are regulated companies that provide wide area network (WAN) communications services. WAN services are those beyond the customer LAN. (Think telephone and Internet services.) These companies are facilities-based, i.e., they own fiber/copper infrastructure and/or switching equipment. (Think telephone company.) Carriers fall into a few primary categories:
Local Exchange Carriers (LECs) provide local telephone service. The largest of these are the former regional Bell operating companies (or RBOCs), which include Verizon Communications Inc., Qwest Communications International and AT&T Inc. There are other independent operating companies, such as CenturyTel and a number of rural telephone companies.
Interexchange Carriers (IXCs) provide domestic U.S. long-distance services. In the past, this was a company like AT&T, MCI or Sprint. Today, almost all interexchange carriers also provide local service.
Wireless Carriers provide mobile wireless services, e.g., cellular wireless service. Today, the leading U.S. wireless carriers are Verizon Wireless, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile.
Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs) are LECs that are competitive to the RBOC or incumbent LECs. These companies are facilities-based (e.g., they own switching facilities). They may own some fiber/copper, but often lease ILEC facilities for local termination. Examples include PAETEC Communications, One Communications, TelePacific Communications and many of the cable TV providers, such as Comcast.
International Carriers provide connectivity from the United States to other countries. Some of these are based in the United States, e.g., Global Crossing, Sprint, Level 3, AT&T, and others are non-U.S. operators, e.g., China Telecom America, that have set up points of presence in large U.S. hubs like New York City, Miami or Los Angeles.
Wholesaler or wholesale carrier is a term you might run across that refers to a provider that sells services at wholesale to other carriers or resellers. There are some providers that do this exclusively, but most do it to varying degrees alongside their retail business. Usually, agents do not buy directly from wholesalers because that would make them a reseller (see below), but there are exceptions (see article, "How Is an Agent Paid?").