Channel Partners Fall 2004, Hold the Anchovies

Channel Partners Chicago-style kicked off yesterday with an agenda packed with more content than a Chicago deep-dish pizza. Sponsored by Telegration Inc., the education program for the fall conference revolves around new service opportunities and new revenue areas for agents, VARs and other distribution partners.

A packed general session followed the keynote address from fabled Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka and a comparison between Channel Partners and the Republican National Convention in New York this week (upshot: Channel Partners is better) by Khali Henderson, group editor for the telecom division at PHONE+ publisher Virgo Publishing Inc.

Focused on the service models, technology and sales opportunities in IP telephony, the opening session set the tone of the conference yesterday: Voice over IP (VoIP), panelists indicated, is the most important thing thats happened to telecom since the breakup of Ma Bell. Addressing an involved audience, four panelists discussed how and why agents need to sell VoIP. Tim Gaines, vice president of field sales for Covad Communications Group Inc., said one of the many benefits of VoIP is that it costs less than traditional telephony. This is disruptive change that youre involved in, he told agents. [VoIP] is truly better and less expensive. Similarly, J. Sherman Henderson III, president and CEO of Lightyear Network Solutions LLC, advised agents to be users of VoIP before they sell it. Ruben Chapa, president and CEO of St. Louis Telecom, agreed, saying agents must always carry VoIP demos with them so customers can try the technology. Likely reflecting the sentiment throughout the room, Gaines summed up the emergence of VoIP by saying it represents the new good old days of telecom. Its been a long walk in the desert. VoIP evangelist Mike Odenwald also sat on the panel.

After a nonstop Q&A session, the discussion spilled over to a follow-up session focused on hardware for VoIP. Dale Stein, co-founder and director of strategic planning and business development of TAG National, Dean DeGrendel, regional manager of Appia Communications and Jeff Veres, CEO at IPtmize discussed IP PBXs from traditional PBX vendors, data-centric systems from vendors such as Cisco Systems Inc. and hosted options, along with endpoints such as softphones or IP desksets. This is a complete 180 for most people in the room, noted one attendee. Even so, agents would do well to get on board. We will see as many VoIP providers as there are retail outlets, said Veres.

Meanwhile, an interactive panel on Hawking Local Service examined the many aspects of offering dialtone. After short presentations on their respective companies, the panelists threw the floor open for questions. UNE-P regulatory changes were an elephant in the room and went largely undiscussed, despite the presence of BellSouth Corp. on the panel. VoIP plans, on the other hand, were the first thing attendees wanted to know. Tony Palazzolo, director of national partnerships, XO Communications Inc., joined BellSouths Vickie Rogers, senior AVP for third-party distribution, and ITC^Deltacoms Jim LaBrec, vice president of dealer services – Northern area, also tackled questions of local service stickiness, integrated T1 offers and the XO/Allegiance merger.

A session on wireless mobile services didnt fail to disappoint, with wireless data a hot topic. A majority of the wireless data has come through the back door with employees, said John Horn, vice president of T-Mobile USA LLC, whereas now thats changing, with corporate policies offering an opportunity for a business sale. Kevin Packingham, director of business solution for Sprint Corp., and Mitch McCoy, senior director of marketing for American Wireless, rounded out the panel.

An overview of Microsoft.NET and how service providers can help agents from a back-office standpoint was the message of a session on operations systems, featuring Greg Taylor, director of marketing, Access Point Inc., Jim Lazeroff, director of marketing, Info Directions Inc. Jan DeRobertis, vice president and principal, NBC Solutions Corp.

While VoIP dominated most of the sessions, it did politely step aside to make room for T@G training tracks and sessions on local service, wireless mobility and back-office technologies. PAETEC, American Telesis Inc. and ACC Business all conducted agent training that will earn participants certification from the vendors and T@G. PAETEC focused on MPLS-based IP VPNs. American Telesis and ACC Business both tackled frame relay, but VoIP, not surprisingly, managed to wedge its way into the conversations. American Telesis training included a review of frame relay and its advantages, especially during emergencies or outages. In a 9/11 situation, you dont want to have to wait 30 days for your network to come back, said Heather Selbert, director of operations, noting that frame relay prevents that delay by re-routing information. However, several agents in the audience pointed out that the demand for frame relay is quickly disappearing. The technology is being ousted by IP VPNs and Cisco routers, they said. One agent said 80 percent of the demand he sees is for IP VPN; the remaining percentage doesnt yet know about the technology. American Telesis does price IP VPNs and VPNs, and is expanding in those areas.

ACC Business is reprising its training sessions today.

Agents, vendors and service providers alike came in droves to the opening reception in the International Ballroom last night. The Verio Partner Program and InterCall sponsored the next-best highlight: the cocktails. The nearly three-hour networking opportunity gave attendees the chance to relax while getting to know key people in their industry and make profitable deals.

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