Martin Group Inc. (Booth 306), a leading engineering, integration and consulting firm, is celebrating 35 years of service to telecommunications service providers.
Established in February 1970, with eight employees under founder Douglas Martin, Martin Group started as an engineering company, providing electrical engineering, consulting and helping independent telcos build their infrastructure.
Martin Group has witnessed the dramatic evolution of telecommunications in its 35-year life span. We have seen, just in the plant, changes from overhead lines to burying cable and now to fiber, recalls Bill Schleich, director of software development, who has been with the company since 1978. Inside the office, we have gone from mechanical switches to electronic switches to digital. Now we have softswitches.
Today, Martin Group has grown to more than 200 employees and provides a complete network design and development service that includes many extras, such as cost analysis, help securing loans, assistance with contracting, and development of billing systems for carrier-access billing and access revenue. We dont physically put cable in the ground, but we plan it and do the staking sheets and help install softswitches and engineer the whole thing, says Schleich.
Along the way, Martin Group added software development as a significant part of its business. The initial billing and software systems were very straightforward, unlike today, says Schleich. We grew with that, and now its a great marriage between engineering and software.
Although he has been a part of its history, Schleich still is enthusiastic about the future and changes to come in telecom. Todays world is exciting, because of voice over IP and video over IP. There are so many things happening in the telecom industry, he says. We have seen all that growth and been ahead of it all the way, and we help all our customers do the same thing. Independent mom-and-pop telcos are getting rarer, and, although for years there was little change in that part of the industry, you cant do that today, says Schleich. They need us to help them embrace the technology in the new world.
Bending with Winds of Change
Martin Group helped pioneer automated provisioning, software that improved greatly the efficiency of setting up new services and connecting the services to billing. It used to be that a technician would physically type in the information [about each new customer], says Schleich. We came up with our Oasis product that, from the billing software, communicates directly to the switch, so the tech doesnt have to do anything. Just the customer service representative.
Now that software has been adapted to work with a wide variety of network gear, from traditional switches to softswitches and Internet mail servers. They just tell the billing system that a customer now has Internet, and they get it within seconds, says Schleich. That was a big product for us. We are proud of the developments where we were first.
The company has designed its provisioning and billing software to be flexible, a strategy that has proven advantageous. The software today will support triple-play services and wireless, even paging, as well as usage-based or flat-rate billing, useful for voice over IP. Our second-generation software released four or five years ago on Windows was built from the ground up with all those industries in mind, says Schleich, and we tried to keep in mind that new things can pop up every year.
Each regulatory change in the industry meant new products needed to be developed. The 1981 breakup of AT&T, which coincided with the launch of the Martin Group billing system, was the most important. The middle-80s was another turning point as IXCs grew, while the Internet was the turning point of the 90s. Wireless is another, and now voice over IP. It is the talk of almost every conference. It affects both ends of our business, engineering and software, says Schleich.
Putting It All Together
Over the years, Martin Group has been involved in some of the most interesting and demanding engineering projects for rural communications. The company helped Iowa build its Iowa Network Services Inc. (INS, Booth 807). I personally spent the entire summer there in Des Moines, says Schleich. Beautiful, and a lot of corn. INS was the first facility in the nation to offer an intraLATA, a choice of carrier for intrastate calling.
After that, the company worked on the South Dakota Network (now SDN Communications), which linked all the independent telcos in the state to fiber to provide equal access to all customers. The network also has been important for distance learning in the state.
And the company helped build the Minnesota Equal Access Network Services (MEANS) in 1988, which has now evolved into Onvoy Inc. (Booth 730), a major provider of services to business in the Midwest, including VoIP. This project pioneered a service called centralized equal access, CEA. For small independent telcos, it would have been difficult to get a large carrier, such as a Sprint Corp., to make the expense to connect to each one. The CEA was a central facility in which small telcos and large carriers could exchange traffic.
Martin Group is headquartered in Mitchell, S.D., and has regional offices across the United States.