FastLign Puts Newbies on a Fast Track to Offer VoIP

Given the penetration of broadband connections at end user sites and the relatively low cost of IP- vs. circuit-based network infrastructure, its never been easier to become a telephone company.

At the same time, launching VoIP services can be rather hairy considering time-to-market pressures, equipment and software integration required and the time it takes to get the right network services partners in place, says Kevin Nethercott, president and COO of hosted PBX/telephony software supplier LignUp.

Responding to these challenges, LignUp has forged alliances with master reseller CentricVoice Inc.; carrier Level 3 Communications Inc.; session border controller supplier NexTone; billing system and provisioning front-end provider Rodopi Software; certification lab and systems integrator tekVizion; and managed services provider VoIP Logic Inc. to create what it calls the FastLign Alliance.

Nethercott founded U.S.-based LignUp about a year ago after having established and run nine-year-old Japanese software and toll bypass company SkyWave. As we launched into the U.S., what immediately became evident with our first handful of customers is Boy, this is painful experience, says Nethercott. Not only do [new VoIP providers] have to get our software, but they have to integrate it with all of the other hardware their SBCs, and billing, provisioning. Then they have to go and put it in the network. So theres just a ton of issues that our customers have to go through.

To address those challenges, FastLign was born.

It talks to a number of market dynamics. Theres a huge land grab going on. A half a dozen different types of companies [exist] that wouldve never become telephone companies yesterday, but today they can be, says Nethercott, noting that includes regional LECs, development and business management companies, ISPs and others. These companies tend to be less technically capable than the early VoIP adopters. And because there are so many new companies, speed to market is absolutely critical, he adds.

With all these new and existing players, VoIP is becoming commoditized and prices are dropping, so differentiation is a must, he continues.

Companies that want to get into VoIP quickly and with the least amount of pain can get service through an ASP, he says, but that doesnt give them ownership of the services. Or, he says, they can get VoIP service up and running through FastLign, which leverages a structured alliance of partner companies to create a standardized, certified architecture.

According to Nethercott, most ASPs offer vanilla-flavored VoIP services. But because LignUps platform has a Web services capability with XML-based APIs, service providers of FastLign can create more vertical/specialized applications for their services.

Ralph Widmar, LignUps vice president of business development, who is in charge of FastLign, adds that the alliance program also allows service provider customers to own the service by giving them ownership of the licenses. This allows the service provider to treat the telephone network as if its another API, he says.

Noting that the hazards of getting into VoIP include interoperability challenges, the task of ensure adequate QoS/service quality and creating services, Widmar adds that Its always safer to walk through a mine field with someone whos been through it a few times.

Nethercott continues that FastLign is not just an alliance program in which the companies involved pledge that their products interoperate. Rather, through FastLign the network infrastructure partners do preintegration and then take that to the tekVizion labs to certify that interoperability. (tekVizion also will offer other professional services through the alliance.)

VoIP Logic provides managed services, including a round-the-clock network operations center, provisioning and billing. And CentricVoice acts as a distributor of Level 3 services.

CentricVoice is the aggregator of the FastLign solution, Nethercott says. If Im a mid-tier service provider, I cant have direct relationship with Level 3, which only deals [direct] with large service providers. So we can extend 100 percent of Level 3s services to smaller players with the aggregator.

The hosted version of the FastLign offer announced today will launch next month with two early access partners and is slated for general available by Jan. 1, 2006. A version of FastLign that allows service providers to host the service at their own data centers is expected to be announced officially in about a month.

LignUp declined to provide pricing for the services, which at the onset of FastLign will be billed for through three separate bills one for the software licenses; one from VoIP Logic; and one from CentricVoice.

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