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All Aboard

VoIP is a booming business, and as the market grows, more resale opportunities for niche providers have cropped up. Many second-tier operators not only lack a network, but the back-office expertise that goes along with it. Some enterprising vendors have crafted enablement packages to help these resellers, creating a fledgling ecosystem.

“More and more companies are taking the plunge into VoIP, so the little guys are seeing that it’s a real possibility for a business,” says Preston Gilmer, vice president of product marketing at Sigma Systems, a broadband OSS company. “Being a hosted VoIP provider or reseller allows for a tighter connection with the customer, because they can tailor the service for their niche. They can be nimble in the market, and focus on excellent customer care and marketing.”

Outsourced back-office approaches would seem to go with that territory. “You’re outsourcing the service, so why can’t you outsource the administrative functions?” says Todd Benjamin, president and CEO of Rodopi Software Inc., which has a full portfolio to support resellers and smaller VoIP operators. Rodopi VoIP offers hosted out-ofthe- box provisioning, billing and customer management that supports flexible service bundling, electronic or hard-copy billing, prepaid and postpaid services, and automated order management. Also, a hosted AAA RADIUS solution allows service providers to offer authenticated metered usage applications, including VoIP, by communicating allowable session time to gateways and access points. Session time is then collected by Hosted RADIUS and communicated to the OSS application for real-time billing. Combined with Rodopi’s EasyOSS, Hosted RADIUS automates billing, provisioning, customer care and RADIUS functionality without the expertise and expense associated with building and maintaining data center facilities.

“We try to make it easy to get into this business by using repeatable processes - and as resellers become successful, the demand for automation and ease of use increases,” Benjamin says.

Sigma Systems’ Voice Client Services Center (CSC) is a customer self-service portal application targeted at cable operators offering VoIP. The drop-in e-portal gives subscribers the ability to view their account and service information, select new service features and feature bundles, and change features and personal parameters. Application self-service is table stakes for a VoIP offering, but requires complex back-end processes to enable within a billing and provisioning system. The alternative is to use large call centers to handle service orders, provisioning, activation and modification of features on a day-to-day basis - a prohibitively costly approach. “Our customers don’t have or don’t want this kind of expertise or infrastructure,” says Kirby Altman, director of VoIP solutions at Sigma Systems. “Here they don’t have to worry about obsolescence and they can pay as they grow.”

Having the back office sewn up also aids in time to market, critical in a competitive environment. “You can now enter the market in a matter of hours if you have a softphone offer,” says Chris Nein, vice president of global sales and business development at Go2Call, which offers resellers an OSS platform with Web-based administrative tools, provisioning, trouble management and call routing, and multitier outsourced billing. “Resellers understand the market and the customer base, and need to act quickly to tap it. If they don’t have the enablement resources to support their services, they won’t make it.”

VoIP operators with a hybrid business model also are driving enablement; many resellers have a gateway or a softswitch, along with several wholesale relationships for termination. “Many of the business processes and back-office needs required by VoIP providers are the same as those needed for UNE-P providers,” says a spokesman for CustomCall Data Systems, which offers Webbased applications for service selection, order entry, service activation, fulfillment, mediation, rating, bill presentation, invoicing and payment for VoIP providers, along with customizable solutions for business-process integration and workflow management. “A crucial difference is that the VoIP service providers typically will have greater infrastructure investments, including a softswitch,” he adds. “This means they now have the additional responsibility for implementing, managing and maintaining their networks, in addition to their customer acquisition, service and support needs. Because of this the VoIP service provider may look to outsourcing solutions, as a way to maximize the value of their capital resources.”

Ultimately, the growth in VoIP and the resale models it has spawned will continue, bringing diversity to the market and creating a need for back-office solutions.

“Outsourcing the back office will remain important, but for different reasons,” says Charles Studt, senior product manager at TeleGea, soon to be part of hosting automation software maker Ensim Corp., which provides VoIP operating systems for the automated deployment and delivery of hosted VoIP services. “Today it is about speed, agility and time to market. Two to five years from now, it will be about profitability and sustainable advantage. I suspect we’ll see some consolidation, but as services become commoditized, having an efficient back office and a low opex cost structure will be critical.”

Links
CustomCall Data Systems www.customcall.com
Ensim Corp. www.ensim.com
Go2Call Inc. www.go2call.com
Lucent Technologies Inc. www.lucent.com
Rodopi Software Inc. www.rodopi.com
Sigma Systems www.sigma-systems.com
TeleGea Inc. www.telegea.com

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