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Becoming an IP Services Agent

Are you avoiding the topic of voice over IP with your customers, or are you starting the conversation about what it could mean for them?

Approaching the VoIP target requires you to think like an IP carrier agent. From one IP carrier agent to another, heres the insider view and the type of thinking that has accelerated my agency in a new direction: It has firmly positioned my firm as a trusted resource for convergence solutions across our customer base.

Remember equal access? Recall how we were bringing real choice and absolute value to customers? So here we are again, equal access over IPchoice and value that goes way beyond the cost-effective minute.

IP telephony is part of VoIP, sort-of. It is imperative that you first differentiate IP telephony (a.k.a. LAN telephony) and VoIP, and how these general definitions influence what you think the customer is asking forand where your area of expertise lies.

Choices for VoIP services impact the WAN. VoIP is in the network. IP telephony choices impact the LAN. IPT is on-premise. VoIP and IPT are parallel paths towards the target of retaining your customers in the converged world.

Where you and your customers want to go with VoIP all depends on where you both are today. Does your agency focus on the phone or data systems in place, looking out into the WAN? Or are your service offerings and expertise around network services, looking in towards the LAN?

Are you recognized by your customers as the phone guys, or the network and telecom guys? Both? Fantastic, because you either need to be both, or firmly committed to partnering with the other half. Otherwise, your value as part of the migration strategy to VoIP is greatly diminished. You are negatively exposed with your customer. If you are the trusted resource that outlined an IP migration strategy for both IPT and VoIP for your customer, there is no doubt that all new equipment and services will go through you. All the incumbent phone vendors have IP stories. Which of those vendors are in front of your customers? You need to know that and/or be representing one of those vendors.

Lets start on the IPT path. What is the customer picking up to make or receive a phone call today? What version is the PBX? Is the PBX owned or leased? Can that PBX vendor enable IP using the existing phone system? Is there any reason for the customer to even own a PBX? What about outsourcing the management of any new solution? The answers will influence whats bought next.

The existing PBX has a shortened life expectancy. IP telephony, and the capital or operational expenses required to support it, all are part of a migration strategy. The list of choices for an IP equivalent of those PBX features and functions can be somewhere in the IP carriers network, hosted, perhaps even managed.

Now, the VoIP path. Wow! Big target. Few choices. True story.

Enterprise and commercial business customers are just now figuring out VoIP. End-to-end options from the new IP carriers will emerge and evolve quickly over the next 12 months and continue indefinitely. Big companies like AT&T Corp., with big networks, are stepping up VoIP support. So the networks, accessed via frame, straight IP or MPLS, will be as reliable and ubiquitous for a VoIP call as we rely on for PSTN calls today.

VoIP can add value without doing much to the existing PBX, by saving customers money and other advantages. The IP pipe in all those forms listed above can carry all outbound calls; between locations and for off-net calls. However, local lines to the PSTN still have purpose for inbound and back-up calling.

VoIP does not require IP telephony (the IP version of PBX functionality), but it does require that the call be converted from TDM to IP for transport. So, a VoIP gateway or a VoIP-enabled router is required at the customer premise. In sum, there is a lot to consider on behalf of the customer, but it has to start somewhere.

In sum, as an IP carrier agent, you need to take a thorough look at the carriers and service providers you represent. How have they invested in building an IP network and IPT-related services? Do they even own an IP network?

Tell your customer: I can help you avoid technology obsolescence and optimize the bandwidth you use. I can provide you with the solutions that maximize IPT and VoIP value. I am your IP carrier agent.

The author is a virtual agent for Intelisys Inc., a national master agency based in Northern California. Feel free to e-mail him with any questions: ipcarrieragent@intelisyscorp.com.




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