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Safe Haven for Crapshooters

Posted: 05/2001

The Letter

Safe Haven for Crapshooters

For anyone looking for signs of better times ahead in the telecommunications
business, last month’s AgENt show in Las Vegas was a good place to be.

That’s really saying something, considering the fact that a more likely
expectation would have been that this event, like so many others in the telecom
space of late, would offer unwelcome confirmation that the pall cast by missed
revenue projections and falling stock prices is the consuming preoccupation of
all who depend on network revenues for a living. The reason the AgENt show told
a different story is that there’s another reality to deal with in the day-to-day
marketplace, where the focus is on using existing facilities to meet existing
demand as opposed to spending billions more dollars on ambitious startups and
new networks. That reality has to do with the fact that while demand for
services is strong, the profile of the service package agents must deliver if
they are to keep their margins up against the backdrop of falling long-distance
rates is changing at warp speed.

In other words, the crowd, some 1,400 strong, that showed up at the Venetian
Hotel last month had already absorbed the harsh realization that the old
business model was on its last legs and that a new one had to be found. The mood
in Vegas was upbeat because, in looking for new business models, agents are
discovering there’s a virtual cornucopia of options–some directly flowing from
the revised business models of their longtime telecom suppliers as they evolve
to embrace the packet communications revolution; some from the emergence of new
suppliers that are looking for network service channels, and some from the
fruits of sheer initiative by which individual agents can seize on new
operations support systems and integration technologies to create mixed service
bundles from multiple sources.

IXCs, ICPs, ASPs, CASPs, CLECs, ICLECs, prepaid calling resellers, mobile
carriers–you name it; they all need sales channels, which is why all these
categories were represented among the ranks of exhibitors at the AgENt show. And
end users, looking for solutions across a wide range of network-delivered
services that no single telecommunications company can provide through in-house
sales channels, are in need of single-source local aggregators who can put
together the service packages that meet their individual requirements. No wonder
the mood was upbeat.

In fact, if the rest of the world knew what agents, VARs (value-added
resellers) and other channels in the emerging networked economy now are coming
to realize, the pall over telecom would soon evaporate. As Michel Bon, chairman
of France Telecom, put it the other day in commenting to The New York Times on
the latest bad news to hit still another ambitious newcomer to the local carrier
arena, "If any comparison can be made between today and a year ago, it
would be that there are fewer stupid players than there used to be."

Judging from the swelling attendance at the AgENt show, which has been
renamed "Channel Partners" for the next installment, in September, the
corollary to that comment on the agent side would be that if any comparison is
to be made between now and even six months ago, there are more smart players in
the game than ever.

Fred Dawson
Editor in Chief

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