SBC Bundling Phone And Internet

May 21, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — SBC Communications Inc. has rolled out a new hosting service in West Michigan that may make it easier for corporations to adapt to the latest in telecommunications technology.

The latest is Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) that enables users to merge their voice and data servers.

By hosting the service, SBC Communications creates a new option for businesses to consider for their voice and data management. SBC Communications says the new hosting service — launched this month in the Grand Rapids area — would allow businesses to use VoIP without incurring significant equipment costs.

“There’s definitely some cost savings,” SBC Communications spokeswoman Jody Lau said. “We look at it as an evolving business. We want to help our customers find the best solution for them.”

VoIP, geared more toward larger employers with multiple sites, is an emerging technology that allows users to transmit voice and data over the Internet.

Users save by having a single data and voice server that handles multiple Internet functions: telephone calls, voicemail, e-mail, paging, call forwarding, on-demand conferencing, and a “plug-and-play” feature that allows users to connect their IP-based phones to the system from anywhere within the corporate network and use their own telephone number.

An information technology and telecom research firm — IDC, based in Framingham, Mass. — recently predicted that the VoIP market would grow from $287 million to $6.7 billion over the next several years.

VoIP and the convergence of voice and data servers, said SBC’s Ray Wilkins, “is perhaps the hottest topic” today among corporate chief information officers. SBC has been selling VoIP service for about five years and is rolling out hosting services in the markets it serves across the U.S.

SBC’s new hosting service, called PremierSERV HIPCS, is designed to enable companies to conveniently move into VoIP without heavy up-front costs, said Wilkins, group president of marketing and sales for the telecom giant.

Businesses recognize the advanced communications applications and efficiencies that can be realized with an IP solution, and how those new capabilities can translate into competitive advantages and a healthier bottom line,” he said.

Businesses also can save through the elimination of long-distance phone charges and improved worker productivity that a VoIP can generate, Lau said.

By using a third-party host for a VoIP service, a company can more readily make upgrades as technological and service advancements are brought to the marketplace, she said.

“This technology is definitely going to continue to grow and we definitely expect it to continue to evolve,” Lau said.

SBC certainly isn’t alone in the VoIP arena. Its rival Verizon early this month announced it was developing new service packages that include residential VoIP services.

And on the low end of the ladder, a small Grand Haven company that’s developing a wireless Internet network plans to launch a VoIP service this summer.

Seeing the growth and potential for VoIP, state regulators in March began proceedings to determine whether there’s any need to regulate the technology, as they do other telecommunication services, and, if so, at what level.

Some of the parties offering comments to the Michigan Public Service Commission urged regulators to tread cautiously so as not to hinder innovation and the new customer options and choice VoIP potentially can bring to the market.

State regulators were also urged to go slowly as their counterparts at the Federal Communications Commission weighed the issue, as well.

VoIP, AT&T stated in comments to the MPSC, “may have a transforming impact on the way we communicate.”

“VoIP’s potential would be adversely affected by the imposition of unnecessary regulatory requirements,” AT&T stated.               

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