CCG Number Portability

I don’t write too many blog entries that are direct sales pitches for CCG services. I will admit that many of my blogs hint at the services we offer, but the main intentions of these blogs is to plant ideas for small carriers that we have found to be useful. But this is one of those sales pitch blogs, and if you do number portability you should read it. We now offer the fullest range of number portability products in the industry and we think we have the best prices. The main benefit for small carriers is that we don’t require annual minimums, so if you don’t do a lot of ports we are going to be your best solution. We offer two different number porting products – traditional number porting and LSR service. And in a related service we now offer directory listing update service.

Service Provider LSR Number Porting Service

Before you can port a number you must determine who owns the number and get the owning carrier to release the number to you. This process is referred to in the industry as the LSR porting process. CCG offers the only turn-key LSR porting product in the country and we can interface with any carriers to complete the porting LSRs.

This is the process of notifying the owner of numbers that you are porting their numbers away and is not the same as the process of updating the NPAC database. Rather, this is coordinating the transfer of telephone numbers with the RBOCs, CLECS, cable companies, independent telephone companies or wireless companies that own the numbers. This step is something that must be done before the number port can occur. There was never a lot of need in the past for this service, but now there is such a proliferation of numbers owned by many different service providers that you can’t assume that the numbers you want to port belong to an incumbent carrier.

Product Detail. CCG does the following for each LSR Number Port:

  • CCG will determine who owns the telephone number(s). For example, while you may be trying to port a customer that is using a CLEC like Vonage or Level3, you might find that the numbers actually belong to some other CLEC. We also routinely find that businesses can have numbers that belong to multiple service providers even if they are being billed by just one.
  • CCG will obtain the needed Customer Service Record (CSR) used to verify the porting data provided by your customer and confirm the desired due date.
  • CCG will interface with the “old service provider” LSR system to request a number port. We have found that every carrier has unique LSR processing systems and we can efficiently process with any service provider.
  • We will monitor the porting process. We will troubleshoot any porting requests that are not porting properly and we will escalate as needed to meet your due date. We will notify you when the port is complete and forward you the carriers FOC. We will provide you with documentation that each port has been processed and is complete.

NPAC SOA Number Porting Service

We also now offer the traditional number porting product where we can help you change the ownership of the number in the Neustar database. This allows you to gain control of numbers that previously belonged to another LEC, CLEC or wireless provider. We offer quick turnaround to make sure that you meet your desired service cut date.

In this process you will give CCG access to your database at Neustar. But unlike some other consultants providing this service we also can get you access to the same database and the reports and troubleshooting tools at Neustar.

We can be your turn-key interface in the Neustar Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC) database. We think our prices for this service are the best in the industry. And for small carriers we have no annual minimum commitment. If you only do a few ports per year you should give us a call.

Directory Listing Update Service.

We now also offer a service to update the directory listings for new customers. These updates are very inexpensive for customers who want to keep their directory listing the same as before. But we can also handle complex directory updates.

We also will make sure that you know when the annual directories will be published and we can help you verify all of your listings for accuracy before the directory hits the street each year.

Finally, we can bundle all of these services into a turn-key package that makes it easy for you to add new customers.

Contact Terri Firestein at CCG at 301 788-6889 to learn more about these services and to get a price quote.

Why Aren’t You in the Security Business?

Security camera

Security camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The security business is booming. Both residents and businesses want security cameras and other monitoring devices to keep an eye on their property when they aren’t there. Everybody with a wireline network should be considering offering security services of some type. There are a number of different ways to approach the security business, as follows:

Security Cameras. Your customers are interested in security cameras. They may want them for the traditional purpose of watching their business. But they now want them for a whole lot of other reasons. Farmers want them to keep an eye on livestock and on expensive farm machinery. Residents want to keep an eye on the babysitter, the pets or the kids when they aren’t at home. People want to be able to see who is at the front door before they answer it.

Your customer can go to Walmart or Radio Shack and pick up a run-of-the-mill camera. But given a choice, your customers probably want a quality HD camera, professionally installed. There is a huge difference in the picture quality between an older analog security camera and the new HD cameras. It’s the difference between being able to see that there is somebody in your home and the ability to read the name tag on the pocket of their shirt.

Most of your customers are not going to be comfortable with or have the knowledge needed to install an HD camera properly. Ideally cameras ought to be installed on coaxial cable rather than using WiFi so that it will work if the WiFi gets knocked out. To be effective a camera also ought to be on some kind of backup power if the customer wants to be able to see what is happening if the power to the premise is cut. You will want to choose cameras that come with the ability to let the customer see what the camera sees using their cell phone.

Why is this a business opportunity? I have been advocating in this blog that telecom businesses need to decide if you are going to be a full-service provider or a dumb-pipe provider going into the future. If you are going to be a full-service provider then you should look for opportunities to go into customer’s homes and businesses. Services like installing security cameras are not going to drive a lot of revenue. Instead, it will pay for a few hours of your installer’s time, but it will give you a chance to get to know your customers better, to upsell them on other services and to create loyalty since you are the provider who will take the time to visit and listen to them.

Recording. While there isn’t a lot of money to be made in installing cameras, you can sell a monthly service to record what the cameras see. This requires you to establish a high-speed connection to the camera and to have recording devices capable of storing and retrieving video. Ideally you will only record a camera when there is something to record. This can be done by including a motion detector that will trigger the recording. Any recordings you save should also record a time stamp so that you know when the recording was made.

There are off-the-shelf systems for recording video in this manner and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But investing in this kind of product line means that you will need to do the math and figure how many customers you will need to justify getting into the business. The normal pricing for this service would consist of a monthly fee to record the images plus a fee when customers want to retrieve recordings over some set limit of times.

Monitoring. The next level of security involves monitoring and this gets into the area of more traditional burglar alarms. There are a number of well-known nationwide brands of security monitoring like Frontpoint, ADT, Vivint, Pinnacle and Life Shield.

How can you compete against the nationwide firms? The burglar alarm business has two components – selling / leasing the hardware and the monitoring function. You can buy the same security system hardware used by any of the nationwide firms. There is a wide array of different systems available. The nationwide companies make a lot of money on the hardware and the installation. They generally advertise a low price but then quickly try to upsell customers to get additional hardware. You should be able to compete and beat the pricing that these firms offer on hardware. And you can offer this without the somewhat sleazy sales tactics that many of them use. Tout yourself as the ‘honest’ firm and many people will be interested.

Second, you can now buy monitoring services on a wholesale basis. There are security monitoring centers that will act as your back office to monitor the alarms and dispatch fire and police as needed. You can easily mark-up their fees and still make a nice monthly margin for monitoring a customer.

Many customers have been through the mill with the nationwide firms since many of them deploy high-pressure sales tactics. Customers are going to prefer to go with somebody they know and trust and who gives them what they need for an affordable price without the high-pressure sales.

The Full Deal. There are also upper-end security systems available that come with the latest high-tech monitoring devices. There is a wide array of different sensors available today that let a business test for all kinds of events. The upper end systems typically are for businesses that want to do a better job of monitoring both security and safety at their premise.

Any carrier can obviously get into the high-end security businesses because anybody can buy the systems used. But my word of caution is that this business line requires a lot of research and the companies you will compete with know what they are doing.

Customer Portal

I have talked in other blog posts how I believe that the successful residential service provider in the future is going to have a choice to make between being what I call a dumb pipe provider or a full service provider. And there are merits to both approaches.

But should you elect to take the service provider approach you will be selling many smaller and niche products to your customers instead of the handful of major products you sell today. It may be a decade until voice and cable TV become 100% commoditized, but every year there will be fewer and fewer customers buying those traditional products.

One of the tools that service providers are going to need for selling multiple services to customers is a customer portal. This is a website that allows customers to see a menu of what is available to them. Last week I wrote a blog entry about upselling your current products to your customers as a way to immediately affect bottom line and a well-designed portal is a great tool for enabling that process.

Here is what I envision as the perfect customer portal:

  • The ability for a customer to see what services they are already buying today.
  • An easy-to-use menu that shows what else is available, categorized to make it easy for a customer to browse your products.
  • Product descriptions that explain the benefits of each available product.
  • Ideally, a video or demo for more complex products showing how they works.
  • The ability to offer sales specials as a customer browses to entice them to try the product.
  • A tie-in to your provisioning system so that the customer can buy, or even just try the product as they shop.

There are a number of customer portals in the telecom world today and I have yet to see one that works in this ideal way. Just last week I went in and changed several things on my AT&T Wireless bill. I found a lower cost voice package and the portal let me easily change plans. But in doing to it deleted my text messaging plan and decided I desired to pay 25 cents per text message. That took a call to fix. And I wanted to delete a feature that gave me lower cost international calling and that also took a phone call to fix. There is nobody bigger than AT&T and they don’t have their portal figured out correctly. But what they did have was a lot better than nothing because it enabled me to familiarize myself with their various plans so I could decide what I wanted, without having to involve a person in that process. I was glad to have the portal, and I just wished I didn’t have to make two phone calls to finally complete what I wanted to change.

Some of the better portals I have seen are from the major cable companies. They often offer so many different programming packages that having them all explained on a portal is a great way for a customer to shop without tying up a customer service representative. But from what I can see, none of them yet give customers the ability to change products without talking to a live person before it is finished.

I think a lot of companies hesitate to build a portal because they don’t want to commit the resources needed to build the ideal one. But there is no reason to wait since even the largest carriers haven’t perfected the customer portal yet. There is nothing stopping you from starting your portal now to let your customers see the wide range of your existing products. Every one of my clients has a number of products that they barely sell. I believe that there are a lot more customers who would buy products like unified messaging if they understood what it could do for them and if they knew that you offered it. Think of building a portal as a way of communicating with your customers.

If you are going to start a portal or improve an existing one you should consider including some of the following functions:

  • Let customers check their bill on-line.
  • Let customers make a credit card or bank debit payment.
  • Let customers change product parameters like their Internet bandwidth.
  • Make it easy for customers to order Pay-per-view events.
  • Let’s customers place a tentative order even if that just prompts you to call them back.

So I recommend that you create a portal today that does some of these functions. There is probably not going to be some magic program available that is going to let you create the perfect customer portal all at once. Rather, this is likely to be an ongoing process. Because of that, do what you can for now, but do so in such a way that you are prepared to evolve your portal into a powerful tool for you and your customers.

Finally, I would note that there is an additional set of functions that are sometimes referred to as a customer portal. On smart switches you can build a web interface so that customers with advanced voice features can maintain the settings for those products. While this is certainly a portal function, this is more of an operational function and not a marketing function.

Managed LAN Service

local area network

local area network (Photo credit: benschke)

If you serve business customers you should consider offering managed LAN service. This is a service where you manage your customer’s LANs for them. The service has been around for years and was often provided by local IT companies. But as LECs, CLECs and cable companies have become more data-centric and are delivering Ethernet to businesses, the line between wireline provider and IT provider has blurred.

Customers want managed LAN for a number of reasons:

  • Eliminates staff and costs. With managed LAN a business would no longer need a dedicated IT person on staff. Before my own business went virtual we had a staff of about 15 in our office and we needed a full-time IT person to support us. This was an expensive overhead that I finally avoided by going virtual, but that many businesses still incur. Some businesses have solved this by hiring part-time IT help, but that is still more expensive than a managed LAN service.
  • Saves on Investment. The servers and software to support a LAN are costly. In our industry we are already familiar with helping customers made decisions about buying PBXs versus lines and this is the same sort of decision for a business.
  • Takes Away from the Core Focus. Businesses should focus on what they do best and not become IT shops.
  • Trusted Vendor. Many businesses prefer to work with somebody they know and trust. There are numerous online data centers and vendors promoting things like Managed LAN and IP Centrex, but most businesses will not trust their data and communications needs to an anonymous company in the cloud. Many businesses also prefer their data being stored somewhere locally and not in a faraway state.

The decision to offer Managed LAN Service should be driven by your philosophy as a carrier. I have talked in other blogs about the choice that you have to either be a dumb pipe provider or a full service provider. If you want to be a full-service provider, then helping your business customers with their data needs is probably a better long-term strategy than helping them with their voice needs. Many businesses are now totally reliant upon their data and as a full-service provider you can assure them that their data is secure, stored redundantly and accessible where and how they need it.

There are several ways that you can offer the service:

  • Operate the Customer’s LAN Remotely. This is the traditional model that has been used by local IT shops. Normally the customer is still expected to own the equipment and software and the service provider just takes care of the LAN remotely. The problem with this approach is that the customer doesn’t save money on equipment, and you are going to have to visit the customer’s location from time to time, adding to your cost, and the price you must charge. One option is for you to own the LAN, but that still has you buying one device for one customer which is not any more cost efficient than the customer buying it directly.
  • Put the LAN in your Hub. The most competitive scenario is for you to put the needed LAN in your own central office or headend. This allows you to buy servers and storage devices that can serve multiple customers, thus allowing for a savings on hardware and software. It also allows you to run all of your managed LAN customers with the same underlying hardware and software, making it easier to operate and troubleshoot. And if you are also the one supplying the data pipe to the business you control the customer’s data from end to end.
  • Outsource to a Data Center. If you only have a few businesses that want this service, or if you don’t have the expertise to do this, you can buy these services on a wholesale basis. There are numerous data centers around the country that offer these services and you can repackage this and still make a profit.

Selling Managed LAN opens up the door for a host of other services. A very popular service is redundant data back-up, and you will need to establish a second storage hub or else work with a data center to back up data you store at your location. You will also find that businesses that use you for Managed LAN will look to you for all of their IT advice and will ask for your help to buy and repair computers, implement custom solutions like transparent LAN or video conferencing, etc. So this business line will create an opportunity to sell your technician time on an hourly basis.

The main advantage of this business line for both you and your customers is that you can provide them with a unified solution to all of their data needs. If they use you for Ethernet and voice and somebody else to manage their LAN then they are not getting the ideal data network with seamless integration of voice and data. We always talk about customer stickiness in the industry and I think this is the best ‘stickiness’ product you can offer.

A Look into my Crystal Ball

Technology of the FutureI have spent quite a bit of time recently reading futurist books and articles that think about the most likely future. I’ve done this to the point where my wife asked me if I am unhappy with the present! After chuckling, I told her that I am happy now. But thinking about the future is a worthwhile effort when one is engaged in a technology-based industry. Everything I have read tells me that selling to residences is going to change a lot over the next few decades. And I believe that those who understand where the trends are taking us can begin preparing for that future today.

So what will the future residential customer want from a telecom company? Everything I have read tells me that traditional telephone service and cable TV service as we know it today will not be around. Voice will have become a total commodity. You will probably be able to put a phone in your house if you insist, but it will be an IP device and very few people will still have a traditional telephone.

Within twenty years voice will be a commodity for cellular service also and the cell phones we carry today will also be a thing of the past. There will be devices far smarter than our ‘smart’ phones. Many of these devices will be somehow integrated into our body and will be far more sophisticated than the first generation of Google glass. I am not enough of a futurist to predict the specific technology that will win the battle, but we will not be carrying around a device whose primary purpose is to talk to people.

Cable TV is headed down the same path and there will no longer be a subscription to hundreds of channels for a high price. Video will be available ubiquitously on any device you want to watch it on. People will subscribe to the programming they want and will not pay for what they don’t want.

But people will still want bandwidth at their homes – lots of bandwidth. As we move towards the Internet of Everything, where multitudes of devices will include cheap chips and will be networked together to make our lives easier, the average house will want a lot of bandwidth.

And there will be two kinds of bandwidth providers – dumb pipe providers and service providers. There are already dumb pipe providers today. I live in the country and I get my Internet access through a wireless link from a nearby tower. And that wireless link is all that my ISP sells. They don’t offer any other services over that link and I doubt I would buy them if they did. I have my smart phone to give me everything else.

Many of today’s networks will morph over time to become dumb pipe providers. They will raise the price of bandwidth until it is high enough to compensate them for their network. They will have much smaller staffs than today who will be needed just to install and maintain the network.

But there will be another kind of provider that I call a full-service provider. They will also deliver a bandwidth pipe to the house, but they will also provide a host of services. And mostly these services are going to look like a future version of today’s Geek Squad. These companies will send technicians into people’s houses to help them make everything work together. When there is an Internet of everything it is going to get complicated. People who are not very technological are going to want lots of help to customize the many options to get just what they want. And so when a technicians visits he might be asked to help a customer get a medical monitor working right, find some programming they had trouble locating, fiddle with the controls for the lighting, and put a different personality on the home AI. The service-oriented provider will build customer loyalty and will be perceived as something very different from the dumb pipe provider.

There is a lesson today from envisioning this future. Far too many service providers today sell products that they treat as commodities, and once they sell them they rarely talk to their customers unless there is a problem. Technology has already gotten complicated for the average household and I think there is already a market for sending technicians into homes to make things work together better. I have clients who do this and they say that changing to a service model is the best change they ever made. They generally sell something new every time a technician visits somebody’s home. But the vast majority of the telecom companies I know look a lot more like the dumb pipe provider. They may sell telephone and cable TV on their data pipes, but what are they going to be left with when those products turn into a commodities and then disappear into the cloud?

Regulatory Alert: FCC Reminds ACS Providers (Advanced Communications Services) of Filing for CVAA Compliance

Seal of the United States Federal Communicatio...

The FCC recently issued a public notice reminding Advanced Communications Providers (ACS) and equipment manufacturers that they need to provide evidence that they are complying with the Twenty First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). The FCC is now implementing Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that requires telecom products and equipment be accessible by people with disabilities.

The FCC defines an ACS provider in Section 3(1) of the Act to mean a carrier that provides one of the following: (A) interconnected VoIP service; (B) non-interconnected VoIP service; (C) electronic messaging service; and (D) interoperable video conferencing service. The FCC also defines advanced communications services providers to include all entities that offer advanced communications services in or affecting interstate commerce, including resellers and aggregators. Such providers include entities that provide advanced communications services over their own networks, as well as providers of applications or services accessed (i.e., downloaded and run) by users over other service providers’ networks.

The CVAA law was enacted in 2010 and is aimed to ensure that people with disabilities have access to advanced communications services. This requirement by the FCC is somewhat unusual in that it applies to telecom providers who are otherwise largely unregulated.

And there are a lot of nuances to be in compliance:

  • There must be a filing done for each corporate entity that provides ACS services and you can’t just designate somebody at the parent company to cover all of your subsidiaries.
  • You must provide an affidavit of compliance by a company officer.
  • It must be filed electronically.

The original deadline for these filings was April 1, but we believe a lot of entities who should have filed did not. If you provide any form of VoIP you need to comply with these rules or face eventual fines.

The filing requires the following:

  • A description of the effort the company will undertake to discuss your services with customers with disabilities.
  • A description of the features and other ways that your products will be made accessible to customers with disabilities.
  • A description of how people with disabilities would most likely be able to use your products.

So, if you provide VoIP – even on a resale basis – you need to make this filing.

If you want to know more about the specific filing requirements, or if you want assistance in making this filing contact Terri Firestein at (301) 788-6889.

Know Your Fifty Biggest Business Customers

Customers

This is an idea that is so simple that I almost didn’t make a blog entry out of it. But every service provider should personally know their largest business customers. I arbitrarily set the number to fifty customers, but fifty is not a magic number and there is some number that is right for every carrier.

When I say that you should know them personally I mean just that. These customers should get a visit from you every year. You should do your best to get to know each of these customers well and understand their needs. Talk to them about their business and understand how they use your existing products. If this blog has highlighted anything, it is that the needs of business customers are evolving and changing quickly, so you should also be talking with these customers about how you help them to meet their needs in the future.

Starting this process is easy. Generate a report each month that lists the highest billing customers. As you compare these results month over month you will begin to see the top customers in terms of billing.

As you find out what your largest customers want, you are going to find out that you have holes in your product offerings. You might find that these customers are buying some things elsewhere or else are going without features and products they would like. It would not be surprising to find that some of them are thinking of changing service provider. Often you will find out that they don’t know what they need in terms of product, and part of the reasons for these visits is for you to educate them on the wide range of business products that are available to them today.

The businesses should welcome your visits if you come by to get to know them and advise them. You are not be building loyalty if you only visit your customers when they have a contract expiring or some similar event. Loyalty instead comes when they know you care about them and their success.

Most service providers I know can name their top few customers, but it’s rare to find somebody who can name their top fifty. And it is far fewer who have made it a priority to visit their largest customers every year. Visiting fifty customers is one visit per week. Find a way to work that into your schedule. You will love the results.

Advantages to Customers of SIP Trunking

SIP stands for Session Initiation Protocol and is a technology at the enterprise level for delivering multiple voice connections to a PBX or key system over an IP data connection. In order for a business to utilize SIP they must have a PBX with a SIP-enabled trunk side and their data provider must be able to deploy and switch SIP.

Hot Desk, GTi, University of Glamorgan

Hot Desk, GTi, University of Glamorgan (Photo credit: jisc_infonet)

SIP Trunks at the enterprise level of the network replace PRIs between the central office and PBXs. A PRI is a dedicated T-1 transport circuit and can support 23 bearer paths for voice, but a SIP trunk connection typically rides an existing data circuit and can be used to carve out as many voice paths as are wanted within the limits of the bandwidth available.

Following are the reasons that businesses want SIP trunks, and thus for carriers to sell them. This list is discusses the advantages for the small and medium business customer.

Saves Money. SIP generally saves money. SIP trunks replace PRIs which are inefficient. It is not unusual for a customer with a PRI to be using only part of the capacity and yet they have to pay for it all since it is a linear product. SIP trunks are typically carved out of a company’s data or Internet connection and can be sized as needed within the constraints of the bandwidth. It is typical for a business to cut their costs at least in half using SIP trunks compared to PRIs due to the efficiency.

More Efficient Use of the Data Connection. Most businesses will already have an Internet connection and SIP trunks are carved from those connections. Most businesses use their data connections in a bursty fashion, meaning there are times of the day when they use a lot of their bandwidth, but also many times when they use very little. SIP trunking can take advantage of the unused capacity in most company data connections. Companies often do not need to increase the bandwidth they are buy SIP trunks and can fit them into their existing data product.

Enables Unified Communication. SIP enables all of the various features that comprise unified communications such as access to the phone system from cell phones or tablets, integrated voicemail and email, video chat, instant messaging and other features that make businesses more productive.

Enables Upgrade to an IP PBX. Businesses more and more want the kinds of features that are available with an IP PBX and IP handsets. Many businesses are choosing to buy an IP PBX to get these features rather than buy IP Centrex from their telco provider. The general advantage for a business to have their own IP PBX is the ability to customize their communications network, something that many service providers do not offer with IP Centrex.

Allows Multiple Locations to Act like One. With SIP trunks and an IP PBX a business with more than one location can have a unified telephone system that brings the data and voice together for all locations.

Any carrier that sells enterprise data service to businesses should offer SIP trunks. Even if you sell IP Centrex, customers who prefer to have their own phone system are going to want SIP trunks.

What Business Customers Want

A significant percentage of CCG’s clients sell telecommunications services to businesses. When I ask them what they think businesses are now looking for from a telecommunications provider, I most often get the responses listed below.

Interestingly, saving money is not on this list. While most of my clients sell at competitive prices, they say that business customers value a reliable network much more than they do a lower price. Since phones and computers are often now tied together using IP, a network outage effectively can completely cripple a business if they lose both phone and the Internet.

Single service provider. Ideally, most small to medium businesses would like one service provider to take care of everything from data, phones, IT, computers, etc.

Reliable network. They want to be served by a reliable network, with reliability measured in terms of outages. This is often why a new network owner in a town will see slow sales to businesses for a few years until the local market perceives that their network as reliable.

Faster data speeds. While faster download speeds are always important, many businesses also covet fast upload speeds.

Employee mobility. Businesses want the ability for employees to be able to work from home or on the road.

Off-site data storage. Businesses want key data stored offsite to avoid catastrophic data losses. They feel safer if they know the company who is storing their data.

Fast provisioning and changes in services. Businesses want to be able to change things on the fly, be that moving an employee to a different office, changing the features on a given phone or computer, or increasing data speeds.

Physical security and surveillance. Businesses want next generation security systems with features like biometric access, motion detectors and hidden surveillance cameras.

Redundant connections. More and more businesses want physically redundant data connections since their businesses are more reliant on the Internet to be profitable.

Moving to the cloud. Lately businesses have been asking about cloud services since they hear it is a way to eliminate or reduce their IT functions and let outside parties take care of updates, security, etc.

Unified communications.  Businesses want phone calls and data to get to them over multiple devices across multiple networks.