The Evolution of Enterprise Voice Solutions: A Q&A with Steven Davis
In November, we posted our Q&A with Justin Brinker, Director of Solution Engineering at UPN. This month, we’re hearing from Steven Davis, UPN’s Manager of Voice Engineering. An engineer at heart, Steven is a telecom consultant with experience architecting business voice solutions for various service providers. Keep reading for insights on the convergence of communications, how UPN’s voice offerings differ from the rest, and how enterprises can enjoy a headache-free experience while upgrading telecom solutions.
Here’s Steven’s Take on Voice Solutions:
Q: Since it’s trends season given the new year, let’s start off with that. What is the #1 voice-related trend you’re seeing in the marketplace right now?
A: First would be the convergence of voice, video, and messaging all into one platform; that’s the biggest churn right now. The mindset is changing, and we’re going to start to see the same thing that happened with email in the 90s. At that time, people started realizing that email satisfied the need to deliver documents and data in real-time without relying on UPS, FedEx, or fax. The same thing will happen now with collaboration or what’s known as unified communications (UC), which is a catch-all term, including voice, video, and any real-time communications between people or groups. (so Zoom, Teams, and WebEx are all different UC platforms.)
My view is, as organizations realize that geographic closeness is not required for teams to communicate quickly and seamlessly, those barriers are coming down. Throughout this year, lots of organizations have begun to realize that the collaboration process is still achieved by these platforms. Those services will become more vital to enterprises’ operating stance, and the importance of the physical location of users or the office will decrease. A majority of UPN employees have been working remotely since March, and we’ve actually increased our productivity in lots of ways.
Secondly, there has been a move toward mobility of users. Our newest hosted voice offering, NIMBUS by FiberVoice, is a smart-phone app that extends your office extension and direct-dial (DID) to your Android or iPhone. This is a great solution for customers that need to work from home, job sites, multiple offices, or just need to be reachable wherever they happen to be. It allows seamless contact between your “office” and wherever you are. It works on your WiFi or cellular (LTE/5G) service. It’s self-installed and offers a great user experience. I’m really excited about what it can provide our customers.
Traditional business phone solutions where you pick up a telephone and dial a number – that will still exist in that the functionality will be the same, but the need to have a dial tone provided by a telecom company will change dramatically. The tipping point has been reached, and this will become a typical business process as opposed to the exception. UPN has positioned itself to provide both ends of that. Our data services connect offices, data centers, and cloud providers, which is what really drives this shift; the ability to have interconnected networks makes these platforms possible. Plus, UPN provides access to dial tone on our network, as well as more advanced UC platform access and voice services. Receiving all of that through one provider is a natural fit for a lot of companies.
To that end, we’ll start seeing more fusion of platforms. For example, WebEx and Teams can’t talk to each other today; right now, the only way to do that is through the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). You can call out of one network over a commodity phone line and through another network on their inbound line (think dialing into a Zoom), but direct blending of the platforms will start to become more mainstream. UPN is agnostic, so we don’t pick a winner between these platforms, but we can help you connect them. That’ll be the next evolution; companies will adopt a sleek new web platform for all of their comms (voice, video, messaging).
Q: Interesting! So, with that said, where does UPN fit into the marketplace? Could you give us the latest on your voice offering?
A: In 2018, when UPN purchased former Level 3 assets that CenturyLink had divested in Albuquerque, we launched our own voice platform: FiberVoice. Then, we rolled out FiberVoice in Lincoln, Nebraska, in mid-2019, and in March of 2020, we started delivering our enterprise voice solutions network-wide. So we’re now offering FiberVoice in all markets where we provide enterprise Internet service.
Customers tap into our voice services in various ways:
● Some customers have a sophisticated, pricey traditional phone platform at their office locations, and it’s past its prime, but the cost of replacing it is extreme. We can be that path forward – we can provide legacy services now, and as they migrate voice equipment, we’ll offer modern managed voice solutions without changing the contract or delivery plan.
● On the flip side, we can be a strategy for growing businesses that need highly scalable voice solutions. Maybe today, they only need 10 call paths going into their office because the maximum traffic they’re seeing in a given day is 10 active calls, but next year, it might increase to 1,000. Our network is capable of handling 10 calls today and 1,000 calls tomorrow, and it’s very simple for us to modify our delivery to make that happen without requiring any re-engineering or re-designing of the solution. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel whenever a customer needs more phone lines; it’s just a service upgrade.
● We also offer a hosted PBX platform, which is a hybrid. It provides the same functionality you’d get from desktop telephones and phone numbers, but the client doesn’t have to own any equipment. Through this solution, customers can pay a simple, single monthly OpEx cost vs. a CapEx investment. This is great for customers who don’t have the expertise to investigate purchasing or managing voice equipment and don’t want to worry about equipment support concerns.
● Sometimes, clients simply purchase FiberVoice as a backup to mitigate outages in case of natural disasters or other events. If it’s a hospital with a decade of voice service and relationships from their legacy carrier, for example, they can’t afford to have phone outages but might not want to fully replace that carrier. So, they can augment with our service to their network.
Q: For a relatively new service, the rollout of FiberVoice has been very successful, with 5,000+ lines installed in two years across more than 170 enterprise clients. What makes UPN’s FiberVoice different from other voice solutions – what makes it an exciting new solution?
A: The answer to this is two-fold. First, we’ve been very forward-thinking and aggressive in planning and designing our voice processes, so we do all the heavy lifting for the customer. Our clients have often gone through voice migrations with other vendors throughout the years, and they realize how much of a headache changing your voice provider can be. So, we handle everything from the number porting process (plus the paperwork involved) to learning about the customer’s day-to-day operations and understanding how they need to use our services. We tailor our services to meet their business needs; we don’t just give them a few phone lines to tick the box. We do all of that in-house, and where other vendors are involved, we act as the liaison. During the actual cutover of services, we’re typically on a conference bridge with several stakeholders to coordinate all parts in real-time.
Our customers often come into this situation, dreading the process and come out of it happy that it didn’t cause the headaches they’ve had in the past. I came from the enterprise world – I knew what the stress points were and wanted to make a system that didn’t have them at any point if we could avoid it. Thanks to that, we’ve had great word-of-mouth referrals.
Secondly, we provide higher quality, more cost-effective voice solutions than huge telecom providers can because of our 100% fiber network. Traditional telcos deliver voice through analog or copper cable buried under the ground, physically connecting a company’s building to the local service center. Instead, our service is delivered via next-generation Voice over IP (VoIP) backed by a dedicated fiber network that’s monitored end to end, and we guarantee a high service quality through SLAs. Because our service is VoIP-native, it’s also more flexible and scalable for enterprises, with more advanced routing and service management. For example, we easily reroute calls from main sites to failover sites in case of an outage.
Q: As an analyst and industry veteran who’s worked for other carriers, could you give us some perspective on how unusual it is for a telecom services provider to have a fully owned fiber network?
A: Extremely unusual. Plenty of fiber-based companies have a majority fiber network, but very few have a pure fiber network. Most of the best-known telecom network providers have networks they’ve acquired over years of growth, with some fiber here, copper there, intermediary equipment here and there. The network engineering to get any service delivered, whether it’s voice or data, from location A to location Z, might mean you’re traversing many different types of technologies before you get the job done.
With UPN’s network being purely fiber end to end, it’s amazing; it’s a breath of fresh air. This design makes it so much easier to understand the network and trace problems back to the source since it’s all one system. Usually, there’s a lot of “we have to open a ticket with this vendor to look at a piece of equipment; this customer has a problem caused by that equipment that’s unique to that site.” None of that exists here. We know box A, box B, and the fiber between them. It’s a night-and-day difference that makes it very easy to do things on the fly and to change things for customers. For our voice deliveries, we can be very responsive when there’s a last-minute change. We don’t have to have multiple meetings to re-engineer the process; instead, our network allows us to be very adaptable, and customers really respond to that.
Thank you, Steven! Connect with Steven on LinkedIn, and feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions for him. Stay tuned for more Q&As with our expert team. To check out UPN’s fiber maps and see where we deliver voice services, click here.