ISPCon: Focus on Improving Internet Service

At the ISPCon trade show in Baltimore, MD this week, the focus of the attendants was on enhancing quality of service–a phrase that increasingly refers to not only the usability of applications, such as turnkey e-commerce products or toll-quality IP telephony, but the existence of those applications themselves.

And in the face of fights over control of the Internet’s fiber and wireless
infrastructure, the industry appears to have broken into two factions:
those who care, and those who don’t.

IBM, for one, doesn’t care. “What we hope to do is grab the applications layer that rides on top of transport,” said Marni Ehrlich, director of ISP products for IBM Global Telecommunications. “Our strategy is to build logical software that ties together and brings higher value for ISPs.”

IBM, which plans to use its experience hosting large-scale Web events like as a springboard for selling products, showcased the beta
version of the software used in running the official Nagano Winter Olympics
Web site.

“We’re going to let people benefit from where we’re taking these products,”
said Randall McComas, vice president of telecommunications for IBM Global
Telecommunications. “It’s not as simple as dropping into Nagano,
and–poof–you’re there. But hopefully, someday it will be.”

Concentrating on the applications layer makes a lot of sense from a
profitability point of view, said William Schrader, president and CEO of
PSINet, which has been acquiring ISPs around the world to establish a customer base for future development of voice over IP products.

“We’re not going to make money charging ten cents a minute for domestic
phone calls,” said Schrader. “But having customers in the U.S. and Canada
and around the world, that’s a lot of business customers who want to get in
touch with Western Europe.”

PSINet spokesman Mike Binko added, “The model for those new types of
value-added applications is along the lines of the Internet service
providers. You’re going to see internal enterprise use of IP as an
alternative delivery mechanism for data packets, whether it be fax, whether
it be voice packets. It’s a model that’s in place, and it works very well
over the switched-frame architecture that PSINet has put together.”

Doug Hanson, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Internet (RMI), which recently entered the CLEC business in Colorado
and announced plans to offer IP telephony, said that Internet service today
is analogous to telcos that just provide a dial tone–and nothing more.

“Telcos don’t get anything from customers dialing one plus the area code
plus the number,” he said. “They want to sell you enhanced services, such
as call waiting, call forwarding, Caller ID. Those things don’t cost
anything. In the same way, I don’t need you to be my ISP customer at $19.95
per month; I want to sell you add-on features.”

Companies like MediaGate and GRIC want to be a part of that initiative by facilitating ISPs’ desire to offer value-added services.

MediaGate announced the availability of its EdgeCommander remote access server, which works with the company’s iPost unified messaging system to give users–typically business users–access to voice, e-mail, pager, and fax data via the Internet. And GRIC announced the latest partner, Fujitsu/Niftyserve, in its consortium for global roaming access.

“We will offer very good service, equivalent to the PSTN [public switched
telephone network], when we roll out IP telephony,” said Christophe Culine,
vice president of sales and marketing at GRIC. “We will be able to offer 20
to 30 cents a minute, as opposed to the 50, 60, 70 cents paid through MCI
or AT&T.”

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