The Language of Business Services
by Leslie Ellis // August 08 2007
The business of serving businesses over cable plant matters because it’s repeatedly referenced, by the mucketiest of cable mucks, as the industry’s next big growth zone. Buckets of cash are just sitting there, waiting to be stacked into the back of the truck. The cash is the double-digit billions of dollars paid annually to telephone companies, by businesses with two dozen-ish employees, for phone and data services.
Here are a few things to know going in to this subject.
For starters: Serving telecommunication products to businesses is a whole different thing. It’s more dry than juicy. It’s very old. As a child, it was telephone over a copper wire, and it still is — 100+ years later. It’s demanding. Fastidious. Intolerant of problems.
In other words, doing business with business is nowhere near marketing video services to consumers. At a consumer level, the kind of excitement this sector generates is roughly equivalent to the excitement you feel, every time your company mandates the use of a new phone system. (Including the four hours of mandatory training time in the conference room.)
Lastly, know that the telephone companies, as a group, had 50 extra years to create their incomprehensible blendings of six and seven letters acronyms. “DOCSIS” is child’s play to this lexicon. Fat dictionaries exist to help people maneuver through it.
In this translation, we’ll focus on three terms you’ll probably bump into, if you choose to partake in business services: “PRI,” “fractional T-1,” and “IP-PBX.” All three terms relate to voice.
Voice is the lead dog in the business services pack, especially when marketing to companies with 20 or fewer people. Get it right, and you’re in better shape to attract even bigger companies.
Most MSOs size their voice products (in part) by number of lines: One to four lines, five to eight lines. That’s where the fractional T-1 intersects. It’s a telco term. The “T-1” is a measure of size, in raw bandwidth or in telephone channels. Specifically, a T-1 line carries either 1.5 Megabits per second, or 24 phone connections.
(“PRI,” for “Primary Rate Interface,” is the telco standard that spawned T-1 channelization — 1.5 Mbps, or 24 phone lines. It usually arises as a tech-side grumble: “Why can’t we provide customers with service for their IP-PBX, without having to interface with legacy PRI?”)
But what if your company doesn’t need 24 lines — you only need, say, eight? You don’t want to pay for the whole T-1. You just want an 8-line chunk of it. A fraction.
As a telco service facing cable competition, “fractional T-1” looks like fruit hanging so low, even an earthworm could reach it. Depending on how many fractions of a T-1 you buy, your bill puts you back between $275 – $475 a month. Hence the market for five to eight-line voice.
Let’s say you buy eight lines of voice, from your local cable company, for your business. While you’re at it, you buy a nice big data package, too.
But you still need a new PBX, so that your people can call each other by dialing an extension, and not a phone number. You start shopping around.
The logic around buying an IP-PBX is this: You’re already getting eight lines of voice in IP. You have this broadband package. Why buy an “old fashioned” PBX from the telephone company, which probably isn’t plumbed for IP? Maybe you’re better off with an IP-PBX.
That’s a quick, back-to-school crash course on the latest language of cable B2B. The end game is to fracture the fractional T-1s, leapfrog the legacy PRI gunk, and push out IP-PBX.
This column originally appeared in the Technology section of Multichannel News.
Summer ’07 Tech Roundup
by Leslie Ellis // August 06 2007
Two topics caught my attention at the recent CTAM Summit — one for its conversational omnipresence, in sessions and hallways, and the other for its ramifications on all who call themselves broadband providers.
Did anyone else note the rising buzz around the two words, “advanced advertising?” Maybe not quite as buzzy as “the bundle” was a few years ago, but still: Those two words came up enough times at the Summit to seem a good candidate for translation. What is advanced about advanced advertising?
Point of reference: My first job out of college was writing hardware and software manuals for a small company that made advertising insertion equipment for cable companies. This was in the mid-’80s, when “advanced advertising” technology meant “random access” spot delivery — or that in one 2-minute break, four ¾-inch tape machines could be rigged to each play out a 30 second spot.
At the time, this was huge. The alternative, and the “old fashioned way,” was to edit the tapes so that each spot played right after the one before it, out of one machine, and with no means for changing things up, short of recompiling the tape.
This was back when local cable ad sales departments were busy taping the bulls-eye onto local broadcasters, to nick their advertising dollars. It was before “the Internet” put the bulls-eye on cable and broadcasters, to gather its share of the gobs of cash spent on advertising.
(And, as Time Warner Media Sales chief Joan Gillman pointed out during a CTAM Summit session, “that pie isn’t necessarily getting bigger.”)
These days, “advanced advertising” can be split into two major components, each with its own eco-system and players. First is the behind-the-scenes stuff. Right off the bat, that means it’s not consumer-facing, but instead lives in the technicolor goo of the “back office.”
It includes everything needed to provide better measurability of a TV ad, as well as better spontaneity — or, the ability to refresh content or message on the fly, or at least faster. The benchmark here is “the Internet,” which is innately measurable and spontaneous.
The other major component of “advanced advertising” is the consumer-facing, hopefully sexier stuff. This includes all categories of interactive advertisements, such as “telescoping” into a stored/longer format ad, bookmarking a TV ad for later viewing (“that interests me but I don’t want to interrupt what I’m doing right now”), and clicking on an ETV/”trigger”-based ad.
Transcending both categories is the lingering and enormous challenge of the unified front. That means making a front-end cohesive enough for a national brand to “buy cable,” and not buy space on cable’s individual constituents.
If advanced advertising is indeed one of the industry’s sweeter growth vessels (along with business services), then it’s probably safe to expect that this decades-old unity problem will move to the front burner, strategically and technologically. Translation: Watch for considerable action around “interconnecting the interconnects.”
As for the second Summit observation — the one with ramifications on all who call themselves broadband services providers — it came from an afternoon session about home networking, hosted by Sandy Teger and Dave Waks, of Broadband Home Central.
It is this: By the time we’re all wondering how it is that three years could’ve passed since that Summit when HDNet’s Mark Cuban confidently proclaimed the Internet “dead,” there will be wireless broadband radios and gizmos on the market that promise enough speed to do “wireless HD.”
Specifically: A new version of WiFi, called 802.11n, and a wireless form of the USB connector, known as “UWB,” for “Ultra Wideband.” Both promise boffo broadband speeds: Upwards of 100 Mbps for 802.11n, and a crazy 480 Mbps for UWB. (From the Grain of Salt Department: “I’ll be nice and say that some of these speeds are wildly exaggerated,” Waks said.)
How would you use it? The example given for the latter was a camcorder, outfitted with UWB. You happen to catch a glorious sunset shot, in HD. Or your daughter, swimming in HD with a dolphin. Or your brother, with a glob of HD spinach in his HD teeth.
You get the UWB camera near the PC, and the image transfer … just happens. Poof.
As with anything else, it probably won’t be that fast, that soon, or that easy. But those two examples came from a list of about 10 new home networking techniques, all hoping to be the one to move big files around a home, with or without wires.
(Un)hook me up!
This column originally appeared in the Technology section of Multichannel News.