Telephone companies want to make providing Internet-based telecom products as easy as it is to order basic telephone service — and they’re willing to spend money to do that, good news for the myriad firms in the Southeast eager to make IP provisioning services a reality.

A survey by Treillage Network Strategies, a telecommunications consulting company, shows 54 percent are expecting to spend money in 2003 on IP Provisioning services. Those planning to spend money, though, are very concerned about being able to get maximum return on investment quickly — and having services that are very reliable. Treillage surveyed 202 providers worldwide.

That’s critical to companies like Cisco Systems, whose RTP facility tests some of the company’s IP Provisioning service products. Cisco’s service provider business was relatively flat in terms of orders sequentially in the U.S. for Q1FY03, according to spokesman Joe Freddoso.

IP Provisioning isn’t about the services themselves, whether it is using an Internet connection to make long-distance calls or helping a small company establish a virtual private network. It’s about offering the services in a quick, easy fashion, eliminating technician visits to the business and home if possible and helping customers quickly determine what they need.

Southeast companies working in the IP Provisioning space include Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks, which has offices in RTP and Atlanta, Lucent, Redback Networks, with a small RTP presence, and Sycamore, which has an office in Atlanta.

Internet Protocol (the term for Internet-technology based telecommunications) offerings are much more elaborate than anything a plain old telephone line can provide. If you’ve hooked up a broadband cable modem you know it is more complicated for the provider than simply slipping a CD-Rom diskette into your computer and dialing up AOL.

To date, according to Treillage, IP services haven’t been earning carriers money. Streamlining the means of providing the services could change that. “If you can’t manage, bill or provision it’s not a service,” says Deb Mielke, principal with Treillage.

Quick response needed

The biggest area of interest is in providing MPLS — multiprotocal label switching, which allows service providers for the swift routing of data streams, bringing improved performance and quality-of-service options to IP traffic. MPLS is critical to providing high quality Virtual Private Networks. VPNs allow companies to hook up remote offices on a private network. If you can log into your company’s computer system from a home computer, your company supports a VPN.

Thirty percent of carriers offer MPLS services and 40 percent plan to offer them.

But key to providing this service and others is being able to do it quickly. Sixty-six percent of carriers say they want to be able to provide service in a day or less. “The only way they’re going to achieve that is with network based solutions. You can’t do it with truck rolls (dependence on staff visiting a customer site),” says Hudson Gilmer, manager of product marketing for Avici Systems.

One possible way to speed things up is to allow customers to order services online. About 22 percent of carriers have begun to do that and more want to, although 30 percent say have no plan to offer web-based ordering services.

Ultimately, however carriers decide to offer services, speed is a critical component. “With all things being equal, deployment speed can make or break a sale,” says Dave DiGirolamo, director of marketing for Cisco Systems.

Keeping the work in-house

The companies that will win dollars from service providers will need products that are easy to integrate and work quickly. Fifty-five percent of carriers want to keep IP Provisioning services in-house, which means they need products that integrate with what they already have. Huge outsourcing projects are not popular. “Our customers want multi-service provisioning tools,” DiGirolamo says. “Large customers want to own and build it.”

“I think they’re going back to keeping tight control of the system,” says Gilmer. “System integration is the key.”