Integrated Communications Provider

TalkingNets, Wilmington, N.C.

Almost by definition, anyone operating in the ICP space is an innovative service provider, since combining voice and data on a single network infrastructure remains a giant leap for most service providers. Our judges chose CEO John Philips TalkingNets for its innovation in providing telephony over an IP network with the full range of voice service features.

"They are bringing business voice services to market over an IP network with an evolutionary approach to features that is reflected in business model as well as technology," Mine says. "Centrex has been challenged by a lack of feature development; IP Centrex will be challenged by the same problem if the business models are not there to [provide incentives to] developers and service providers to innovate."

The company offers virtual private branch exchange services to small and midsize businesses, the features of which rival those usually sold only to much larger companies, including priority alerts and selective call forwarding, as well as customer self-management of services via a browser interface. All services are provided over TalkingNets private exchange network, which delivers voice service over broadband access networks.

Businesses dont have to invest in infrastructure up front, so there are no heavy capital charges; there is also no need for a business to maintain an expensive IT staff. Customers can upgrade, add users and stay current with features, up to and including the temporary addition of bandwidth for major voice conferences, through the browser interface. The company also offers flat-rate local calling, and low-cost long-distance and toll-free services.

Heckart views TalkingNets as more of a voice ISP, but agrees the company is "highly innovative." Smetannikov credits the company with bringing the benefits of voice-over-packet to small and midsize businesses.

Others receiving votes: Bell Canada, Mpower Communications

Previous winners: TelePacific Communications (2000)