Moving Voice DSL to Small Biz

3Com aims to ease providers' deployment of voice-over-DSL services with OfficeConnect wares

This week 3Com Corp. will roll out a series of routers and gateways to make it easier and faster for carriers to deploy voice-over-DSL services for small businesses.

The new OfficeConnect equipment will let large incumbent phone companies and small local phone and network service providers offer small and midsize businesses alternatives in voice telephony that were previously available only to large enterprises.

OfficeConnect base units boast a converged voice and data platform or a data platform that can be easily upgraded to a converged system. As many as 12 voice lines can be delivered over a single digital subscriber line link.

3Com, of Santa Clara, Calif., sees two primary applications for its VODSL equipment; it will give small, competitive telephony service providers another service to sell and will offer large carriers, called ILECs (Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers), a way to compete in one anothers local voice telephony markets. While it is probably not strategic for an incumbent to promote VODSL as an alternative to its own pricier voice services, it may be an economical way to compete in another incumbents local territory.

Several of the large carriers are testing OfficeConnect and other VODSL equipment for targeted deployment in the first or second quarters of next year.

Network Telephone Corp., a local exchange carrier in Pensacola, Fla., began deploying VODSL services to business customers a year ago. The company is in the process of swapping out now-defunct PathStar switches from Lucent Technologies Inc. and plans to have customers in at least five of its nine markets using a VODSL platform by the middle of next year.

To give itself a competitive edge over the encroaching ILECs, Network Telephone has spent the past year tweaking its VODSL system and is including small uninterruptible power supplies to its small-business packages to enhance their reliability, said Vincent Oddo, chief operating officer.

Oddo said he expects to retain an advantage over looming VODSL competition from the entrenched local carriers by focusing on midtier business customers. "We know for sure [the ILECs] are moving aggressively in a stealth sort of way," he said. "We know theyre right behind us."

The focus on the midmarket has paid off for Marina Management Corp., which has been using Network Telephones DSL for converged voice and data services for the past four months. Marina officials said the service is on par with any traditional telephony and high-speed broadband access alternatives.

"Weve had excellent voice quality all along, and weve never lost connectivity since they installed it," said Jim Mitchell, operations manager at Marina, of Pensacola.