Covads Business VOIP: A Different Model

Opinion: Building on its GoBeam acquisition with a strong IP Centrex offering, the company touts something unique by providing its service over managed Internet but also managing and billing for end-to-end connectivity.

Covad Communications announced the launch of its enterprise VOIP service Tuesday in 42 markets, with service to 113 by the end of the year. The move follows Covads June 9 acquisition of startup GoBeam, whose enterprise VOIP offering arrived with the first wave of IP Centrex providers back in 2001.

GoBeam, based in Pleasanton, Calif., was the first company Id seen to allow its subscribers to control a softswitch and other servers through a browser. Its full-screen "Dashboard" let you click to dial from buddy lists, a new thing at the time. You clicked, and your phone rang.

Then your buddy picked up on his end. It let you drag-and-drop people into conferences, set find-me/follow-me call routing based on time of day or kind of caller, change your greeting, see and play voice mails and see faxes in an e-mail-like presentation, and also see a log of calls made, received and missed. The Dashboard also included a handy enterprise IM window.

The administrators GUI made short work of adding, dropping and changing users. Subsequent releases added call center supervisory options, which displayed the calling activity of all of the VOIP users associated with that GoBeam distributed call center account.

It was all voice-accessible, too, of course, so you could reset find-me/follow-me and hear voice mail from a phone anywhere. It came with auto attendant as well. All this—and today Web conferencing—is now part of Covads offer, along with high-speed Internet access.

Most of these telephony functions have since been adopted by many VOIP service providers arriving on the second, post-telecom-crash wave. But San Jose, Calif.-based Covad parts company with them in scale and responsibility.

Many of us already know the distinction between the Vonages and Skypes, which send voice traffic on a best-effort model over the unmanaged Internet, and those that lease IP backbone to assure quality of service.

Covad, like relative VOIP newcomers Nuvio and VoicePulse, runs its service over managed Internet, leasing long-haul IP lines and gateway POPs from wholesaler Level 3. As such, it can offer service-level agreements that guarantee voice quality.

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The larger distinction, though, is that Covad manages and bills for end-to-end connectivity. It brings the broadband connection, and it targets a larger business customer. The primarily consumer-focused VOIP providers leave the broadband connectivity up to their subscribers—who typically choose cable and DSL.

These are folks whose voice needs can be served with a handful of phone lines, traveling in packets over DSL or cable IP bandwidths. Like residential subscribers, these customers are expected to install their own VOIP adapters, which come in a FedEx or DHL box: Plug phone in one end, plug Ethernet cable in the other, plug cable to router.

Next Page: Covad guns for bigger VOIP game.