(Photo | Courtesy of LS Networks)
Let’s start with some general basics about the industry and Central Oregon’s past, because in many ways we can be thankful for the investment and forethought of our predecessors. If you arrived here after 2010, your perspective is much different than those of us who have seen the progress and been patient with the trajectory of growth given the natural obstacles of distance, geography and geology of our market place. Admittedly, the past has been painful with limited options and services that feels like pioneer days of internet and phones. But cheer up, because the future is here, and while it may not have reached your street, the time to get there is measured in months, not glacial ages like before.
Our past starts in the ’90s with Ma Bell, Bend Broadband, Satellites and rabbit ears making up Telecom options in Central Oregon. But let’s face it, this was also B.I. (Before Internet) and cell towers. Life was simple. In 1996, The U.S. Telecommunications Act opened up competition and gave birth to Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILEC’s or Baby Bells) to help identify the grandfathered entity with the best infrastructure in place. In other words, our Baby Bell was and still is Century Link. This is important to know because as the ILEC, they have responsibilities and obligations based on their legacy status from their monolithic past. Not to be too technical, but they are the owners of the infrastructure in the communities they serve and thus are compelled to expand and share their network by entering into re-sell agreements with other network users. So as designed, competition in the form of new companies came along to offer internet and phone services over coax, satellite and wireless means. Cable folks like Bend Broadband joined the party by leveraging their cable customers and expanded into the internet and phone business (Birth of the Bundle). As you can guess, the products available were not dictated by consumer needs but the strength or weakness of the existing network where you did business. Who you chose and what service you settled on was due to the limits of past technology and the vagaries of your physical address.
Today’s Internet and Telecommunication horizon is in some respects constrained by the same footprint, but technology is no longer a variable. As the world speeds up, the provider you choose still requires analysis, but now you have more options because the pace of connectivity throughout the West has made our corner of the world hyper-sophisticated. No longer do we need to suffer from slow DSL connections or antiquated Pbx phone systems. Our insatiable appetite for bandwidth with the advent of Cloud-based computing and the need to Network devices on multiple platforms is now basic to keep up with the virtual global economy. Author and futurist Ray Kurzweil uses the phrase “Singularity” and while he uses the meaning with different criteria, we can use the definition to name the intersection of computing, communications and infrastructure all colliding at a given point in time that is right here and right now!
As a former business owner back in the mid-90’s in Bend, I called my local phone company and hooked up a satellite to run my POS system. I was in business! Today I might need a cable connection for the TV in the lobby, internet connected to a firewall for security, a VPN tied to software and computers with VOIP phones that interface with mobile devices, networked printers and remote tele-workers that all require more upload speeds to send to the Cloud. It boggles the mind how sophisticated we have become. This scenario used to apply to a handful of businesses in Central Oregon, but now if you’re not thinking in these terms you might look up from your fax because your competition is.
Location, Location, Location
When locating a business there is a huge blind spot with the average business owner. The assumption is, my location has everything I need for my business. Do not assume. Some locations, are new and off network, some are aging and need wiring or remodeling, and some are not served by the provider that best suits your business. Do your homework. Start by consulting with your commercial broker or landlord, ask nearby businesses or similar businesses requiring the services you need, and finally talk with an IT professional. These folks are invaluable and will save you time and money in initial setup and troubleshooting.
The Elephant in the Room
Every provider has outages. Every provider has interruptions and require upgrades to equipment or have challenges with repair times. Down time is the fear of all business owners, and the loss of productivity or even lost revenue makes this topic highly emotional. Try to take emotion out of it. Before you have an issue, identify the people that are most vested in repairing your issue. This includes the help-desk of the software platform that runs your business, the sales professional with your provider and your IT professional. The bottom line is, prepare for these times just as you would any crisis. Here are a few things to think about. If you are a transactional business and rely on credit cards, ask your bank for a manual credit card imprinter. Know how to forward your business phones in an outage or the phone number of the person who can (usually your provider). The last reminder when choosing a provider is understanding the terms of your contract. Ask plenty of questions regarding relocation, selling, down time, repair resources and early termination fees (ETF’s). Knowing these answers might lower your stress the next time you are on hold with a foreign help desk. Ok — that’s not true but it’s good information.
Bandwidth is Cheap
Finally, the question I get the most from business owners is; how much bandwidth do I need? This isn’t the right question. The question is; what happens when I am out of bandwidth? If you share the highway to the internet it can feel like the parkway at five o’clock. Buy more than you will ever need. Also, uploads are critical. One of my customers needed to back-up each night, but every morning it failed. He didn’t have enough upload speed. If this describes you, then you might need a fiber connection with symmetrical up and down speeds. And if you are running your business phones from a system of tangled wires in the back closet, you’re sitting on a ticking time bomb. Investigate with your provider a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone system. The technology is knife’s edge with little to no CapEx and comes with on-the-fly disaster recovery when paired with a UC App. Your business will be humming at the highest level of connectivity and productivity.
Back To The Future
Our world is now connected with several redundant fiber networks coursing through Central Oregon. You are no longer stifled with limited choices or providers. You have options. By doing a little homework, your business will be going where you don’t need roads.
Network Phone & Internet Providers: Century Link (ILEC), Bend Broadband (TDS), Bend Tel (Reseller), Fatbeam LS Networks (Quantum)
Wireless & Satellite Phone & Internet Providers: Yellow Knife, Prinetime, Webformix, Hughes, Viasat