Introduces the FlexNetwork recently announced the general availability of wholesale voice origination on its all-IP, nationwide FlexNetwork. Early adopters of the service include Voxeo, Yext, OnState, and Ifbyphone.

Company vice president of marketing Todd Barr says has been building the network over the past couple of years with the aim of offering a solution that’s more user-friendly than anything available from a larger provider. “We have a clean room network, if you will, that we built from scratch with the latest technology… it’s built for voice, it’s all IP, and it’s got the latest gear,” he says.

As a result, Barr says, can easily roll out new features for its customers. “A good example of that is SMS… we actually SMS-enable landlines,” he says. “You can imagine, if you’re an application platform like a Voxeo or an Ifbyphone… you could probably think of pretty cool ways to use SMS for sending out alerts if you’re running a telephone monitoring or announcement system.”

The same is true of HD voice. “Our small business customers can talk to one another on HD voice, which is twice or more the audio fidelity of a normal phone call,” Barr says. “Those are the benefits of a clean room environment to do origination: They’re not getting just dial tone and phone numbers—they’re actually getting a roadmap of pretty cool features.”

And that can make the FlexNetwork particularly attractive to startups. “If you’re going to go to a big carrier, and you’re a small startup application company and you try to negotiate a) good rates, and b) doing unique things on the network, you’re not going to get very far, Barr says. “So we’ve been able to attract customers like that because we’re smaller, we’re nimble—and we’ll turn up features for a customer, use them as a beta… and then roll that out to the rest of the customers, which is exactly what we did with SMS.”

The company says the FlexNetwork is on pace to deliver almost 4 billion minutes of voice service in 2009, serving more than 1 billion phone numbers. “I suspect that over the next year, now that we’re more public with the network and signing up bigger customers, that number will increase dramatically—because we still have capacity on the network: That’s nowhere near capacity,” Barr says.

That’s one of the reasons for the company’s recent announcement. “One of our goals is getting as many endpoints or phone numbers on the network as possible, because… we can then offer those companies peering, where they never hit the PSTN at all,” Barr says. “They make a phone call and it stays on our network, and they connect at a much lower cost and with a greater feature set.”

And that opens up a whole new world of possibilities in terms of functionality. “The more endpoints we have on the network, the more valuable the network becomes from the perspective of peering different companies and different customer sets together,” Barr says. “Then you have to start asking yourself, what is a phone call?… Maybe you start delivering video over the network. Maybe a phone call becomes an IM ping. There’s all kinds of interesting possibilities when you peer that you can’t get if you hit the PSTN.”

When next-generation mobile networks become all-IP as well, Barr says, the possibilities extend even further. “If you could connect to a 4G mobile network with a voice call and bypass the PSTN from our IP network, that would be pretty interesting… and then ultimately, since everything’s IP, you start to see unified communications not as much at the client level… but at the network level,” he says.

Ultimately, Barr says, the aim is really to shift the way that people perceive voice. “We think of voice as an IP application—we don’t think of it as a utility,” he says. “And so when you think about voice that way—and it is, indeed, an IP application today—you start to attract the kind of customers we have who are doing the type of innovation that they’re doing… it’s just a much different model than what people are used to.”

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