Boutique Telecom Provider Partners for Mobile UC

Sawtel Inc. is bringing up-to-date telecom to the furthest corners of the globe, but the company cannot do it alone. As a boutique carrier offering wireless communications in emerging markets, the Hartford, Conn. connectivity solutions provider is learning the virtues of outsourcing.

Most recently, Sawtel selected DiVitas Networks to provide the mobility component within its unified communications offering. While Sawtel already has established itself in 16 countries, largely in the developing world, Chief Technology Officer Eric Asare said the quickest way for it to achieve a mobility offering was to bring in an outside provider.

“We don’t believe in reinventing the wheel,” Asare said. “If somebody is already going down a path and we see the synergy, we are not going to waste energy. We are not going to build a wireless bridge just because we want to build one.”

Since opening its doors in 2001, the 135-person firm has repeatedly sought support for its offerings from outside vendors, hooking up with Microsoft for hosted Exchange abilities, Verizon for SIP and IP voice, and Meru Networks for wireless LAN gear.

“Most small companies like ours don’t want to do an end-to-end solution by themselves. They don’t even think about it,” Asare said.

Sawtel already offers a range of services, through a wireless network that integrates with a high-speed, two-way satellite backbone. Working in markets where telecom can be a scarce commodity, the company delivers VPN/VLAN applications, hosting services, multicasting and video, and network security, among other products.

But it is mobility in particular that is driving the market these days, putting economic pressure on the boutiques to supplement their existing features, according to Vivek Khuller, CEO of Mountainview, Calif.-based DiVitas.

“The VoIP carriers are looking for ways to continue to be differentiated and to find a value proposition that is not just based on cost, but on services that customers find useful,” he said.

With the big carriers increasingly turning to mobility as their next value-add, “the best thing that these VoIP carriers can do is to go to their existing customers and give them the mobilization of the fixed line on their desks, to mobilize that line onto their portable phones,” Khuller.

That is what DiVitas does, and it’s what Sawtel needs.

“You try to make a call from any Third World country to the First World, it’s going to be a dollar a minute,” Asare said. Put that same call on a cell phone via a satellite link as part of an overall unified communications package, and you get not only a high degree of reliability but also a much lower cost.

“DiVitas allows me to say: Just go get a smart phone. Once you do that, we will load this beautiful client on your phone and viola!, you have your virtual PBX, and now you can do all your text messaging, you can be more productive, and it is not going to cost you any more money,” Asare said.

If the boutiques stand to gain by outsourcing major functions, they also run a risk. A smaller shop like Sawtel cannot afford to pick the wrong provider or the wrong technology.

To ensure the right choice, “flexibility was number one,” Asare said. “We were looking for someone with the ability to change codecs, to meet changing requirements. If we have to have something in our network ‘this way,’ we need to you to be ready to re-code in order to work with our systems.”

As Sawtel courts small- to mid-sized businesses for its client base, it faces competition from other carriers looking to break into the fast-growth Third World market—so time is of the essence. “We needed to see a willingness to get the work done in a timely fashion,” Adare said.

“We can’t just say: ‘Oh, it’s good enough for Verizon, that will be good enough for us.’ In our markets, we can have a product that is good, but if it doesn’t really fit, we need to do something to make it work now, not in 18 months or whenever the next release is.”

The message to boutiques looking for third-party suppliers to deliver key capabilities: Do find a players whose core technology fits. Do find a partner ready to respond promptly to changing needs. Don’t buy what you don’t need.

Sawtel has pondered buying into Blackberry support, but has consistently shied away. “We are strongly a Microsoft-centric company, so for us to have to buy another server just so you could sync your e-mail, there is just no way,” Asare said.

For now at least, the demand is just not there to justify the expense. In Sawtel’s special niche, the Blackberry option takes a back seat to other priorities. “None of our clients want it because they basically want us to get them all that we can at the lowest cost. Price is their priority, and if we were supporting Blackberry, that cost would have to go up.”

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