Louisville, Kentucky-based Smoothstone IP Communications, which we recently profiled here as a pioneering converged-communications-as-a-service company, provides a wide range of IP communications services over its private, nationwide MPLS network. With the announcement last week of the new Smoothstone Meeting Center, enterprise-class Web-based collaboration has been added to that suite of services.
According to company vice president of marketing Russ Maney, Smoothstone’s flexibility in working with its clients is a key strength, enabling a multi-location company to set up different arrangements for each of its locations. “We can literally do TDM here, TDM IP trunking here, IP trunking to a call manager there, a fully managed solution there and there—and tie them all together on the same network,” he says.
And as long as each PBX supports it, those locations can be interconnected with full IP functionality, regardless of the type of deployment. “So if the PBX supported, say, four-digit dialing, we could then have four-digit dialing between our hosted platform and the on-premise IP PBX phones, for example,” Maney says. “Really, the only limiting factor is the actual capabilities of the on-premise equipment itself.”
Maney says Smoothstone’s private network is key to ensuring the quality and reliability of its services. “We literally are managing the traffic across the network nationwide, as well as each individual connection—and, to some extent, each individual phone on the desk of each one of our clients,” he says.
The new AJAX-based Smoothstone Meeting Center gives the company’s clients a fully featured online collaboration tool with a range of available “pods,” or windows, including PowerPoint slides, a whiteboard, chat, video of each participant, notes, Web links, downloadable files and more. The meeting host can easily configure any combination of the pods to fit their needs.
The video pod component allows each participant to share a video feed during the meeting, turning it into a simple videoconference. “If there are eight of us on the call, you can literally have eight little windows where you’re looking at everybody in the meeting,” Maney says.
Within Smoothstone Meeting Center, each meeting participant has a designated level of participation—they’re either controlling the entire meeting as a host, serving as a presenter and controlling only the presentation itself, or participating as a member and limited specifically to observing and participating in online chat, polls and similar group activities.
The breadth of functionality, Maney says, can be addictive. “Our salespeople just live on this thing,” he says. “If we have to include a solution design engineer who might be in another city, they can pop open a pod so that the client who’s being presented to can see both the RSM [regional sales manager] and solution design engineer, even though they’re in different cities.”
Smoothstone Meeting Center is available either for a monthly fee per port, or on a per-minute basis. Clients who use the service regularly would obviously choose the monthly pricing, while less consistent users would likely pay per minute. Regardless, Maney says the pricing is competitive with services like WebEx.
Still, the company sees Smoothstone Meeting Center as just one part of the puzzle—for Maney, it’s all about bringing a wide range of IP communications services together under a single offering. “What we’re really trying to do is use the ‘as-a-service’ delivery model to give enterprises from 50 seats up to 5,000-plus, multi-location businesses, the full benefits of convergence,” he says.
In the long run, Maney says, Smoothstone wants to meet all of its clients’ needs—and Smoothstone Meeting Center is one part of that effort. “We want to be their sole source for any of their communications needs—Internet access, data, voice, video, whatever it is,” he says. “And we have continued to develop new products like this one to expand that product set and make sure that we’ve got all the products our clients have been asking for.”