Choosing a telco: Reliability

We conclude our series on how to select a telecommunications carrier with a consideration of how to assess reliability and technical smarts

Telecommunications networks are among the most reliable services on earth. Indeed, most organisations simply take the availability of telephony services for granted.

Behind the scenes, of course, enormous efforts are required to make this experience possible. And if you are considering a new carrier for your organisations, you need to know a little about those efforts so you can understand if the carrier is reliable enough to meet your needs.

One simple method of assessing reliability is to consult the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s most recent data. While this data pertains largely to consumer-grade services, 8%of complainants to the Ombudsman are small businesses.

Another useful indicator, although one available from very few carriers, is self-reporting on customer service issues. Internet Service Provider Internode, for example, publishes data about the average number of callers waiting to speak to its contact centre. Data on customer service trends can also often be found in annual reports of larger carriers and is a useful source of data to extrapolate into insights about reliability of their networks.

At a less abstract level, it is important to understand the skills of the personnel who work for carriers you are considering. Vendors who provide telecommunications equipment and software offer certifications that attest to users skills. Asking your prospective carrier to list the certifications their employees hold, and then asking them to guarantee they will always provide this level of skill, can go a long way towards ensuring that the reliability you need (and the skills to correct outages) are always available.

Another way to address reliability is to have someone other than a carrier do it for you, under a managed services deal. These arrangements see a third party take responsibility for multiple communications services, under service level agreements that can sometimes even exceed those carriers are willing to commit to. This is possible because carriers will do large deals with third party managed service providers, using weightier infrastructure than they can afford to deploy to larger customers. System integrators and outsourcers of various kinds then resell those services to you.

Analyst firm Gartner, however, cautions that not all carriers are equal, especially when you look to one carrier for multiple services.

In a September 2008 paper titled How to Source Bundled Managed Network Services, author Bjarne Munch councils that:

  • Network service providers have invested in and improved their remote device management capabilities; however, many of these providers still lack the ability to support more-involved services that require professional services and a high degree of customization. Enterprises should, therefore, also consider network-focused IT service providers in these cases.
  • To obtain the benefits of improved service levels and increased agility, providers need to have integrated processes from sales to operations. The back-end provisioning should be integrated or aligned so that provisioning for adds/moves/changes are optimized across the bundling. Operational tools need to be integrated across all involved services to ensure integrated alarm management and fast troubleshooting.

“Traditionally, there has been a reasonably clear separation between different types of providers specializing in different services; however, many providers are expanding their service coverage and evolving into traditionally unfamiliar service areas. This means that many providers have yet to gain experience in various aspects of these services from installation and configuration to ongoing operational aspects.

Generally, providers evolve along different strategies, depending on their internal skills and the specific market they compete in. Thus, enterprises need to evaluate providers' experience, with a view to regional differences (depending on each service and service bundling). Enterprises must ensure that there are competitive suppliers capable of offering the particular basket of managed network services they are interested in. This also means that enterprises should evaluate which managed services to bundle with one provider and which to take from separate suppliers.”


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