When telecommunications companies go shopping, they can only acquire their equipment from a small number of vendors. All carriers, however, will maintain that their services are excellent. So how can you assess the quality and breadth of a telco’s products?
One important step is to assess whether a carrier is charging more for their services than their rivals, an exercise that can be accomplished using dedicated software or dedicated consultancies. The latter style themselves as “phone brokers” and claim to have mastered the dark art of making valid comparisons between competing carriers plans.
Once you have a report on a carrier’s prices, you will be in a position to understand which charge a premium for their services, at which point you can ask why! Hopefully, the answers on offer will yield further information about the particular qualities of the carrier’s offering that represent superior quality or different operating models.
Another way to compare the quality and breadth of a carrier’s offerings is to test them.
When you are considering a new carrier, they will almost certainly be amenable to conducting a pilot of their services. Pilots can be as simple as providing you with mobile handsets to test coverage claims. More complex pilots can see you offered the kind of premises equipment a carrier prefers, along with installation and the chance to operate the equipment in a test environment. For an even more thorough pilot, consider operating a carrier’s proposed solution in a small office to gather weeks or months of real-world operational experience. Trialling competing carriers in a similarly-sized office can give you the chance for a competitive test.
If you are large enough to have dedicated telecommunications staff, you may also wish to investigate carriers’ own captive exchanges. These facilities are typically established by carriers so that they can test the equipment they use to provide services to their customers, or develop new configurations for deployment as new products or to meet individual customers’ needs. Because captive exchanges are offline, you may be able to get hands on with the equipment and observe how the carrier prefers to operate it, giving you valuable insights into the rigours (or otherwise) of their operating procedures and helping you to understand the likely quality of service you will receive.
It is also worthwhile learning about the nuances of a carrier’s service that translate into good service for specific carriage products.
For example, in a July 2009 paper, “Sourcing MPLS Services in Australia, Provider Evaluation, 2009 “ analyst firm Gartner offers a list of considerations specific to organisations seeking Multiprotocol Label Switching services. That list includes:
- Reach – Reach translates into the geographical footprint a carrier offers, to help you understand if the carrier can service all of your offices;
- Access reach – Access reach is the extent to which a carrier can connect you to their services, beyond the reach of the primary service – in this case MPLS – that you seek;
- Class of Service SLAs – COS SLAs include guarantees of latency rates, packet loss and jitter
- Application networking – Applications can often consume more or less bandwidth than initially imagined. Carriers should therefore offer the ability to alter agreements once their customers’ networks go live, to allow the fine-tuning that is all-but-inevitable once applications go into production over the network.
- A reporting portal – Gartner says “Enterprises sourcing MPLS services should expect detailed reporting portals that offer reporting of SLA metrics per COSs, router health, bandwidth utilization per interface, per class and per application.”
Understanding all of these issues will help you to distinguish between different carriers offerings. Along the way you will have a chance to understand how each carrier makes use of the equipment that drives its services, giving you the chance to understand the true quality of the offerings they propose.