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Evaluating telecom carriers: Identifying your needs to find a provider

When evaluating telecom carriers to find the best fit for your company, remember that each has strengths and weaknesses. What do you need to know before talking to a carrier rep?

How do I know which telecom carrier will provide the most value and telecom services to meet my company's needs?

There are scores of telecom carriers; my company alone represents more than 100. In order to determine which telecom carriers might match up best with your company, it is important to keep in mind that each carrier has its strengths and weaknesses.

Here's what you should do before ever talking to representatives from telecom carriers:

  • Start by identifying what you need and want. This is crucial. Too often, companies put the carrier selection in front of the need. If you determine that you need a 4.5 Mbps SIP handoff integrated voice/Internet circuit with MPLS, for example, that narrows the field to a manageable number to evaluate.

If you're not 100% comfortable in making this determination on your own, consider working with an agency to do so. They are like travel agents, and they should not charge for their services. Many companies rely on their hardware vendors to make those determinations for them, but I don't advocate that. Many integrators have agency agreements with a few telecom carriers; as a result, they are beholden to and biased toward those carriers. In addition, most VARs are focused on selling you their core solutions -- network, voice or UC solutions -- and they simply won't do as good a job as a telecom specialist would in making the determination. (By the way, many UC applications can be handled by telecom carriers themselves, so a good agent/consultant can help you get more bang for your buck.)

  • Determine the basics of what you need by performing a telecom analysis. The kind of thorough analysis that can help you reduce your telecom costs should give you basic information, such as the number of effective telephone lines you have and the number you need (these numbers often differ), as well as your total usage (the aggregate number of local, local toll, long distance, international and inbound, and toll-free minutes used).

If you are doing something to your network like rolling out UC solutions, adding a SAN or redesigning your WAN, get the telecom carrier network design from your VAR with specifics as to bandwidth and phone lines. If they can't give you that or justify why not, you need to get an agent or a different VAR.

  • Determine the qualities in a service provider that are important to you and how you measure them, and rank them in terms of importance. For example, if customer service is your top priority, you need to decide how people you don't know could convince you that their company provides the best customer service. Is it Gartner graphs? Or references? (I'm not a big fan of references; any company should be able to find five people who are happy with them.)
  • Find the service providers. You can probably name several off the top of your head. But there are literally hundreds of ILECs, local and national CLECs, resellers, aggregators and data centers, all of which want your business. Unfortunately, there's no easy way of identifying them on your own. I don't care how much experience you have in IT or telecom management, this is a difficult task if you want all of your options laid out in front of you.

Honestly, your best bet is to work with an agent whose job it is to keep up on these things. But if you are committed to doing it on your own, good luck. You're free to use the list I have compiled. You will want to call the telecom carriers and ask them whether they have the product you are looking for. If they do, schedule the meeting.

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