Centrex Dead or Alive?

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Tom Keating
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Centrex Dead or Alive?

Saw an interesting news release from BellSouth on TMCnet. In this release, BellSouth touts the launch of BellSouth Centrex Simultaneous Ring, a service that allows the integration of wireless and wireline calls for business customers.

"As the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, businesses are seeking to establish a seamless presence for customers," said Fred Shaftman, president - BellSouth Business. "Simultaneous Ring meets this need and BellSouth will continue to enhance the Centrex platform, as well as next-generation solutions like voice over IP, to support businesses that desire total voice management through a network-based solution."

According to BellSouth, the new feature simultaneously delivers incoming calls to up to five different phones at a customer's location. One of these numbers can be a cellular phone, allowing each employee with the feature to reduce the risk of missing critical calls from customers, partners or colleagues. The call is automatically directed to the worker's mobile location without delay, ensuring a timely connection.

Let me stress that this is NOT an IP-Centrex product offering - this is a traditional Centrex offering. I would have thought the Baby Bells and the other carriers would stop investing money in creating new features for legacy infrastructure. Ok, maybe not "stop" entirely, but I was a little caught off-guard in reading this release that BellSouth is adding an 'advanced' feature NORMALLY associated with VoIP. Centrex was at one time a very profitable business for the carriers and to some extent it still is. But if I were a BellSouth shareholder, I would have to wonder if BellSouth can see the forest through the trees; if they are indeed being near-sighted and not seeing the long-term vision of an all IP infrastructure, including Voice over IP, and of course IP-Centrex. Of course, it is the job of any company to leverage the infrastructure they currently have and spent a great deal investing in. Reminds me of Donald Rumsfeld's "You go to war with the army you have" quote.

Well, the "telecom wars" are indeed far from over. VoIP can be compared to tanks in World War I (and more so WWII) that made trench warfare obsolete. Indeed tanks changed the battlefield causing France's humiliating defeat in less than 6 weeks in WW2 since the French were preparing for a long "entrenched" trench warface. No one could foresee the impact tanks would have on warfare, and similarly none of the telecom "big boys" seemed to have foreseen the impact VoIP would have on telecom. (they should have been reading Internet Telephony Magazine back in 1997 when we said this would happen)

Will the telecom companies suffer the same fate as the French in not anticipating the changing telecom landscape? The telecom mega-mergers (surrendering and "selling out" to your competitor) seem to answer this question with a resounding "yes". History repeats itself once again.

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