This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of InfoTECH SPOTLIGHT
VoIP gateways are essential to ensuring that today’s voice networks are secure and reliable. Each year, a growing number of enterprises and SMBs make the decision to part ways with their legacy phone service to adopt IP-based communication systems, which allow voice and data to travel over the same network.
InfoTech Spotlight sat down with Burt Patton (News - Alert), executive vice president of Patton Electronics, and co-founder of the Gaithersburg, Md.-based company to talk about the future of VoIP and other “over-IP” technologies that are integral to truly Unified Communications.
During recent months, Patton’s operations have steadily gained momentum in the VoIP and Unified Communications sectors as Patton has focused on strengthening relationships with key business and technology partners in the Americas and worldwide. VoIP systems are growing in popularity in businesses of all sizes because they offer a host of benefits, including reliability, flexibility and substantial cost savings compared to traditional phone service.
Burt Patton told InfoTech Spotlight what’s ahead for the industry, how Patton will continue to stay ahead of the curve, and what’s needed to realize “UC nirvana.”
EH: You know we are using an unusual photo of you on the cover of you with the Patton Band. Tell me about the Patton’s Band.
BP: Too funny! It’s interesting there are a lot of musicians in this business; and maybe a lot of wanna be rock stars in the industry. We have a lot of fun playing and entertaining at various company events. We have played parties at the CeBit show in Germany. We’re not that good, but people do check them out a lot on Facebook (News - Alert) and YouTube.
If you think about it business is a big part of life. At Patton we believe life is an adventure and adventures are fun. So, we like to make it fun and to a group of us at Patton, rockin-out is blast. My daughter Hope said it well; when she was 7 years old she visited the office and made me sign, which I keep on the wall in my office. “Work for money, work for fun. If you don’t, there won’t be none.”
EH: How has Voice over IP evolved in the past 3 to 5 years, and how is Patton on the leading edge of those evolutions?
BP: Well, VoIP as a technology has been around and used for more than a decade. Most advances in telecom start at the core of the carrier network and then migrate outward from the edge to access and then to the enterprise (Customer Premise). Usually, large enterprises are the first to adopt new technologies; in the case of VoIP, these larger enterprises gain the greatest benefit from the savings, efficiencies and ability to integrate or “unify” systems. But, the street level reality about VoIP is that only in these last five years have we seen the SME customers adopting the technology in mass, which means that we are only now really crossing the infamous chasm at this point.
But VoIP is really just a step along with way and a precursor technology to Unified Communications. Unified Communications is today a reality, but the “unification” part of it is a moving target, because every day we have new devices, new applications and new models for delivering services.
So to answer your question and get to the point:
· VoIP and other “over-IP” technologies are a required component of Unified Communications. VoIP is really now being adopted by SMEs and UC is not going to be far behind. The evolution in this regard is evidenced to Patton by our own strong VoIP revenues in the SME market.
· The carriers, on a global basis, are now deploying NG services on the Softswitch Platform’s they have deployed over the last 5 years.
· The migration to IPPBXs in the Enterprise is now in full swing.
· Virtual, Hosted or “cloud” based services are emerging and Unified Communication technology and acceptance in this same space is becoming more possible.
These trends are largely driving our success. To enable real migration to UC, VoIP has to be moving from a gateway function to an intelligent router function. Wide Area Networks are getting smarter (cloud), local area networks are also getting smarter, and so must the edge devices. Patton’s put a tremendous effort in bridging the LAN-WAN border with new devices designed translate from one smart system to another. This can be seen in our session border routers with transcoding for example. Since VoIP is taken up at different times with different systems in the LAN and the WAN, new challenges arise that consider the CODECs as well as the protocols and applications deployed on both sides of the network demarcation.
EH: Who is Patton’s primary customer? Is there a particular segment or vertical you cater to? Why?
BP: Well yes. Our VoIP router business is about evenly split between enterprise sales and carrier sales. Carrier’s use our products to deliver business class VoIP services to SMEs. Large enterprises use the technology to unify with their branch offices; which are really internal SME customers. So, the SME is the customer and an important one. SMEs are the pillar of the global economy. The technology and related services have now evolved to the point where these SMEs gain a lot in productivity by adopting VoIP.
So, we have catered our product development and marketing strategies around the SME customers. We talk about our company as “middle market” and products as “business class.” For this SME market we are really ideally positioned as an American manufacturer. High volume and low cost consumer products cannot provide the quality and functionality required for professional use. These small businesses do care about things like QoS, reliability, survivability etc. High-end enterprise products are too expensive and usually misfit. The applications in the SME space are more diverse and the technology combinations are unlimited. The need to bridge essential legacy systems is often present. The SMEs define their own needs based on their strategic objectives and competitive needs. They must have the ability to bridge these specializations onto the wider network. We often brag that Patton SmartNodes are the most interoperable, most configurable (because it’s homegrown), best QoS and most complete product range in the market. Patton products do cover really the full range of interfaces, port counts and features for this market. Our products reach these customers either in combination with a service or through a system integrator.
EH: The term Unified Communications is used quite broadly. What is Patton’s definition of Unified Communications and how are businesses adopting these technologies?
BP: Microsoft (News - Alert) defines Lync and OCS as Unified Communications, Cisco pretty much wants to define anything it sells as Unified Communications. Anyway, Unified Communications is the ability to access all relevant communication mediums on any device, through a single expert system. Businesses really want to realize streamlined integration of communication tools, applications etc., but almost always it’s not a big jump, but several steps towards a goal.
It could be that in order to realize UC nirvana, we need really the “cloud” and everything we do in it. In the meantime, unification for most business is a migration. Businesses are dealing with diverse systems; sometimes geographically dispersed with different types and quality of available broadband services at branch offices etc. Many have various levels of readiness in their legacy systems to really achieve unification. In many cases those legacy systems provide mission-critical tools. This is an area where our SmartNodes really shine. Patton’s SmartNodes connect directly to any WAN access technology and just about any telephony device. We can then intelligently route telephony calls (or fax, etc.) based on a host of user-defined parameters. We call it “any-service on any-port anytime.” It also unifies people across regions, from countries still with old TDM or frame relay access technologies to developed regions with advanced DSL or FTTX technologies.
EH: Explain the role of VoIP gateways and the significance they play in carrier adoption.
BP: I like IAD with an emphasis on integrated. At Patton, we consider these IADs as advanced routers; because the gateway function is only one small part of what is needed by the SMEs. These gateway/routers are a critical transition and migration element to both VoIP and UC for both carriers and enterprises. To this day a majority of SMEs have conventional telephony systems installed and are using legacy PSTN services. For VoIP service providers it is important to be able to connect these customers to their service (e.g. SIP trunk) in a reliable way; without having to know and understand 100’s of different PBX (News - Alert) systems. This is where we come in, with standard telephony interfaces on one side and a highly interoperable and stable SIP implementation on the other.
EH: Looking ahead, what areas does Patton plan to focus on in terms of making its next series of advancements?
BP: From a product point of view, Patton will continue to deploy intelligence in the edge. We are focused on business-class devices that are very aware of the applications they serve and maximize performance for those applications. One example is our focus on FAX and ISDN in our SmartNodes. By focusing to make these kinds of applications really work and create a unique value for our customers. We see more and more migration from TDM-to-IP to IP-to-IP application. The new IP-to-IP application and the migration path itself will be the place we want to invest our innovations. If your readers do not know it yet, we have started launching our SmartNode Enterprise SBCs.
We will continue to forge further and tighter integration with leading Softswitch, IPPBX and Unified Communication developers. We have great technology collaboration with the industry; from vendors with small SME solutions like 3CX to Microsoft (Patton SmartNodes are currently OCS Certified and will soon be certified on Lync). We will also continue to engage the important and influential channels like 888VoIPStore. This guy named Kerry Garrison has really made some very helpful Video Tutorials on SmartNodes. Anyone depending on Windows should read Matt BlogSpot dealing with Windows UC issues.
Without saying too much about our specific plans, we will continue to emphasize security, automated provisioning and network integration as the SmartNode software continues to evolve with the market.
EH: How does running a “family” business allow you to better understand the needs of your customers?
BP: You know there are many ways to answer that question. But let me get something straight: That we are a family business should not imply “mom and pop” in any respect. We are a multi-national corporation, doing business in 160 countries with operations around the world. Our family is also huge; I have five brothers and four sisters (that’s a family of 12 counting my parents. I have nice kids of my own and my father has like 75 direct-living decedents, including his kids, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Most businesses are small businesses; many small businesses are family businesses. Most of these SME customers are just like us. We understand their value to the economy, their values as a family and what they value in their businesses. We know they must be competitive in their own right; which means realizing the greatest benefit for the least investment. They are looking for honest-value and they take decisions cautiously.
SMEs must find partners and not just vendors; because technology to a small business can be a healthy or unhealthy dependency. Being Patton to these customers really means something. As a company, we are not making decision for any other reason besides the needs of our customer and movement in the market. We are not running the company with an exit strategy or to change our stock price. We are both forward leaning and conservative.
It translates into tangible benefit to our customers- both large and small. We really have a lot of customer loyalty because whenever a Patton product is chosen, we stand with the customer. If something goes wrong we fix it at our expense; if they are still dependent on the product, we don’t just discontinue it; if they need new features, we implement those features provided it’s possible within the laws of the universe. Call it old-fashioned family values.
EH: What are the biggest VoIP trends you are seeing so far this year?
BP: We see three major trends.
EH: Are there any market predictions you’d like to make for the next 10 years? How is Patton building on its expertise in integrated network access, transmission, IP and frame relay technologies?
BP: Well, frame relay is pretty much out of the picture from our perspective. The future is still Ethernet (fiber, EFM, PON etc), and IP and a multitude of services on top. Hardware is becoming more generic and software more specific. We will build on our expertise in business class VoIP technologies to provide high-value CPEs with a rich service layer that communicates with hosted or cloud based services.
The next big wave is machine-to-machine communications – or what I call the industrialization of the Internet (not just the commercialization of it). The integration of real-time communications and network performance monitoring will be a key to enabling a truly smart-node on the industrial Internet. We are looking for smart grid related partnerships.