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Vol. 17, No. 36 Week of September 02, 2012
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

AK-WA Connection 2012: Providers market new high-tech services

Rapidly changing industry offers Alaska businesses numerous opportunities to maximize the potential of telecommunications advances

By Rose Ragsdale

Alaska-Washington Connection

A high-tech revolution is underway in telecommunications services, as an industry that defines itself by change is once again inundated by advancements that Alaska providers are bringing to customers in cost-effective ways.

Whether it’s high-speed Internet, network management, wireless network or IT services or design, engineering and construction of industry-specific solutions, telecommunications companies that serve the Alaska-Washington business community are working to identify and offer the best in the industry to their clients, while expanding with new services and into new markets.

Leveraging assets

Alaska Communications recently launched new home Internet, business Internet and small- and medium-size business services.

From its Anchorage headquarters and 33 retail and agent locations across Alaska, the company serves the fastest-growing segment of telecommunications users – data dependent consumers and enterprises – and leverages its legacy as a local telephone company to support its wireless and enterprise data network.

Alaska Communications, formerly Alaska Communications Systems or ACS, has 887 employees and owns fully incorporated infrastructure for the major telecommunications platforms: wireless communications, Internet networking, and local and long distance phone service. Its wireless network covers 85 percent of the Alaska population with high-speed wireless data for more than 75 percent of Alaskans.

In addition to owning a statewide 3G CDMA network, the company offers businesses fixed-data solutions delivered over a statewide Metro Ethernet and MPLS network through data-hosting centers and submarine fiber networks connecting Alaska to the Lower 48 and through professionals who provide managed services.

Calling the tough Alaska terrain its “digital playground,” Alaska Communications provides data network, WAN optimization, wireless and IT (End-to-End network management for businesses), and network management and “ConstantlyOnIt” (managed services and IT solutions to the end -user level) services.

The company recently augmented its professional services product line through an investment in and partnership with TekMate, a leading IT services firm in Alaska that, like Alaska Communications, also extends its services to the Lower 48.

Alaska Communications also provides hosted services, disaster recovery, HD video conferencing, and fleet management, which is a GPS and cellular-based technology that enables a company to monitor its fleet remotely from an online computer or even a smartphone. The provider has designed industry-specific solutions for health care, education, financial services and the wholesale and carrier sector.

The company recently launched a new business Internet service with speeds up to 15 megabits per second that delivers unlimited business Internet access with no data limits or overage charges. With no caps on Internet use or overage fees, businesses can enjoy unlimited data transfer without worrying about unanticipated overage charges.

“The Internet drives small business, now more than ever before,” said Eric Lazo, Alaska Communications vice president of product and marketing. “We want our business customers to enjoy reliable high-speed Internet service so they can focus their attention on connecting with customers without the concerns that come from hidden fees or data caps.”

The service also features a secure, consistent connection and does not share a connection with other users. Data speeds are scalable up to 15 Mbps. The service comes with free on-site setup, built in Wi-Fi, on-site speed tests to assure connection performance, a domain and e-mail hosting unique to your company, virtual private network accessibility to give employees the ability to remotely connect to the office and technical support.

Alaska Communications is also marketing combined phone, fax and Internet services in packages designed for small businesses with up to 10 employees.

Cloud coverage

AT&T is another provider that is helping to re-map the telecommunications landscape in Alaska.

With a focus on strengthening its telecommunications infrastructure in Alaska, AT&T operates 15 company-owned retail locations and employs 549 workers in the state. From 2009 through 2011, AT&T invested more than $650 million in its Alaska wireless and wireline networks.

In addition to about $10 million in local and state taxes that it pays annually, the company spent more than $29 million on goods and services purchased from suppliers based in Alaska in 2011.

Since November, AT&T has launched several new business solutions and updates, focusing on its roster of cloud services as part of a strategy to meet the needs of a wide variety of users, including large and medium enterprises, developers, and Internet-centric businesses. Among the new services is AT&T Synaptic Compute as a ServiceSM with VMware vCloud® Datacenter Service, a virtual private cloud offer for mid-market and large enterprises that allows VMware customers to extend their private clouds across and into AT&T’s network-based cloud using AT&T’s industry leading virtual private network. The new enterprise-class cloud service combines technologies from virtual private networking industry leader AT&T and cloud infrastructure software industry leader VMware.

Like AT&T’s other cloud offers, this new cloud capability is embedded directly into its network. This means computing and storage services can be scaled, managed, routed and delivered to business customers, down to virtually any fixed or mobile device, quickly and flexibly, on demand, with enterprise-grade security and performance.

The benefits of this “virtual private cloud” include the flexibility and cost efficiencies of using private and public cloud systems interchangeably and strategically. The service allows users to rapidly provision and scale-compute resources. It also easily and flexibly shifts workloads between private clouds and AT&T’s network-based cloud. It also supports bursting, data center extensions, disaster recovery, and mobile application development and deployment.

“Our new cloud offer with VMware can help customers simplify the way they orchestrate their cloud resources between private and public clouds, allowing them to have the best of both worlds,” said John Potter, vice president, As a Service Solutions, AT&T Business Solutions.

Concur, a leading cloud provider of integrated travel and expense management solutions based in Redmond, Wash., uses “AT&T Synaptic Compute as a Service” for its disaster recovery capabilities. The company, which has virtualized almost 80 percent of its IT environment over the past three years with VMware cloud infrastructure software, expects AT&T’s new Synaptic Compute as a Service to allow it rapid access to compute capability in the event of an outage in its primary network.

AT&T’s other cloud-based services include “AT&T Cloud Architect,” which allows developers and web-centric businesses to build an online business or run an application quickly with low operating costs by providing quick and cost-efficient access to highly flexible, integrated computing and application development services; and “AT&T Unified Communications Services,” a package of cloud-based solutions that bring the benefits of unified communications to businesses of all sizes as a simple, reliable, carrier-grade service that helps organizations control costs and eliminate unpredictable expenditures.

New competitor

One of the most ambitious industry initiatives underway in Alaska is that of Futaris, formerly Alaska Telecom Inc.

Calista Corp., the Alaska Native regional corporation for the Yukon-Kuskokwim region of Alaska, purchased Alaska Telecom, a provider of technical telecommunications services in Alaska, 3 ˝ years ago and gained 8(a) designation for the company.

With a new name that means “futuristic, optimistic and limitless” and a new logo, Futaris aims to convey to customers its dramatic transformation during the past 18 months.

“We kind of re-invented ourselves. We went from being a retailer to a carrier. We now compete with AT&T and (others), and we want to grow,” said Futaris President Daniel J. Boone, in a recent interview.

The company got its start more than 30 years ago when Alaska developed its oil fields. With microwave communication towers, it offered a combination of land and mobile radio communications linked by microwave and satellite.

When Boone joined the company in 2011, he set out to identify significant technology patterns and trends and understand what the company’s customers want and provide those services.

“I look at where technology is taking us into the future and literally drag the future into the present. You have to be nimble in this business,” he said. “We want to develop products that ride applications on top of what we have. Our goal is to align, anticipate, and act.”

Futaris recently purchased Atcontact, a satellite company with two teleports in Denver and Anchorage. “We would buy satellite services from them, but we realized that we needed to turn the tables. So we also purchased Sequestered Solutions, a private cloud computing company based in Anchorage.

Today, Futaris owns a global satellite communications system with coverage in most parts of the world, including both the North and South poles, and more than 1,000 V-Sat locations in North Dakota and Wyoming, primarily used by oil and gas customers; its system also has spread to areas of Utah and Texas. The company also offers broadcast television services in Latin America and Florida, provides the National Science Foundation with a feed to Antarctica, and has penetrated business markets in Canada, especially among mining companies.

“We’re expanding our global coverage. We’ve upgraded the Colorado teleport by installing another 11-meter antenna pointed at a different satellite. We’ve gotten permits to install two more, and we’re looking at other regions in the world where we want to offer our services,” Boone said.

Futaris also wants to expand its broadcast TV coverage throughout in Lower 48, and already has direct connections to EquiStar and DirecTV.

For Alaska businesses, the company continues to offer engineering, design and integration, construction and installation, and maintenance and service for all types of telecommunications. Its new services include cloud computing and hosting as well as specialized IT services such as certifying medical clinics and doctor’s offices to keep them compliant with HIPPA laws, performing high-tech audits and doing vulnerability assessments on business computer networks. Futaris also monitors business networks and collaborate with IT professionals to protect businesses from external intrusions, while offering cyber-security training to business clients.

“We know you have a problem before you know you have a problem,” said Boone.

Futaris is also deploying advanced SIP system in Alaska, which will eliminate the need for a traditional PBX, Boone said. “We now have intelligent phones that can run applications that mimic small business communication systems, only it works on the data side so it does not use wireless minutes. It is converting smart phones into the actual ‘follow-me’ office environment.

“People are requiring more and more of (their) smart phones,” he added.

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