Wednesday, December 17, 2014

For NY telco, Philly VoIP firm is the future

WVT money helps Alteva grow vs Verizon, AT&T

For NY telco, Philly VoIP firm is the future

For 90 years, publicly-traded Warwick Valley Telephone (WVT) prospered with a local monopoly on wire-based phone service in a few patches of upstate New York. But with more Americans relying on mobile or Internet service and cutting their old phone cords, WVT boss Duane Albro saw its future depended on finding new clients beyond the Hudson Valley.

So the mini-telco bought Philadelphia-based Alteva Communications from founders Bill Bumbernick and Mark Marquez last year, and bet its future on Alteva's growing business supplying Internet-based phone service to midsized companies.

Backed by WVT cash, Alteva moved its headquarters last summer to a glass walled "Innovation Center" and headquarters in former Wells Fargo Bank space at 401 Market Street, a block up Independence Mall from its previous offices at the Bourse.

The parent company's last quarterly Securities and Exchange Commission reports show Alteva now accounts for more than half the company's $7 milllion-plus quarterly sales, though the combination was not quite profitable. Three of the five top managers of the combined company are Alteva veterans, notes Peter Caperonis, Alteva's sales manager: "It's really been like a reverse merger." Albro remains in charge, a frequent guest at Philadelphia's Omni and Monaco hotels when he's in town checking up.

How do firms like Alteva win business? After all, any company with Internet service can add voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) service, through services like Vonage and Skype, and local cable monopolies like Comcast, as millions of Americans do for home phone service.

But "in a business situation, it's different from using Vonage or Skype. Those are not business-class services," says Tom Hopkins, telecom manager at the Philadelphia-based U.S. arm of British clinical drug trial provider Premier Research Group.

Reliable phone service depends on (for example) careful and redundant routing, active management, steady relationships with software, hardware and service providers, he says. "If a line goes down in a legacy system, your voice service is tied for that, and callers just get dead air. With (Alteva) you get a voice mail. And I can manage this system from anywhere," from a laptop or remote location. "We can quickly do reroutes and forwards."

Hopkins told me he picked Alteva over rival AT&T and Verizon services based on the smaller firm's focus on quick response through its round-the-clock support center, and its simple user dashboard combining voice and Internet message, storage, forwards and connections.

"We're an international company, we have five sites in the U.S. and several sites in Europe. Each of these sites had legacy phone systems with different providers," he said. "When I joined the company last year one of the goals was to unify the systems and take advantage of all the unified communciations. The idea was, being able to have a one-stop shop, as far as providing the voice services. A sole provider, a monthly service fee...

"A large number of our employees are project managers and monitors. They have laptops, they have smartphones. It's a hit for us, being able to provide the uniform service wherever we go. 

"It takes a lot of effort. You could build your own, and it will kind of work. But to get to the level where Alteva works, you need a strategy to make it fully redundant, to make it coherent. The other providers are not out there. They throw a service up, they offer low prices. But to get to real business class, you need to have the right back-end technical support."

Burbank, Calif.-based video equipment distributor AbelCinetech switched 120 workers from several providers to Alteva, also because of "hand-in-glove" cusotmer service, according to I.T. director Nathaniel Bonini. "The ability to manage voice mail via email is a big contributor to the efficiency of the entire company."

Alteva uses the Broadsoft Internet phone platform, Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint, and custom linkages with "Salesforce.com, SAP, Oracle, anything with an open API, all provided on a unified communications basis over the cloud," says Caperonis.

WVT is projecting rapid growth. "We're hiring," says Caperonis. "We expect to grow."

Joseph N. DiStefano
About this blog

PhillyDeals posts raw drafts and updates of Joseph N. DiStefano's columns and stories about Philly-area finance, investment, commercial real estate, tech, hiring and public spending, which he's been writing since 1989, mostly for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn, taught writing at St. Joe's, and has written the book Comcasted, more than a thousand columns, and thousands of articles, and raised six children with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at JoeD@phillynews.com or 215 854 5194.

Joseph N. DiStefano
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