• United States
by Steve Taylor and Joanie Wexler

Services for the forgotten ‘middle class’

Sep 23, 20033 mins

* Cbeyond and US LEC offer carrier services to the middle market

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If you are a small or midsized organization, it might behoove you to evaluate service providers that specifically target the special needs of smaller businesses. Any such carrier worth its salt should be particularly sympathetic to the budget and resource challenges of organizations that can’t afford to focus on much beyond core business matters.

In addition to providing simple and attractive pricing, then, such carriers should be able to prove their track record on network reliability and mean time to repair for smaller businesses. A frequent complaint we hear is that, when push comes to shove, the larger, traditional carriers tend to direct their support toward the biggest customers that represent the most revenue dollars.

In this vein, consider two competitive carriers focused on SMB needs: Cbeyond Communications and US LEC. These service providers offer managed bundles of voice and data services, a single integrated bill (viewable and payable online) and one contact for support.

Both Cbeyond and US LEC bundle integrated services across T-1 circuits starting at about $500 a month. Considering a T-1 circuit alone is usually at least this much, this is a decent deal.

Founded in 1999, Cbeyond of Atlanta targets companies with between five and 100 employees with its IP-only managed network services. Currently, services are available in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver. Houston is planned for early 2004, says Brooks Robinson, chief marketing officer.

The carrier runs a Cisco IP/MPLS network and installs and manages Cisco multiservice gear on your site as part of the service.

By contrast, US LEC, a Juniper/Lucent-based network operator, says it targets midsize and large enterprises. As such, it competes with Cbeyond at the high end of the small-business market and at the low end of the mid-sized business market. Along with IP and traditional PSTN voice (no packet voice), the carrier offers frame relay.

In business since 1996, US LEC of Charlotte, N.C., offers services in about 75 markets in 14 southeastern and mid-Atlantic states, plus Washington, D.C. The company says it has Network-to-Network Interface (NNI) agreements with other carriers (though it declines to name them) so that it can deliver a nationwide and even an international frame relay service.

US LEC holds the distinction of becoming the first U.S. carrier to offer multilink frame relay (MFR) services for growing access speeds in T-1 increments. The MFR services became available in May.