In telecom, basic network infrastructure is a lot like Rodney Dangerfield - it gets no respect, especially when it's time for budget appropriations. This can get unbearably frustrating for technical managers who know the network needs upgrading, but can't persuade senior managers to allocate funds.
But an innovative British company is changing how senior managers value telecom infrastructure, making it easier for technical managers to secure the infrastructure improvements they need. What's this company's secret marketing weapon? Knowledge.
Chronos Technology, Ltd., is the United Kingdom's leading provider of turnkey solutions for network synchronization. Chronos' worldwide operations provides hardware, software and value-added services to telecoms, utilities, system integrators and industrial designers. Besides its core business of network sync products, Chronos also provides remote monitoring and QoS solutions, RF components and GPS products.
Network synchronization is an essential underlying technology for SDH and SONET networks, which depend on synchronous data transmission.
Executives from Chronos and DPS Telecom met during the recent SUPERCOMM show in Chicago. The two companies noted that alarm monitoring and network sync have a lot in common. Both technologies are essential for maintaining and enhancing quality of network service, but senior management often doesn't see either as a priority.
Providing knowledge to customers is an essential part of how Chronos does business, said Charles Curry, Chronos' founder and Managing Director. "We wrap value around the sale by understanding the client's needs and providing support to deliver the solution. When we've sold the hardware, we install it and we don't leave the site until it's working. And then we support it if it goes wrong. All of our client relationships are long-term," Curry said.
For Curry, fostering a long-term relationship means committing to support the client's equipment needs on an ongoing basis, for as long as the client needs. Chronos' 24/7 Spares Support Plan, for example, offers 24-hour replacement of any needed part - and this service can be extended to include sending an engineer onsite to make sure the client's problems are completely solved.
Chronos' customer support includes providing clients with the knowledge and advice to help them make better informed business decisions. Education is essential for telecom professionals to really understand the challenges and opportunities available to them to improve network infrastructure and subsequently the quality of services (QOS) offered to service users, according to Christopher Roberts, Chronos' Business Development Manager.
"The level of knowledge in the industry varies quite significantly," said Roberts. "Some of the customers we work with know the subject of network sync well, and know there are issues they face now or will face in the future, and they know what questions they need answered. But there are also a lot of people in the industry who don't have the level of knowledge to know what questions to ask to know if they've got a problem."
To help their clients assess their network synchronization needs, Chronos freely provides a number of information resources. For industry professionals who need basic information about network sync, Chronos offers a series of technical white papers on its website. For Chronos customers who want to learn network sync in-depth, the company offers the Synchronisation MasterClass™, a two-day seminar Chronos hosts several times a year in locations around the globe. This event is vendor agnostic and aims to teach the technology and not sell specific solutions.
Chronos has a larger educational goal - the company wants to educate the entire telecom sector about the importance of network sync. To that end, Charles Curry started the International Telecom Synchronisation Forum (ITSF), a worldwide conference on sync technology and business issues. The second ITSF in 2004 was attended by 90 delegates from 15 different nations. Curry is currently Chairman of the body. The 2005 ITSF will be held in London this October after demand from Operators at the 2004 event clearly indicated the planned two-year gap between events was not acceptable to them.
Chronos is also active in conferences and standards bodies in the United States. Curry in his capacity as a Steering Group member, recently attended the NIST-ATIS Workshop on Synchronization in Telecommunication Systems, hosted by the American National Institute of Standards and Technology in May 2005.
"Our customers are very willing to soak up knowledge," said Roberts. "First, we take them to first principles, that sync is an underlying, fundamental technology for telecom. Once we've taught our clients how to approach and structure sync as a baseline technology, we then start looking at application layer issues."
Roberts said that for many European companies, one of their first lessons they have to learn is why they should pay for synchronization themselves. Sync applications are fundamentally different in North America and Europe. In North America, the long distances that networks cover make it more practical and cost effective to install synchronization units at many points in the network. In Europe, sync units are installed at fewer points in the network. And some smaller European companies don't pay for sync at all, but rely on sync signals from larger network partners.
"You can get sync for free, but it puts your business at more risk. It's like anything else - if you own it, there's a price to pay but you control it," Roberts said. "We don't tell our customers what to do. We just point out - here are the choices, and here are the costs, the risks and the benefits for each of these choices. And we'll lead them towards whatever choice will be a good fit for their business. Because for some customers the right choice is A and for other customers B is the right option."
Learning the technology of sync is important, but it's more important for network operators to understand how sync affects their business, according to Roberts.
"When we started everybody was focused on selling sync technology, the hardware and software. We were the first to propose an international workshop on the business case for sync. The big message at the ITSF conference last year, and the NIST conference in May, was that senior managers need to be more educated. As a percentage of an overall cap-ex fund for a telecom network, sync is less than half a percent - it's small, but it affects everything," Roberts said.
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