Choosing the right telecommunications system for a growing business is no small decision. In fact, the array of available products and services can be a bit overwhelming. But, in the end, everyone seems to want the same thing.

“One of the things that we’ve found through the surveys that we’ve done is that reliability is key,” says Mark Geiselmayr, senior vice president for Integra Telecom of Arizona.

“Obviously, once telecommunications have been evaluated and selected and implemented, as a business owner you don’t want to have to deal with it anymore. You expect it to be there and you expect it to work, and you don’t want to have to deal with any issues or problems surrounding the service.”

Reaching that endpoint starts with picking a telecommunications provider. That requires several important considerations, according to Jason Cate, director of Arizona midmarket sales for the competitive local exchange carrier formerly known as McLeodUSA, which was recently acquired by PAETEC Holding Corp.

“A big thing when you’re looking for a provider is you want to look at their customer service,” Cate says. “Can they deliver a personalized solution for your business needs? Can they do all of your locations and tie everything together for you? Do they provide, and have for a long period of time provided, the products that work?”

The telecommunications umbrella covers everything from basic business lines and calling features to Internet and data services. One of the biggest changes in the industry is the move away from traditional private branch exchange, or PBX, telephone systems to Voice over Internet Protocol systems. Whereas separate networks were required for voice and data communications with the older approach, the IP PBX converges voice and data networks on a single T1 line.

This results in the availability of a lot more features, says Clark Peterson, chief executive officer of Scottsdale-based Telesphere.

It’s possible, he says, to have voice mail show up in an e-mail account with a WAV audio file attached. Faxes can come directly into e-mail accounts, eliminating any need for a fax machine. Office phones and cell phones can ring simultaneously. Connectivity between multiple offices becomes a reality with four-digit dialing linking the various locations and just one receptionist monitoring calls from a single site.

One of Telesphere’s specialties is providing VoIP over a private dedicated connection rather than a public Internet connection. Also, it eliminates the need for an on-site PBX system at a client’s place of business. All voice and data services are hosted in secure data centers.

“You have small to medium businesses now seeing that they can have all the robust feature functionality of the Fortune 500 companies,” Peterson says. “And really, they’re getting the feature functionality of an $80,000 to $100,000 PBX system that they would have had to buy themselves to do everything that this full-on hosted service does.”

Integra Telecom, one of the largest telecommunications providers in the West, has been in Arizona since acquiring Electric Lightwave Inc. in 2006. The company, which has a fully staffed local presence in each of its markets, takes a long-term approach with clients.

“We’ve got some really nice options in terms of purchasing systems that if you outgrow them, you can return them, and then we will provide you with the next level of capacity without having lost the original investment,” Geiselmayr says. “So there are all kinds of neat programs there to help a business that’s really growing much faster than their ability to predict what they want to invest in a system until they get to that level of need.”

Small- and medium-sized businesses that have multiple locations with telecommunications hardware in place may want to take a look at securing services from a company like PAETEC.
“Most of our focus now is on circuit-based IP products because that’s really the way to take the midmarket sector and increase profitability and productivity for midmarket companies,” Cate says.

He sees his company as a one-stop shop with local and long-distance telephone service, site-to-site data networking, and dedicated Internet service among its varied offerings.

“We can tie nationwide companies together and do everything in all of the markets,” he says.
One of its more popular products is something called Dynamic Integrated Access. It combines a variety of attractive options such as rerouting inbound calls from one business location to another without long-distance charges, and speed dialing between various offices.

The bottom line is Arizona is a very competitive market for telecom services.
“We’ve seen a lot of consolidation recently, so the number of competitors has dropped,” Geiselmayr says. “But there are solid providers here and they all have their unique approach to the marketplace.”

For more information on the telecommunications providers mentioned, visit the following websites: