If small-business owners had a wish list for VoIP international calling, it might look like this:
- Low cost
- The ability to use any land or cell phone
- Tools to manage phone usage by individual employees
That list likely would not include the need to dial an access number or to prepay for calling minutes.
Well, if SMBs are willing to take the bad with the good, Pingo may have hit on a winning formula with its newly announced Pingo Business offering.
Who in the world is Pingo?
Launched in the fall of 2004, Pingo is the retail arm of iBasis a leading wholesale carrier of international long distance telephone calls. In October 2007, iBasis acquired KPN Global Carrier Services to create one of the three largest carriers of international voice traffic in the world. The companies together carried more than 20 billion minutes of international VoIP traffic in 2006.
Pingo's SMB offering will attempt to leverage iBasis' existing infrastructure, according to Jayesh Patel, vice president of business development and strategy at iBasis.
With its ubiquitous termination relationships, worldwide, iBasis can negotiate favorable rates overseas and pass those back to SMB users, Patel said. The company also offers local access numbers (DIDs) in many foreign countries, which make inbound calls from those locales inexpensive or free, depending on tariff structures.
From calling cards to SMB play
Pingo has previously served individual consumersfirst with calling cards distributed by third-party channels, and more recently through online account management tools. It was through these offerings that the company first began to notice a demand among SMBs. Patel says analysis of usage records showed that in many cases, big blocks of "individual" users were linked to the same domain names. That is, small businesses were signing up multiple employees to use the service.
Taking their cue from those usage data, iBasis executives have built a calling infrastructure they say is suited to the SMB market. While Pingo Business works for domestic long distance calls too, it is in the international arena that iBasis intends to make its primary play, with a number of tools intended to streamline telecom management.
The foremost feature is a master account for managing multiple users. "You can now set up accounts for each employee and set up budgets for each employee all through a single interface"up to 1,000 users, Patel said. The administrator also can monitor usage within any given account. This helps not only in the ongoing management of callers but also in the initial setup of the system. "When you are doing a company-wide rollout it is much easier when you have a centralized system."
Pros and cons of prepaid
The payment system is arguably less convenient: It's a prepaid plan, requiring an SMB administrator to feed the meter in advance. An SMB has to pay in at least $10 to get started and can prepay in larger amountsup to $100 per employee. If an employee is a heavy user, the administrator can boost his or her account over the limit by putting in multiple $100 deposits.
Patel calls this a virtue, saying it obviates the need to formalize relations. "The moment you start with legal contracts and all that, then both sides are going to have to spend some time, and what you want is speed and convenience when somebody is first trying something," he said.
In any case, he added, things could change. If a few large companies and frequent users said they would rather be billed for their usage, iBasis certainly would review the question.
Access codes . . . or not
Pingo users also need to dial an access number to make their calls: Surely not a favorite requirement among end users, but a necessity within the system. Pingo relies on PSTN for "last mile" access on either end of a call, thus requiring customers to keep their local PSTN relationships. This likely will remain the case, as Patel said his company is not looking to compete for that last-mile business any time soon.
On the plus side, from the SMB point of view, that PSTN termination allows users to access Pingo's VoIP offering using existing fixed-line TDM and mobile phones
One more nice touch for the SMBs? Pingo calls it PINPass. While the system requires a PIN to access services, users who register their phone numbers online can dial their calls without having to enter the code. "As a business user you don't want to hit that PIN number all the time, so you register your mobile number and maybe also your home number and then you don't have to enter that PIN number," Patel said.
Pingo makes a good case for itself, but that's only half the equation. There's lots of competition in this continually evolving marketplace, and only time will tell how the Pingo solution will stack up. At the very least it would appear that iBasis' existing infrastructure and vast web of termination relationships will give its SMB offering a credible place at the table.