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Alternatives to SBC?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the search-for-other-options dept.

Communications 32

bionic-john asks: "We are a relatively small shop running 11 point-to-point T-1's carrying both voice and data. It seems weekly we have an issue, and it takes SBC at least a day from notification to resolution. To my knowledge, they are the only game in Chicago since they control all the copper which resellers just resell. The data bit is easy -- DSL with VPN, but what about the voice and central voice-mail? I have spoken with other vendors offering pseudo-VOIP using a hardware layer between their CO and our voice-switch, but it seems like the technology is still in its infancy, is not fully tested, and it's still SBC copper out the door. The strange thing with all this is, that we have just as many PRI's, and probably 1/20th of our issues involve those. It's always the point-to-point. What am I missing? What can I do?"

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fr1st ps0t! (-1, Troll)

rudy_wayne (414635) | more than 9 years ago | (#12638763)


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Re:fr1st ps0t! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12638787)

YUO WIN!

Voxilla is your friend. (2, Informative)

Mordant (138460) | more than 9 years ago | (#12638767)

Start here [voxilla.com] .

Start here. (3, Informative)

numbski (515011) | more than 9 years ago | (#12638797)

goINET [goinet.com]

Mr. Ashkar, you owe me. :P

Actually, check with your local wisps. Most of them will bend over backwards to meet your needs and get your business, and give you all of the personal attention you could ever want.

Smaller companies tend to be like that.

If you're in St. Louis though, give me a call and we'll get you straightened out. ;)

Does your contract have an SLA? (4, Informative)

linuxtelephony (141049) | more than 9 years ago | (#12638837)

Does your contract with SBC include any kind of SLA?

Do your problems repeat on the same T1 or migrate from T1 to T1?

Do you experience new and different problems?

Do you have a documented history of the problems?

How many POPs or COs do your P-to-P T1s cover? I'm assuming you have a star pattern, with the center hub being one end point for each of the T1s.

Of course, a lot of this is speculative, without any solid information to go on, this is pure guesswork.

Look to see if you have an SLA in your contract. If you do, are they honoring it? If not, rattle the sabres. It may or may not make any difference. You might also start complaining to your state's regulatory office that oversees SBC.

Do they ever give you a satisfactory explanation of the problems? If the same problem keeps happening repeatedly, then you may need to escalate to higher levels of management (SBC) to address the problem. Again, it may or may not help.

If you do not have SLA, look at other carriers in the area for P-to-P T1s. MCI/Worldcom (whatever they call themselves now), Sprint, not to mention other regional carriers are likely available in that area. Get a tough SLA on that deal. Even if SBC provides the copper, if you get a deal with another "name brand" carrier that includes a tough SLA, sometimes your new provider will be more influential in getting SBC to honor their obligations.

While it certainly isn't fun, you can sometimes gain more traction with this method since SBC's failure to fix the problem is now affecting another common carrier, and not a private individual, which means the other carrier can cause SBC some serious problems. Of course, you'll often need a though SLA to "motivate" the new provider to aggressively deal with SBC.

How close are your locations? Have you considered a ds3 or fiber ring instead of point to point? Depending on what kinds of problems you are having, and if they are located at the end points, the center of the hub, or in between within SBC transport facilities, a ring approach may or may not help.

Have you contacted your sales rep? Those guys are typically on commission. Don't know if they get recurring commissions for keeping you happy, but if they do, he could be another person you can motivate to work on your behalf. If you were to jump to another carrier, even if SBC provided the copper, he'd lose his commission from your circuits.

Just a few ideas. If you want to provide more information, I'm sure myself or others would be able to provide even better suggestions.

Re:Does your contract have an SLA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12643129)

SLA? You're kidding, right?

I am in Northern Cali and worked with a guy who managed 5 T1's from them - same thing dropped packet rate would rise, he would call - they would say nothing wrong on their side, "nothing" would suddenly change and the packet drop rate would go down. Repeat every X weeks. SLAs are meaningless, all they afford you is the opportunity to spend alot of overtime attempting to document things that will be nitpicked by lawyers and/or lawyer-esque types. He was switching to speakeasy when I left.

Look at DSLReports or any newsgroup or mailing list - you'll see the same thing over and over again. Unless you work for SBC or live in a similar fantasy land, you will see an indictable pattern of neglect and incompetence sustained by state approved monopoly.

Re:Does your contract have an SLA? (1)

linuxtelephony (141049) | more than 9 years ago | (#12647486)

No. But I've been dealing with carriers providing T1s (or faster) for the better part of 15 years.

The 'No problem found' but your problem mysteriously getting fixed is a common tactic. At one point (I'm out of that biz now, and haven't kept up to date) the carriers have to report the quality of their network and other details to various state and federal authorities. If they admitted a problem, then it would have to show up in that report, so they tend to try and minimize it.

The point of the SLA is to have leverage. It is truly a sad state of affairs now days that a contract for service is all but worthless without an SLA. It used to be that a contract for service meant you would get that service. Now, if it doesn't include an SLA, then that plain contract for service moves to the bottom of the ladder. The SLA is not an end-all be-all solution. But, it can help make the hammer you wield a little bigger, and have a little more punch.

The problem is not just SBC. And I will not disagree that they have the problems you mention. However, most Bell carriers seem to be falling into that same trap, and providing lackluster service.

Hmmm... A "small" shop... (3, Informative)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 9 years ago | (#12638868)

Hmmm... A "small" shop...

11 T-1s...

You know, that's a chunk of change. If your telco is not giving you good service, "talk" to them about it.

Re:Hmmm... A "small" shop... (2, Informative)

dubl-u (51156) | more than 9 years ago | (#12645902)

11 T-1s... You know, that's a chunk of change. If your telco is not giving you good service, "talk" to them about it.

Are you serious? They're a near monopoly; they don't have a big incentive to care. And in my experience, they rarely did.

It's been a decade since I ran a network in Chicago, but at the time they did not take my circuits nearly as seriously as my company did. We tried to used other networks, but that was only possible in large buildings where it was worth it for an alternate provider to run fiber.

To be fair, a lot of the individual techs were good guys, smart and conscientious. But the broader system they worked in, Ameritech, was generally indifferent to the fact that we were trying to run a business. And I hear it's no better these days; a friend whose small company's home office is in Chicago has had a hard time reaching her colleagues lately; their T1 has been up and down repeatedly.

Re:Hmmm... A "small" shop... (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 9 years ago | (#12649891)

It's a good thing that telco is not the same now as it was 10, 20 years ago. My bet is that they do have alturnatives, and of course there is always a complaint to the state regulators to make the bosses take notice...

Try frame relay (4, Informative)

Lenolium (110977) | more than 9 years ago | (#12638878)

My first suggestion would be to switch from point-to-point to frame relay connections. It will add a bit of overhead, and a touch of lag, but overall, it will let your T1's "data" move through your provider's network to work around bad spots.

Secondly, your SLA with your service provider should give you quite a bit of leverage. With point-to-point connections, some service providers will only offer 2 nines, which would mean about three and a half days of downtime a year. It's not really cost-effective to build redundant datapaths for point-to-point connections, so along the entire path there are probably many points of failure.

Re:Try frame relay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12641032)

Last I heard, "frame relay" does not exist any more. The protocol is emulated over the same damn network as the so-called "point-to-point" connections.

SBC Alternative (3, Funny)

unitron (5733) | more than 9 years ago | (#12638949)

My first thought was "Cooperative Baptist Fellowship", but then I realised the article wasn't about the Southern Baptist Convention. :-)

Alternative providers (1)

davidyorke (543505) | more than 9 years ago | (#12639029)

Re:Alternative providers (1)

rjamestaylor (117847) | more than 9 years ago | (#12639877)

He needs a CLEC, not an ISP/hosting provider.

Re:Alternative providers (1)

davidyorke (543505) | more than 9 years ago | (#12645169)

These aren't on SBC's copper (at least downtown). I thought that was his problem. He felt SBC's system was somehow impared, and he wanted to avoid using them.

Copper not the problem (4, Insightful)

fm6 (162816) | more than 9 years ago | (#12639231)

... it's still SBC copper out the door.
So what? It's not as if SBC doesn't know how to run a telecom network. Your problem is not with SBC's hardware, it's their inept technical support, staffed by people with zero problem-solving skills. Competitors may not be able to offer you a non-SBC network, but they can certainly do a better job of fixing things when they get broken.

I work for a CLEC in Chicago (4, Informative)

wonkavader (605434) | more than 9 years ago | (#12639661)

And I can tell you definitely, that you're paying WAY TOO MUCH for those T1's.

That said, I know what you want is service, not price. If you go with a CLEC (a company which resells products the ILEC (the monopoly) sells, you're going through both SBC and a middle-man.

So, it's important that you get a good CLEC which is both very service oriented and is populated with at least some ex-SBC people who can call SBC Vice-Presidents who are old friends to get you back up in a timely manner, when SBC screws you, which they'll do from time to time. I know we make those calls, when the ILEC just isn't doing the right things, but I don't know about other CLECs.

When you're getting the ILEC to do something, like diagnose a line, you're often talking to underlings who don't know what they're doing. It's hugely helpful to have someone on your side of the phone who knows both their job and thei manager's job.

Get a CLEC.

Ask around. Get a company that's been in business for more than just a few years. And watch the salesman. If he gets all excited about some point to point T1's, that means they're small (or he is, unfortunately) and that they'll CARE about your business, unlike SBC.

And don't go with MCI. They're AWFUL, unless you're a giant company.

CLECs, the last mile and sucky service (4, Informative)

rjamestaylor (117847) | more than 9 years ago | (#12639858)

Bell (in your case, SBC) is the resident monopoly. Since 1996 there are Competitive Local Exchange Carriers that can also offer you service. I'm not in Chicago, sorry, but do work for a CLEC in Texas. CLECs can (and it's not too hard) offer much better service than Menu Hell Bell. In fact my company has a policy of sending techs to fix problems before generating the trouble ticket -- sure that makes it harder for us to manage things internally, but boy do our customers appreciate it. Not all CLECs are worthwhile, and not all offer a savings over Bell. Some (*cough* Allegiance *cough*) are less than truthful and suck big time.

Now, you need to find a "facilities-based" provider. This is a telco with a switch or more and its own fiber (usually not copper). But it is the "last mile", that is, the fiber from the CLEC's line into your building to your wiring closet that is usually provided by Bell. That line, then, needs to be tested by your CLEC's technicians and if it does not pass sufficiently, your CLEC needs to demand a different circuit to be installed.

Implicit in my words above is the thought that you would be using T1s for voice, data, and/or integrated circuits and not just unbundled copper loops. You indicated that this was your situation when you referred to "PRIs".

If the customer wants to be completely on a CLECs fiber network (to the CO, of course), then such a customer will likely need to pay to have the line pulled and the building lit. That can run $40/foot for buried cable. Ariel is less expensive, of course. If your CLEC has fiber nearby your office, you might want to make a deal to have it pulled for you. But it is not cheap.

Right now I'm talking with a company that wants two OC-48s in their local data center. We're pricing out building out to their building versus leasing the last mile from SBC. Most likely we'll lease the last mile from Bell. It's just that much cheaper.

And, by all means, avoid VoIP unless you have only technical customers calling in. Anyone else will think you're based in a Third World Nation. Dynamic T1s (that allocate 64k channels for voice or data on the fly based on usage) are also suspect. Stick with what works: Static T1 voice and data, maybe an integrated T1 for smaller businesses.

Re:CLECs, the last mile and sucky service (2, Informative)

bionic-john (731679) | more than 9 years ago | (#12639986)

thanks for the insight - we do go through a reseller, I am not sure if they are a CLEC, from the description it does sound as if they are - but when ever there is an issue, SBC shows up. We also have FOCL for our PRI, and other than the testing which they do themselves, it is always an SBC tech that shows up - and as pointed out, the tech's just provided miserable service. I have to do some digging on the SLA's - I wasnt part of the initial service contracts through the reseller, and unfortunately, there is no direct sales rep - it seems like there is always someone new when we have order requests. Its not like the resellers and dragging their knuckles when things happen. But it seems like they are this middle man and they get the run around as well.

Re:CLECs, the last mile and sucky service (1)

rjamestaylor (117847) | more than 9 years ago | (#12644323)

Your reseller isn't the middleman, but rather you're both suffering from an (unintentional, most likely) man-in-the-middle attack. We do have a share of horror stories of intentional last mile failures that seemed too well timed to be coincidental, but those are, frankly, rare. SBC moves at the speed of light, unfortunately the speed of light through a singularity.

Re:CLECs, the last mile and sucky service (1)

SwellJoe (100612) | more than 9 years ago | (#12652154)

Some (*cough* Allegiance *cough*) are less than truthful and suck big time.

Just so no one assumes this assertion might be dubious based on it coming from an apparently competing CLEC...ALGX really does suck. I had a client here in Austin switch from ALGX to SBC and service got a lot better...and SBC also sucks horribly in their own special way. ALGX was just a joke. Down time could be counted in days per month, and they actually had a cap in their SLA--so if things were really bad and downtime topped something like 72 hours in a month they wouldn't pay any additional refund over the 72 hours. A few times, this actually happened (and why not, it only cost them three days of the 30 we were paying for). Nearly every weekend from Saturday night at midnight until about 6 AM Sunday the network was simply gone, and it wasn't at all odd for the downtime to last until Sunday afternoon.

I simply can't say it emphatically enough: No matter what the price, ALGX is simply not a good deal. They'll promise the moon, and the folks you talk to are all very friendly (including the techs that run the whole hunkering, clanking, ramshackle thing), but when it comes to what you're paying them for, it just isn't there. The Business Class RoadRunner this client upgraded from to an ALGX T1 had been significantly more reliable and faster (and reliability was the reason for the switch off of RoadRunner).

Problems with SBC? (1)

bherman (531936) | more than 9 years ago | (#12639930)

We also use SBC for our P2P T1 and our DIA T1 at our locations, but have not had ANY problems during business hours. I do get a larger amount of emails telling me they are doing maintence. Overall, I had one outage and that was when someone across the street cut our wires. We are by O'Hare so they may have a bit more reliablity built in there.

Well (0)

hey! (33014) | more than 9 years ago | (#12640107)

there's always the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship [thefellowship.info] .

Oh wait.

Possible solution in Chicago (4, Informative)

Globalcom (887054) | more than 9 years ago | (#12640452)

As "Copper not the problem" mentioned in the thread most of what seems to be your issue is SBC customer care. I am a sales manager with Globalcom, Inc also in Chicago. We have been in business for 13+ years for that very reason that SBC can't (or won't) provide the customer service that customers like yourself need. Assuming from the number of services you have with SBC you probably do have a dedicated account team, but that doesn't mean they know how to fix your problems. I would definitely recommend you look into working with an alternative provider to SBC, and you will likely get your best service and support from a CLEC in the market. As for my company, many of our techs are transplants from SBC and know the internal roadblocks and procedures that many times are causing your problems to not get resolved with SBC and more importantly know how to stop the recurring problems that you are having. If you are serious about getting the service (and reliability) that you need....look at Globalcom, or a similar provider, you will see a major difference. Bottom line is that SBC is too big for their own good and can't effectively support their customers....especially one's with recurring issues like yourself. Check out our website.... www.callglobalcom.com ON A SIDE NOTE: I guarantee you are also paying WAY TOO MUCH for your services..........email me if you have questions ryakos@callglobalcom.com

Two options... (1)

agristin (750854) | more than 9 years ago | (#12641867)

Unless you really have only point to point applications, look into MPLS frame or an MPLS provider. Often you can get away with less bandwidth because you abandon hub and spoke model. If you VOIP it is cheaper to MPLS, if not it might be more expensive :(

1) MPLS contracts usually come with clear and enforceable SLAs. That will help mitigate your downtime and control the vendor.

2) MPLS can hand off on DSL or frame or all sorts of ways depending on the provider.

3) is is multi-point to multi-point and you don't have to keep up with the config (just the ip scheme and routing really).

4) QoS

4a) if you like it enough you can use it for VOIP- converged networks can save you some coin.

5) There is competition in that space, so you can get good deals, and likely better service.

The local loop may still be sbc, but at least you'll be calling a better tech support group at another company.

If you want to stay with your current tech:

use standard vendor tactic: competition.

For example, call your sales rep, let them know you are un-happy and thinking about moving providers. Mention any direct comptitors (Time Warner, MCI, etc...), a name drop never hurts when negotiating.

also try to get your contract and check for SLAs. If you have no enforceable service level agreements for availability (uptime) and qos (latency at least), either renegotiate or take your requirements elsewhere.

-A

Well... (1)

Superfreak (27384) | more than 9 years ago | (#12642378)

From our experiences in St. Louis (smaller setup, but point-to point T1s and PRI)

SBC has been pretty responsive, really. The problem with CLECs (and none of the responding ones have really mentioned) is that if it is a Bell hardware problem, your wait time won't be decreased a whit. On our PTP lines via SBC, we can typically get a tech onsite/at the pole in about 2 hours. When the PRI goes down, the CLEC spends 4 hours testing it, calls Bell....etc, etc - I've never had it resolved, or even seen a tech in less than 8 hours.

I'm curious about why your PRIs seem to be more reliable - both ride on a T1...so look for the differences there. And when you have an outage, is it dead to the smartjack? (i.e. are you losing the last-mile copper, or is it upstream from there) Try to find CO maps to determine where the circuits run - might you have a bad CO with a leaking roof that 5 lines run through...

I don't have any good answers for you. But look for the common thread in the outages. Demand an explanation each and every time you have an outage - try not to accept 'dunno' as an answer (you'll get a lot of those). If hardware is common with all of your PTP, look hard at that. Our PRI was extremely dodgy for a long time after installation. A newer firmware version card in the switch made a large difference.

Good luck...

Re:Well... (1)

wonkavader (605434) | more than 9 years ago | (#12649900)

What you're saying seems (at first) logically sound, but I can't agree to "if it is a Bell hardware problem, your wait time won't be decreased a whit." It's simply untrue. Not because a CLEC can actively fix SBC problems, but because a CLEC can tell SBC what it really needs to know, contact the right people, tell when nothing's happening, tell SBC people their jobs when they're dropping the ball, escalate and harrass in ways their long experience with SBC shows is effective (and not muddy the waters in ways which experience shows slow them down).

While it makes logical sense that CLEC tests before calling SBC mean a fomula like this:
CLEC TIME + SBC TIME = TOTAL TIME
as opposed to a pure SBC model:
SBC TIME = TOTAL TIME
What really happens (with a GOOD CLEC) is:
CLEC TIME + (SBC TIME / CLEC EFFICIENCY BOOST FACTOR) = TOTAL TIME

And CLEC time SHOULD be short, because a CLEC really needs your business. They're all small. They have to have a fast response to your problem, because they cannot afford to lose your business. The one I work for has spectacular uptimes compared to SBC -- and that's using SBC lines. When they do go down, they get dragged back up much faster than SBC would do it independant of us.

If you're not getting a quick response from your CLEC, or if you're not getting faster response out of SBC because you have a CLEC, you need to change CLECs.

An alternative to getting a good CLEC is to hire someone who used to work at SBC and is very good at telco, and who works mainly on keeping your lines up. That's expensive, though, given that a good CLEC will essentially provide this service and pay you (in the form of lowered rates) rather than requiring you to pay for such a person. Though saying all this makes me think that there's a market for being an outside-of-SBC consultant, and being on retainer for multiple companies...

I know how you feel. (1)

Higaran (835598) | more than 9 years ago | (#12649527)

Hi, I'm from the south west side of Chicago, and I've got a t-1 too, but its only 1 not the 20 that you need. My service provider is McLeodUSA, if I have a problem they can diagnose it remotely, and its ususally taken care of the same day. Its still SBC lines going out, but they get guys out very quickly if they need too. Check them out www.mcleodusa.com

Re:I know how you feel. (1)

djweis (4792) | more than 9 years ago | (#12658850)

I'd probably steer clear of McLeod. They are about to proceed into their 2nd round of bankrupcy and will probably have the plug pulled sometime soon.

Sprint (1)

WAR-Ink (876414) | more than 9 years ago | (#12650671)

A while back (pre-2000) I worked at a company that had 20+ Frame Relay lines (56K to T1) through Sprint. The contract we had with them was that they owned the line all the way to the jack on our DSU/CSU. Even if the building wiring had a problem, it was THEIR problem. I only had to call the support centre. They handled the phone comapny (BellSouth, SBC, Sprint Local, etc). I usually got a very good response time.

http://www.sprint.com/business/products/products/s printLinkFrameRelay.jsp [sprint.com]

The downfall was that there was no Internet connection from the same line. But the up side of that was there was no need to worry about getting hacked from every monkey on the net. I think that has changed. They might have a gateway service.
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