Jackson’s Broadband Voice raised a toast to a 10-year partnership with the “the cloud” Tuesday and followed that by renaming itself Fuse.Cloud.
The new brand more accurately portrays how the company has leveraged the Internet-based cloud’s capability to accommodate a growing list of voice, data storage and data transmission services, Fuse.Cloud says.
Voice-over-Internet for business is still at the heart of what Fuse.Cloud does. But a series of advances in cloud data technology brought a need to adopt a name that reflects the fusion of cloud telephony with everything else the company offers, said Gary Watts, founder and CEO.
“We are an aggregator of cloud-based products to the customer,” he said in summing up a company he founded in 2006 and has grown at about 20 percent annually to achieve yearly revenues in the $5 million range today.
Fuse.Cloud serves a customer base of 1,300 business, some with multiple sites, in 40 states.
With the cloud, a server that once occupied an office closet is replaced by a cloud storage service such as Fuse.Cloud, which in turn relies on large data centers across the country.
Gone as well is the conventional business telephone equipment tied to a private branch exchange. In its place is the voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, service offered by Fuse.Cloud and other telecoms.
Customers can choose to host their cloud telephony at their own offices, Fuse.Cloud says in a service listing that includes disaster recovery, multi-site phone networking and such IT services as email hosting/maintenance, desktop support/maintenance, network support/maintenance, data backup and onsite Wi-Fi infrastructure maintenance.
Watts started Broadband Voice in 2006 after working for another Mississippi technology company. The move to do a start-up, Watts said, came after he spotted the potential for cloud telephony to replace conventional office phone networking.
Internet telephony had been around since before the start of the last decade, but largely as technology for long-distance calling. Watts’ idea was to add local calling to the mix as well as data storage and transmission that cloud telephony made possible.
“We were first in Mississippi to specialize in this product,” Watts said of Broadband Voice.
“I saw an opportunity that the traditional carriers weren’t readily adopting VoIP as an option when it became available.”
Important to the growth of Broadband Voice, Watts said, was a goal to keep relationships with customers local, especially in showing their data needs were in good hands.
Other companies sold the products but afterward began locating their customer service groups farther and farther away from the markets they served, he said.
A large challenge remained, however.
The customer had to be convinced the low-cost, public Internet-based product would work as advertised, Watts recalled.
“What a lot of companies were trying to do was put it over a private Internet network,” he said. “That drove up the cost dramatically. This didn’t work for the small- and mid-size business that was our target at the time.”
Employing a Comast Internet circuit brought the costs way down, according to Watts. “Most businesses were paying somewhere between $50 and $60 per phone (monthly). We could use the same Internet connectivity and sell them for the same line for about $25.”
The other benefit for businesses with multiple locations was a cloud-based switch that gave them transfer and extension dialing to the other locations. “Most small businesses couldn’t afford to do that otherwise,” Watts noted.
Since that time, pricing for that service and similar services has gone down as competition has grown, he said.
Lower initial installment costs also brought increased use of VoIP, Watts said, citing an end to the need for pricey switching hardware. “Back in ‘06 and ‘07 if you bought a phone system you would spend about $1,000 to $800 a handset. You’d put an expensive switch in your closet and have limitations on the number of handsets. When you moved to the hosted voice IP, those handsets become about $250.”
Broadband Voice also won over customers by offering free maintenance, though that incentive required a multi-year contract, according to Watts. Even then, the start-up stayed flexible with its contracts, he said. “If they had any concern about the term agreement, we waived it and went month to month.”
More recently, customers have turned to Fuse.Cloud for such basics as Internet connections, a service Watts says his company provides in much the same way independent insurance agents secure products for clients.
“We don’t own any facilities for Internet,” he said. “We have wholesale relationships. Let’s say we have a surgical group we serve on the Gulf coast that is in three markets. The same provider for all those locations doesn’t make sense. So we’ll find the most accommodating price and effective providers.”
The client pays Fuse.Cloud and Fuse.Cloud pays the provider, Watts noted.
The company apportions the right amount of bandwidth to the customer based on the customer’s needs, according to Watts. “For example, if you are a medical facility you may be moving lots of extra data into the cloud for storing; whereas, if you are in retail, you don’t need that much. This is what leads us to the name we chose.”
Fuse.Cloud is on the move in its product offerings, but its bricks-and-mortar presence will “absolutely stay in Jackson,” said Watts, who relies on sub-contractors to service his clients in far-flung parts of the country.
Watts said a recent meeting in Washington, D.C., with telecom experts left him excited about the role Fuse.Cloud can have with development of 5G, the fifth generation of mobile wireless technology.
“When we get to 5G we’re at 1 gigabit and up, on average,” he said of mobile wireless.
That is about 70 times faster than what is running today, he said, having already calculated how he can leverage the cloud to bring those supersonic speeds to his 1,300 customers. “Right now they are paying big companies for their cell phones. It is our desire to be their provider as we look to the future.”
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