Yesterday, I talked about where the UMC shined in the early days. Now I plan to talk about where it didn’t work: The RBOCs.
I want to be very clear about one thing. The intent here is to show how Clarity and Focus can shape a business. If you go back to my history piece, you will see it was not original intent of the UMC to win the IOC business. The fact that it did was excellent news and after initial wins became a Focus for the company. That is very much the history of AFC. We trolled for success. When we found it, we doubled down and worked that success for all it was worth. That nimbleness caused issues, but also growth and excellence.
The history of AFC with the RBOCs starts with both Ameritech and Pacbell. Both companies ultimately approved the UMC for use. Both were acquired by SouthWest Bell Telephone (SWBT) which is now AT&T. These acquisitions made these approvals moot and we had to start over again with what was then known as SBC. There were lots of issues with both approvals, but I want to focus on the strength for the one market (the IOCs) and how it was viewed by the RBOCs.
The RBOC market for equipment is different than the small carrier market. They traditionally have product categories that support specific services. These are deployed in cookie cutter models throughout the RBOC territories for whatever service needs there are. There are different deployment models, but individuals in the field are not permitted (generally) to go outside their models. Why do this? It makes the network uniform. This means that services tend to be robust and simple to expand. Training, sparing, provisioning, engineering, servicing are all known within the system. These are not anywhere near as important to the small carriers as they are to the big ones.
Now the RBOC’s got hold of “Any Service, Any Slot” (AS/AS) and emasculated it from a financial standpoint. I want to be clear, this is not a fault of the customer. This is a fault of not understanding how the customer might use the product and helping them build models that they can use. The RBOCs built systems with Common Control Shelves. Much of the time these were mostly empty, so space and cost was wasted. The value of AS/AS was low to them. They wanted to deploy the UMC as a Next Generation Digital Loop Carrier. They had standard models to compare it to from competitors. In the way the RBOCs build product, much of the efficiency that drove business in the small carriers was gone.
I used to say that the UMC was the anti-Litespan. If Litespan did something in a given manner, the UMC tried to do it in the opposite way. The RBOCs loved Litespan and so the UMC was not really a cup of tea for them. Both products met the relevant standards set forth by BellCore. For those that have never seen these books, they listed hundreds or thousands of individual requirements to meet to be considered acceptable for deployment. Almost no product met all of them 100%, but many came very close. The fact that these exacting specifications could be met by products that worked so differently should tell you something about creativity and differentiation.
Eventually, the UMC did succeed in the RBOCs through FiOS and became approved at SBC under Project Pronto. It is funny that I have never met anyone who knows how AFC became a Project Pronto vendor. I recall the SBC (as it was known then) Press Release about Pronto. AFC was named as a vendor and we were as surprised as anyone else.
Tomorrow I will post some North Bay items. Back to this story on Thursday with some discussion of International.
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