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IT Briefcase Exclusive Interview: The Evolution of Voice as a Service with Steve Leonard, Executive Vice President & General Manager of Bandwidth’s inetwork Division

October 17, 2012 No Comments

Steve Leonard, Bandwidth

There is no doubt that modern technology has helped to facilitate the rapid growth of the telecom industry. Telecom has redefined itself and taken on a presence that cannot be denied.

In the interview below, Steve Leonard outlines ways in which the telecom industry has transformed over the last decade, and the role that Voice as Service has played within this evolution.

  • Q. How do you see the telecom industry as having evolved over the past ten years?

A. The telecom industry has evolved rapidly with increased portability, mobility, advertising, competition and regulation.  The means by which customers are communicating and using phones and phone numbers is also continuing to shift as voice is becoming a ubiquitous component of daily digital interaction. Gone are the days of calling someone on a landline, to another landline, and not receiving any answer. This shift is also continuing to alter traditional perception of the phone’s range of capabilities.

For companies and application developers, voice is not an end unto itself but a component of something bigger, giving clout to the new term, “OTT Voice”. The emergence of a new breed of providers acts as another source of fuel feeding the “death of the landline” debate. Companies old and young, large and small are looking to streamline how they operate and reduce overhead costs across the board by assessing new ways to do business and connect with their customers efficiently and cost-effectively.

Over the next few years, entrepreneurs are expected to continue finding inspiration amongst their peers in incubator groups that foster innovation and creativity, specifically in the technology field.  Companies in this industry are always looking for the next big thing, which, 10 years ago, did not hold as wide ranges for possibility. Today and in the future, these opportunities are endless.

  • Q. What roles have social media, gaming, and modern applications played within this construct?

A. Social media, gaming, and modern applications play a significant role in the evolution of telecom. In a world where long distance communication is fueled more and more by IP networks, voice and messaging are becoming yet another packet of data traveling over the network.  As lines of distinction between wireline, VoIP and wireless vanish, we have to dramatically change our conception of what a “phone” is and stands for.

For example, Pandora, an over-the-top-streaming music application, allows users to share a genre station with a friend. Imagine the next iteration where they could not only share a station but open up a voice channel, talk to their friend and say, “hey, listen to this!”  Is that a phone call?  Not really.  It’s something new — something untapped.  A phone is becoming a capability of any IP device or application, as opposed to an entity unto itself.  This is the future inetwork envisions and is uniquely positioned to support.

  • Q. There seems to be a general movement within the industry towards Voice as a Service. What are your thoughts on both this evolution and other trends you’re noticing within the space?

A. In the past, if phone service for business was required, specific areas in the office were devoted for holding the technology, financed by a significant cash outlay to fund the telecom equipment, hire an expert to manage and buy into a local phone company’s bureaucracy to ensure service.  VoIP has dramatically changed this paradigm, streamlining the process and minimizing the amount of physical equipment needed.  Voice as a service only requires an IP connection back to the service provider.  A number of our customers operate in this manner, as hosted VoIP and cloud communications providers.  End-users find this model an attractive option as it is less expensive, easier to maintain and provides access to IP-based features unavailable elsewhere.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  The lines continue to blur between companies offering dial tone and those offering applications with voice capabilities baked in.  The example provided earlier, where Pandora may enable one user to “call” another, represents voice as a service taken to a new level.  Some of our current customers are making similar strides including Marchex, GroupMe and Sidecar, to name a few.

At inetwork, we embrace this trend and recognize the changing expectations customers pursuing voice as a service need from their wholesale provider.  No more is it a question of rate sheets and coverage areas.  Now it moving more toward application programming interfaces (APIs), software developer toolkits (SDKs) and other IP tools—ones that had previously been relevant only to the developer community.  This shift if thinking makes absolute sense because again, now voice and messaging are data packets, functioning together.  Who works with data packets?  Developers.  And as these developers consider the next new way to leverage voice and messaging capabilities, inetwork provides the tools they need, in the manner they are accustomed to receiving and implementing.  With inetwork they don’t have to be telecom experts to instill their application or service with the power of voice and messaging.

  • Q. What type of solution is inetwork currently building that differentiates you from your competitors?

A. inetwork built, owns and operates one of the largest nationwide voice networks – unlike many of its competitors who may not have a nationwide footprint or serve as aggregators.  With more telephone numbers than CenturyLink, Comcast, and Time Warner, our customers use approximately 15-20 billion minutes a month, fueling innovators looking to do new things with phone numbers. These customers have the only one-stop-shop providing them with voice, SMS and emergency offerings instead of working with multiple partners and integrations. This allows them to focus on their core business and allowing our team to do what we do best. It’s a win-win partnership.

  • Q. What are the benefits of having a VOIP 911 provider?

A. The FCC has regulated than any “interconnected VoIP” provider must enable its subscribers to call 9-1-1.  The FCC defines interconnected VoIP services as enabling real-time, two-way voice communications; requiring a broadband connection from the user’s location and IP-compatible customer premises equipment; and permitting users to receive calls from and terminate calls to the public switched telephone network (PSTN). The FCC has a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) that contemplates altering the definition of interconnected VoIP to include additional services.

Providers meeting such a definition have two choices.  They can build an in-house solution, which is certainly possible but operationally problematic and to our knowledge no provider has gone down this path.  Alternatively they can choose to work with one of three tier 1 providers in the country with a VoIP 9-1-1 solution.

We believe we offer the strongest option for two reasons.  First we are the only VoIP 9-1-1 provider also able to also meet customers’ wholesale voice and SMS needs, so they benefit from a complete single source solution.  Second, our portal-based management system, not available from other providers, allows customers to simply and accurately provision 9-1-1 for any telephone number.

  • Q. inetwork is one of the largest telecom providers in the industry. What brands have chosen and now trust inetwork as their preferred provider?

A. With more telephone numbers than CenturyLink, Comcast, Time Warner, inetwork customers like Pinger, Google Voice, Vonage and Skype are a few who have implemented a variety of customized services from inetwork.  These heavy-hitters have utilized ability to adjust the size, scale and footprint of their services accordingly.


Steve_LeonardPrior to joining Bandwidth, Steve was General Manager of Motricity’s Off-Deck Division, a leading provider of mobile solutions to carriers, media companies, and application developers. Prior to Motricity, Steve was the Founder and CEO of GoldPocket Wireless, a leading SMS network provider in the U.S. which was later acquired by Motricity. Steve developed expertise in large-scale network and data system management, working with companies such as John Hancock, Compaq, and Lightbridge across a variety of industries, including insurance, wireless, finance and education.

Steve holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, cum laude, from Stonehill College in Massachusetts. He spends his free time with his wife and three children cheering for various Boston sports teams.

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