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The CN Interview with Herb Levitin of ConferenceGate

13 February, 2004

Herb Levitin is the President of Powercom in Santa Barbara, CA, a voice and data systems integration business founded in 1989. Mr. Levitin is an electronic engineer, Cisco CCNA and licensed electrical contractor. He has designed large scale WANs for Fortune 1000 companies and major Internet Service Providers. He has been a telecommunications agent for 14 years for major local and long distance carriers. CN sat down with Herb and learned a lot about ConferenceGate.

CN: So, Herb, tell us about ConferenceGate. What exactly is it and where is it based?

Herb Levitin: ConferenceGate offers free audio conference bridge hosting that includes physical space, electrical, SNMP monitoring, a technical support staff, free conference reports and billing with no local loop or cross-connect charges. The owner of the audio conference bridge pays for a maintenance contract of their hardware and a low per minute charge for toll-free long distance service-nothing else. ConferenceGate is located at a hardened carrier gateway facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. This facility was built to house multiple carriers and is a true domestic gateway such as 1 Wilshire in Los Angeles and 60 Hudson in New York. There are over 2,000 long distance fibers that terminate within this facility.

CN: Who is Powercom, and what other companies or principals are involved in ConferenceGate?

HL: Powercom is a systems integrator and reseller of Spectel audio conference bridges, the world leader and founder of the modern audio conference bridge market. Powercom is in a partnership with the owner of the Las Vegas colocation facility who provides the facility, SNMP monitoring services and technical staff. We are also partnered with Value Connect Technologies who is providing their advanced conferencing reports and invoicing software as part of our free services.

CN: What's the value-proposition for companies to switch from their current service provider(s) to the ConferenceGate platform?

HL: 1) Reliability--hardened carrier class facility with redundant air-conditioning, redundant AC and DC power with engine generator backup. 2) Redundancy--22 national and international carriers allows for multiple carriers to be connected to a client's bridge making network reliability higher than a single carrier can provide 3) Availability--Unlike a shared service provider, a client is not sharing resources with other users so in case of another national emergency the client will be communicating with remote facilities not getting busy signals. 4) Advanced features--Spectel bridges allow users to make their own conference call reservations using Lotus Notes or Outlook. Executives can be given unique toll-free numbers that put them directly into a conference without security codes, ports can be partioned to allow executives 100% availability of resources. Blast Dial capabilities allow the bridge to dial up to 1100 users in less than a minute and put them into a conference for emergency situations. Full integration with Spectel's DataXchange data collaboration software with no per minute charges for the data portion of the conference call. 5) Price--We have taken the mystery and the profit out of the audio conferencing service bureau industry. A client will own the same bridge as their current service provider and have it installed at a carrier class facility. There are no local loop or cross-connect charges.

CN: Tell us about the pricing for ConferenceGate.

HL: Advertised price is 2.5 cents per minute, street pricing is under 2 cents per minute.

CN: What about operator-assisted conferencing? Will this be provided in the ConferenceGate package, and how does this effect the pricing?

HL: We offer dedicated to the client's bridge 24 hour by 30 days a month operator services for an extremely low cost.

CN: Billing requirements for conferencing can be quite complex. How does ConferenceGate provide billing and related account management functions? Who developed the billing software?

HL: We provide a free reports and invoicing from Value Connect Technologies that provides electronic format reports and invoices on a daily, weekly or monthly schedule. These reports and invoices are better than any carrier is currently offering and can be customized for the client's needs.

CN: What is the relationship ConferenceGate has with Spectel? Is this exclusive or will other bridge vendors be used at this facility?

HL: Powercom is a Managed Service Provider of Spectel and we exclusively use Spectel bridges at ConferenceGate.

CN: So how do you plan to market ConferenceGate, and what's involved in the sales process?

HL: Banner ads in ConferencingNews, Google placement advertisements, advertisements in The Wall Street Journal and The Economist and a direct sales force. As part of the sales process we offer a free analysis of the clients current conferencing bill using the Value Connect software. This analysis will pinpoint the exact maximum number of ports required instead of relying on estimates. This has proven to dramatically reduce start-up costs. We then provide a complete proposal and scope of work. The actual hardware installation and user training is performed by Spectel with Powercom coordinating all the system integration issues. The SNMP monitoring of the bridge notifies Spectel in the case of an alarm. On site personnel will work with Spectel's global service organization to effect repairs.

CN: What about support services? What program do or will you have in place?

HL: Each bridge is sold with Spectel installation and maintenance contracts. We also quote the optional Spectel SNMP software for each bridge and integrate the bridge into the facility's 24 hour monitoring service.

CN: So what companies are using ConferenceGate now?

HL: There are two Fortune 1000 companies testing a distance learning and corporate communication application at the facility which is expected to fully deploy later this year into a 25 million minute per month usage.

CN: Herb, in your view, what will the conferencing industry look like in five years?

HL: Audio conferencing is the last area of telecommunications that still has a lot of profit for the carriers and inevitably the word will get out that it is very simple to own an audio conference bridge cutting out the middleman. Large Fortune 1000 clients will invest in audio conferencing bridges as they have invested in PBXs over the years as a means to provide a lower cost and more reliable service to their internal users. The distance learning application we are testing at ConferenceGate will dramatically increase the number of number of conferencing minutes. This application provides a fully synchronized interactive TV-like experience to users with a telephone and a dial-up Internet connection.

CN: Lastly, Herb, what kind of plant is that behind you in the picture?
HL: Not really sure, perhaps I should email that picture to a landscape architect friend of mine so she can determine what it is.

CN: Name that herb, Herb! Thanks for taking part in CN's Bigtime Interview series and good luck with ConferenceGate.


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