AK-WA Connection 2012: Providers market new high-tech services

Alaska-Washington Connection

Rapidly changing industry offers Alaska businesses numerous opportunities to maximize the potential of telecommunications advances

By Rose Ragsdale Alaska-Washington Connection

A high-tech revolution is underway in telecommunications services, as an industry that defines itself by change is once again inundated by advancements that Alaska providers are bringing to customers in cost- effective ways.

Whether it’s high-speed Internet, network management, wireless network or design, engineering and construction of industry-specific solutions, telecommunications companies that serve the Alaska-Washington business community are working to identify and offer the best in the industry to their clients, while expanding with new services and into new markets.

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One of the most ambitious industry initiatives underway in Alaska is that of Futaris, formerly Alaska Telecom Inc.

Calista Corp., the Alaska Native regional corporation for the Yukon-Kuskokwim region of Alaska, purchased Alaska Telecom, a provider of technical telecommunications services in Alaska, 3 1⁄2 years ago and gained 8(a) designation for the company.

With a new name that means “futuristic, optimistic and limitless” and a new logo, Futaris aims to convey to customers its dramatic transformation during the past 18 months.

“We kind of re-invented ourselves. We went from being a retailer to a carrier. We now compete with AT&T and (others), and we want to grow,” said Futaris President Daniel J. Boone, in a recent interview.

The company got its start more than 30 years ago when Alaska developed its oil fields. With microwave communication towers, it offered a combination of land and mobile radio communications linked by microwave and satellite.

When Boone joined the company in 2011, he set out to identify significant technology patterns and trends and understand what the company’s customers want and provide those services.

“I look at where technology is taking us into the future and literally drag the future into the present. You have to be nimble in this business,” he said. “We want to develop products that ride applications on top of what we have. Our goal is to align, anticipate, and act.”

Futaris recently purchased AtContact, a satellite company with two teleports in Denver and Anchorage. “We would buy satellite services from them, but we realized that we needed to turn the tables. So we also purchased Sequestered Solutions, a private cloud computing company based in Anchorage.

Today, Futaris owns a global satellite communications system with coverage in most parts of the world, including both the North and South poles, and more than 1,000 V-Sat locations in North Dakota and Wyoming, primarily used by oil and gas customers; its system also has spread to areas of Utah and Texas. The company also offers broadcast television services in Latin America and Florida, provides the National Science Foundation with a feed to Antarctica, and has penetrated business markets in Canada, especially among mining companies.

“We’re expanding our global coverage. We’ve upgraded the Colorado teleport by installing another 11- meter antenna pointed at a different satellite. We’ve gotten permits to install two more, and we’re looking at other regions in the world where we want to offer our services,” Boone said.

Futaris also wants to expand its broadcast TV coverage throughout in Lower 48, and already has direct connections to EchoStar and DirecTV.

For Alaska businesses, the company continues to offer engineering, design and integration, construction and installation, and maintenance and service for all types of telecommunications. Its new services include cloud computing and hosting as well as specialized IT services such as certifying medical clinics and doctor’s offices to keep them compliant with HIPAA laws, performing high-tech audits and doing vulnerability assessments on business computer networks. Futaris also monitors business networks and collaborates with IT professionals to protect businesses from external intrusions, while offering cyber- security training to business clients.

“We know you have a problem before you know you have a problem,” said Boone.

Futaris is also deploying advanced SIP system in Alaska, which will eliminate the need for a traditional PBX, Boone said. “We now have intelligent phones that can run applications that mimic small business communication systems, only it works on the data side so it does not use wireless minutes. It is converting smart phones into the actual ‘follow-me’ office environment.“People are requiring more and more of (their) smart phones,” he added.