July 9, 2014

You Don't Want ASLAs - "Almost SLAs" - in your SIP Trunking Deal

Major technology changeovers come with one great thing and one lousy thing in addition to the prospective cost savings.

The great thing is the natural ability to competitively bid since you're starting fresh with a new service that neither your incumbent nor anyone else currently has installed with you. The bad thing is the fresh start that all these players think that they're getting with your contract paper, and their tendency to propose new, and worse, terms and conditions than you had before.

We've previously noted that SIP Trunking providers love to propose circuit terms that attach to individual concurrent call paths, even though these rate elements aren't even physical circuits. These Minimum Payment Periods (in AT&T jargon) and other circuit terms can keep you on a treadmill of contract non-expiration as the SIP service continually rolls out. More perniciously, they can also knock out milder circuit terms you may have negotiated on legacy services that retire more quickly or incur less than 100% liability if de-installed before the circuit term expires.

These same providers can pull the same sort of switcheroo in the critical area of SLAs. Over time most enterprises are able to obtain stronger SLAs on their existing services to provide more rigorous metrics or tighten up definitions to avoid debilitating carve-outs (such as averaging all events on all circuits over a full month or counting outages only from the time the user reports them). Putting in SIP Trunking gives providers the opportunity to "start all over" not only on the network metrics but also on the critical SLA measurement definitions - rarely to your benefit.

My legal colleagues at LB3 call these agreements ASLAs - "Almost SLAs". They say you have to watch the definitions of SLA application like a hawk in SIP Trunking because of the carriers' tendency to throw very loose SLAs out to you on the first contract pass.

When a carrier sells you the centralized model of SIP Trunking, it may think it has a rationale to exclude "remote sites" from network performance guarantees, even when it's the same provider for MPLS to these same remote sites. But of course the whole point of SIP Trunking is to aggregate voice traffic from remote sites, not to exclude it. And your remote site end-users are expecting voice to work exactly as well as it did before. To be worthwhile, your SIP Trunking and MPLS service levels have to take into account the end-to-end performance, obviously not excluding remote sites.

You may also find a sneaky exclusion for short calls of, for example, under 15 seconds. This speaks to the economics of determining the number of subscribed concurrent call paths. But here again, the point is that you are the one committing to (and paying for) a certain number of CCPs precisely to accommodate all of the type of voice traffic that occurs on your network. Excluding a fair number of the voice sessions that will actually occur - because of call length or another reason - basically gives the provider a free pass on SIP Trunking network performance.

Finally, the newness of SIP Trunking can tempt providers to give themselves an opt-out in the case of really bad performance - a type of trump card that says that SLAs apply only to subpar performance but not to terrible performance. One SIP ASLA that Deb presented in Washington literally read that in the case of a "Chronic Outage" such as a full hour without service in three consecutive months, the carrier could simply terminate the affected voice service with no liability to itself whatsoever.

ASLA avoidance is key to the SIP Trunking procurement and contracting process and indeed to the entire IP Transformation project experience that so many enterprises are now undergoing. 

I encourage you to come with us to San Diego on September 17-19 for the Negotiate Enterprise Communications Deals Conference.  We'll be further discussing this and offering much more guidance during this most interesting time in enterprise network management, carrier selection, and strategic planning.

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1 Comment

SLAs for SIP trunking seem to be essentially "Non-SLAs." In reviewing a couple that were readily available on-line, they had a few numbers thrown in along with credits. However, they were so general that it was not at all clear how the parameters were to be measured, where they were to be measured, and what factors were and were not included.

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