In South Carolina, TSI's Telephone Service Knows No Bounds.
The company was formally organized in January of 1981 and began offering service September 1, 1984. After nearly five years and an investment of $30 million, Walter Pettiss, the company's president, and Tal Crews, TSI's vice president, built a telephone company in South Carolina, based on microwave technology, that is unique in the US.
TSI was licensed as an interstate resell common carrier by the FCC in October 1981, and as an intrastate common carrier by South Carolina's Public Service Commission in January of 1982, making it the only OCC in the country that can offer both interstate and intrastate services in a state. While the Bell operating companies (BOCs) are only allowed to offer long-distance service within a Local Transport and Access Area, and AT&T is only allowed to offer service between LATAs, TSI has no such limitations within the state of South Carolina.
According to the company's vice president, TSI was able to offer both inter-LATA and intraLATA service because it applied for and received its operating licenses before the LATAs were set up. "When the company was licensed, Judge Greene had yet to rule on divestiture," Crews said.
Beginnings in Intrastate Market
TSI began by investigating the intrastate marketplace for South Carolina, estimating some $310 million a year was being spent in the state for long-distance, WATS and private-line type services, and this figure was growing somewhere around 12 percent a year. In order to be competitive, TSI felt it had to also offer interstate and international services.
The company was not only formed to fill a void left by the AT&T divestiture, but to offer subscribers a quality service at a better price. "TSI's position is that you have to provide equal-to or better service at less cost, but the quality has to be there, too," Crews said.
To provide a quality service, TSI chose Rockwell International to provide a complete turnkey system. Switching equipment came from Rockwell's Switching Systems Division and channel banks were provided by the Wescom Telephone Products Division. Rockwell's Collins Transmissions Systems handled the microwave radios and other microwave components in the network.
TSI uses Rockwell's SCX (Specialized Carrier Exchange) Switching System in Greenville and Columbia. The switch in Greenville has 5,760 ports, of which 4300 are now in use. This switch is also the main tie point to ITT's USTS long-distance service. USTS provides long-distance services for TSI's subscribers.
TSI chose the SCX because it is economical to use and does not require a lot of space. The switch is modular, so the common carrier can expand its capacity as needed. TSI can also add options easily. The SCX provides the company with master synchronization, allowing TSI to automatically synchronize its signal with Southern Bell's TI spans.
The call-processing features of the SCX switching system are provided primarily by software programs contained in the control system. These features include call-routing capability, numbering plans (which include the Bell System 7 and 10-digit numbering plans), speed numbers, hot-line capability, authorization-code access, identification codes, account codes, multiple system partitions, and answer supervision detection for determination of call duration.
The system also allows TSI to add some operator positions, which it has done. The company is looking into the possibility of offering its own directory assistance. Right now, directory assistance is handled by Southern Bell and AT&T.
The channel banks for TSI's network provided by Wescom are specially designed for customer-premise applications, and are for both voice and data needs.
The channel banks have universal architecture, which means there is no dedicated slot or rewiring required by TSI for format, mode or channel-unit configuration.
Building a statewide microwave system to support its service was a big undertaking for a company with only 10 employees when it was first formed. In all, TSI constructed 14 microwave towers throughout the state, averaging 250 to 275 feet in height, with the largest tower 365 feet high. Microwave links were also placed on 180-foot-high self-supporting towers, and on rooftops. In Charleston, the southern link of the system, TSI placed microwave antenna on a broadcast tower owned by station WCSC.
Microwave Links Crisscross State
The first microwave links connected Greenville and Columbia (TSI's headquarters city), and Greenville and Spartanburg. Later, links were built between Anderson, Greenwood, Seneca, Easley, Charleston and Florence. Between Columbia and Florence TSI is using DS-3 facilities provided by Southern Bell. These links allow the common carrier to handle the bulk of intrastate long-distance telephone calls placed by its subscribers.
TSI also uses a fiber-optic link in its network. The company leases capacity on a fiber-optic route owned by Southern Bell. The only portion of the fiber-optic link TSI owns is the segment that crosses a LATA.
To send calls along its microwave network, TSI is using microwave equipment furnished by Rockwell's Collins Transmission Systems Division, headquartered in Dallas. A major component at the tower sites is the MAR-6C 6-GHz common-carrier band microwave radio. The radio provides long-haul transmission of up to 2400 voice channels.
TSI also employs Collins' AMX-110 nonredundant supergroup subsystem, the AMX-110 high-density channel-bank rack subsystems and the MX-108 frequency-division multiplex carrier subsystem.
TSI's marketing plans called for it to go after the 25 largest business users in the state of South Carolina. According to Crews, all of the targeted companies are members of the South Carolina Telecommunications Managers Association.
The companies TSI approached felt that an intrastate system was needed in South Carolina and were willing to go before the South Carolina State Public Service Commission in support of TSI. "We went to the users and asked them if they would support an intrastate network and if they would buy the service," Crews said. "But more than that, we asked them what kinds of services they wanted." Crews emphasizes that TSI could not go before the state's public utility commission without the support of the users.
The company reports that 21 of the 25 largest users in South Carolina are using the system. Some 35 customers represent $11 million in revenues for long-distance, WATS and private-line voice and data circuits.
The users' input resulted in TSI developing what it believes is one of the most innovative WATS-type services being offered today, and is the company's best seller among large users.
Engineering WATS Requirements
"One of the most difficult jobs of a communications manager is engineering the WATS requirements," Crews said. "Complicating the situation is the changing traffic patterns of most companies." At the request of its largest users, TSI developed its WATS service to be what Crews calls "a universal WATS-type service."
The service consists of dedicated facilities from large customers into TSI's switch. Regardless of where the calls go on TSI's WATS service, it bills the user according to where the call terminates. Therefore the service does not need to be constantly re-engineered. If the user has 10 dedicated ports and all Area 1 WATS calls, and all 10 go on the same dedicated ports, then the user is billed only for Area 1. "No matter where the calls go, the user is billed according to where the call terminates," Crews explains.
TSI is also providing users with least-cost routing service through its switch.
Users also told TSI that they wanted to complete interstate and intrastate calls on the same access boards. "We were able to provide that type of service," Crews said. "And consequently a customer has TSI's WATS-type facilities and can do interstate any band or intrastate on those same access boards."
Other than dialing one access number, the employees of companies using TSI's network do not know that their calls are being handled by an alternative common carrier. The system is so transparent to users that some companies using the network never informed their employees of the change.
TSI Asked to Build Microwave Link
One of the textile manufacturers TSI serves asked the common carrier to build a microwave link from its headquarters to its national information center 14 miles away. The manufacturer had done a study and found the microwave system to be more cost-effective over the short haul. "It's really a bypass system," Crews notes. "It will go from the top of the company's headquarters building to TSI's facilities and then on to another leg on the grid."
The manufacturer also ordered all its long-line facilities into TSI's headquarters, and TSI is managing the manufacturer's long-distance services from there.
After TSI successfully got into the intrastate business, it decided to get into the interstate business and also provide international service. Out-of-state calls are routed through ITT's USTS system. The company cannot currently give any preferential rate treatment on international interstate calls, but hopes to be able to in the near future. As Crews puts it, "Rather than the customer going somewhere else to do international calling, we simply handle it and bill the calls at exactly what we are billed."
Billing Handled through BOC
The billing for TSI is handled through Southern Bell, the BOC in South Carolina. When TSI learned that the BOCs were going to offer billing service for other common carriers, it went to Southern Bell and asked to be their first customer for billing services. The agreement was signed in November of last year. Southern Bell then filed a special tariff to provide the billing service for TSI.
The agreement saved the company from setting up a billing department and going through the effort of designing a special program for rating calls and bringing in computers and programmers to develop an in-house call-recording and billing service.
"We thought it would be to our best advantage to have someone with a standard billing system, like Southern Bell, to do our billing," Crews said.
At first Southern Bell would only rate TSI's calls and provide it with a detailed listing of the calls based on a customer's usage.
Southern Bell Now Sends Bill
TSI then took the customer's detailed listing, developed an invoice, put it in an envelope and mailed it out to the customer. Last July, Southern Bell began sending out bills that included its charges, AT&T's charges and TSI's charges. The customer sends a check to Southern Bell and every 30 days the BOC sends TSI the portion of the bill it collected for the company.
Crews says this system has helped with collection problems. "Uncollectables are a horrendous problem with other common carriers and resellers. In fact, the FCC just recently reversed its stand and said that the BOCs can suspend service based on the fact that a customer didn't pay the TSI portion of the bill. It's up to the local state regulatory commissions to determine in each state what to do, but for a while the commission had refused to allow service to be terminated for not paying the bill."
After building up its large customer base, TSI went after the residential subscriber. Since January of this year, TSI has grown from 150 residential subscribers to over 4500 and the number is still growing. Call volume is growing at the rate of 10 percent a week for both business and residential users, according to Crews.
This figure does not take into account the private-line services, and the data transmission on dedicated lines that TSI is providing. Dedicated line service has not been a big business for TSI because it only offers the service on one leg of its microwave network, Crews reports.
Banks are among the largest users of TSI's telecommunications services. "Every major bank in South Carolina is using our service," Crews said. "Communications systems are so essential in the banks, with all the services they just can't afford anything but high-quality, reliable service." Because banks require data-transmission services, TSI has undertaken to provide the service to one of the major banks it serves in South Carolina. The bank is already using the company's voice service.
Today TSI has 120 employees and can reach nearly 95 percent of the population of South Carolina. The OCC handles 150,000 calls a day for its 40,000 customers. Just recently the company took over an entire floor of the First National Bank Building in Columbia.
TSI is considering expanding its service to North Carolina and other surrounding states, but for right now it is concentrating on offering a high-quality service over the microwave network it owns and operates in South Carolina.
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|Date:||Oct 1, 1985|
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