Redding Phone Company Profits During Coronavirus Pandemic

REDDING, CT — As office workers dispersed from their urban towers into suburban basements last spring, businesses throughout the area searched for solutions to accommodate them.

Many found answers in voice over internet protocol services. As cobwebs grew between phones and desks, telecommunications provider CCi Voice in Redding watched its sales call volume triple in March during the coronavirus outbreak. Michael LeBlanc, the company's president and CEO, called the six months since then "incredibly busy."

CCi Voice specializes in cloud-based phone services. As such, it doesn't have to compete so much with the big telephone companies as bend them to its will. CCi Voice is an agent for 250 telcos. Its real competition in the space comes from straight VOIP software vendors such as Vonage, Ring Central and 8x8.

LeBlanc does not find that competition terribly fierce, he said, because they're not from around here.

"Their customers can't understand what they're saying half the time," he told Patch. "We have people we send in our little trucks to hold customers' hands — COVID allowing, of course — to get them through that initial 30 days of challenge." That level of customer care can't be matched by his rivals' overseas help desks, LeBlanc said, and their businesses have a high rate of churn as a result.

LeBlanc's average customer employs about 50 to 75 users, but he has some who are much larger. A few of those are headquartered in Norwalk and Stamford, and have satellite offices all over the country.

But regardless of where their offices are, the employees are working from home now for the most part, abandoning their cubicles and cuff links for patios and pajamas. The cultural change has been pronounced, foreshadowing the technological changes just on the doorstep.

"So many of our customer's employees have gone home, and the home network is not the same quality as the office network," LeBlanc said. Just as in the mid-90s, when fast home internet access went from a nice- to a need-to-have and made early internet service providers rich, the CEO is banking that quality, uninterruptible internet phone calls will do the sale for the VOIP industry.

The silver bullet comes in the form of software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN). With that connectivity, providers like CCi Voice can monitor these burgeoning home/office phone networks and switch users from their wonky home cable WiFi to their reliable office internet access without dropping calls. Mom stays connected on her quarterly earnings Zoom call even while the Fortnite competition is heating up in the basement.

Earlier this month CCi Voice announced its acquisition of Tele-Verse Communications, Inc., a deal in the making since October. It was one of those rare, natural fits the telecommunications industry had not seen in years: The Long Island-based company had 750 clients but only one was cloud-based, giving LeBlanc's sales team a full Rolodex primed for conversion. CCi Voice will be keeping the Long Island employees, and its facilities, to augment its Redding operations.

When Tropical Storm Isaias blew through Connecticut earlier this month, CCi Voice customers were reminded of another advantage VOIP has over the office broom closet filled with telco racks: Switchable, cloud-based networks like LeBlanc's are immune to power outages.

During the Age of COVID, only a few well-managed companies providing traditional services have been able to profit despite the pandemic, while whole new industries arise to take advantage of the New Normal. CCi Voice has a foot in both those fortunate camps.

This article originally appeared on the Weston-Redding-Easton Patch