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Lighthouse to offer voice services


The long-awaited convergence of voice, data and video through one pipeline will soon be a reality for Iowa businesses, says the head of a Des Moines-based telecommunications company.

Lighthouse Communications, a high-performance data and communications services company, plans to launch a Voice Over Internet Protocol service throughout the Midwest, beginning in Iowa early next year.

The service, which Lighthouse said will be the first major rollout of VOIP in Iowa, will give its clients all the functions of their present telephone systems, but carried in packets of data over the Internet rather than on phone lines.

“This could be the key new product launch for us in the next 12 months,” said Jim Masterson, Lighthouse Communications president and chief executive.

A reliable service would allow a business to drop its telephone provider and streamline its telecommunications costs into one package. Two regional telecom companies, Qwest Communications International and BellSouth Corp., each announced last month their intent to roll out VOIP services.

Lighthouse’s new offering is part of its strategy to further penetrate existing markets and continue to expand in the Midwest.

“We want to be – and I think we’re positioned to be – a dominant player in the Midwest for broadband data services,” Masterson said. “The markets Lighthouse serves are underserved compared to the big markets.”

Founded in July 1996, Lighthouse Communications specializes in providing high-speed data connections for companies ranging from 10 employees to several hundred, using leased fiber networks to link a company’s headquarters with its satellite locations.

The company’s present mid-sized metropolitan business markets include Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Omaha, Kansas City, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. In August it acquired Origix Inc., a Minneapolis telecom start-up, along with the fiber-optic network Origix built in downtown Minneapolis.

Lighthouse, a privately held company, is profitable in each of these markets, Masterson said.

“Our sweet spot’s going to be in the these tier-two cities where people appreciate the extra-hands approach: more time and care,” he said. “We are going to replicate that [customer] care and sales model to other markets.”

The company, which has grown to 55 employees from its original three founders, now serves about 900 business clients.

In an industry that doesn’t hold on to customers well, Lighthouse Communications has a customer retention rate of 91 percent, Masterson said. That devotion to customer care is one of the factors that attracted the 20-year industry veteran, who joined the company three months ago.

“My passion is early-stage technology companies that are ready for growth,” said Masterson, who already has assembled a new management team. “I want to take it to the next level.”

VOIP will be one of the new offerings Lighthouse will add to its present roster of services to increase its value to customers, Masterson said. Complementary services that will also be rolled out next year, beginning in Iowa, include voice conferencing and video conferencing, he said.

Unlike Qwest, which will likely eat into some of its existing business by introducing VOIP, the voice market represents all new business for Lighthouse.

Lighthouse already has Competitive Local Exchange Carrier status in Minnesota, and has applied for that status in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. The regulatory status will allow it to provide voice services.

“We’ve actually had five customers reach out to us asking to be trial customers,” Masterson said. “We’re expecting pretty good adoption by customers.”

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