Large companies traditionally held the role of applying cutting-edge technology to enhance their operations. With the onset of the technology revolution, however, small- and medium-sized businesses share the need to access advanced communications networks in order to successfully compete in the market. Now, next-generation Internet Protocol (IP) technologies offer competitive solutions for smaller companies.

As the spectrum of businesses demanding state-of-the-art telecommunications portfolios grows, so does the pressure on commercial real estate developers and managers to equip their buildings with this technology. To respond to their tenants' needs and differentiate their properties, landlords are providing more than office space and the usual amenities. They are partnering with premier communications providers to build technology solutions that deliver the most intelligent services available today.

Hidden beneath the rhetoric about empowering the building owner is the fact that these owners really do have choices in supporting their clients' growing bandwidth demands. Demand for bandwidth is so huge that an entirely new generation of technology providers has emerged - and they are beating the pavement to do business with your business.

These communications providers are delivering the building blocks to the next generation of communications technology - IP, convergence and advanced network platforms. Quite simply, these technologies are designed to help people get things done, whether they are looking for a map to a client's office or need streaming video for distance learning. Consumers and businesses alike are pushing past the constraints of the narrow-band world to increase functionality and change the way people use the Internet.

Building owners are opting for flexible converged network architectures to support the communications needs of their tenants. Next-generation architectures, such as the one built by Intermedia Communications, use a broadband IP network to deliver voice, Internet access and hosted applications to customers in commercial real estate buildings - including IP routing between commercial office buildings and Intermedia's central offices, IP-enabled private branch exchange (PBX) telephone systems, Voice over IP (VoIP) gateway equipment and Fast Ethernet local area networks.

By making applications like IP PBX affordable to businesses of all sizes, this next-generation architecture changes the way businesses communicate. IP PBX operates on a flexible broadband platform and enables small and medium-sized businesses to leverage state-of-the-art bundled communications services that only the largest businesses could afford in the past. This is extremely attractive to small and medium-sized businesses just beginning to use the power of the Internet to keep pace with the rest of the pack and to the building owners that house them.

IP PBX's many advantages include:

- Reduced cost: IP PBX provides the functionality of a traditional PBX phone system, but it eliminates many of the equipment, maintenance and upgrade fees associated with the PBX system.

- Scalability and Flexibility: A network based on a flexible IP architecture will scale as customer needs evolve and eliminate the risks of technology obsolescence. Tenants can lease or buy additional equipment on an as-needed basis and integrate new users into the system when necessary.

- Bundled Services: This bundled package of broadband communications services is available from a single contact provided on a single bill.

- Advanced communications applications: IP PBX supports advanced, intelligent services that make communicating easy and convenient. These services include unified messaging, automatic call distribution (ACD) systems, integrated voice response (IVR) and computer telephony integration (CTI).

As a landlord or property manager in today's competitive multi-tenant market, you must ask yourself if your communications provider can do the following:

- rapidly deploy communications services to your tenants;

- converge data, voice and Internet into one seamless package;

- offer bandwidth up to 100 megabytes (MB) of broadband data per user;

- offer 24-hour network monitoring;

- deliver services on an as-needed, pay-as-you-go basis;

- provide reliability and quality of service.

If your communications provider can do all of this, you'll have an emerging partnership that will improve your service and your relationship with tenants. This partnership with your communications provider will be a seamless extension of your services. Don't shut the door on innovative providers who are pounding the pavement - they may be the linchpin you need to keep you ahead of the building next door.