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Bisnow on Business


By Karin Tanabe, for Bisnow on Business


Every time you make a phone call--on business, or even a midnight dial to your ex--you have NeuStar to thank. “That time between punching the number in and connecting to the other person? That’s NeuStar time,” Jeff Ganek, the mustachioed CEO of the communications company tells us. 


Ganek in his lobby with us the other day.


“What we do is really geeky, it’s really arcane,” says Ganek. Essentially the company provides routing information for every call in North America--a directory of telephonic addresses. NeuStar, which went public two years ago, began in 1996 as an autonomous group at Lockheed Martin called Communications Industry Services (CIS). Within 30 days of Ganek’s joining Lockheed to run CIS, Congress passed the Telecom Act of 1996. One of its mandates was for local number portability, so you could change telephone companies and keep your phone number. To comply with the act, the industry chose NeuStar to design, build and enable local number portability.


Ganek with team.


"Right after the act was passed, I went to the FCC and met with the chief engineer," says Ganek. "She was petrified. She said, 'Congress has written a law that requires the greatest change in the industry’s operating system in 50 years. When the FCC carries out Congress’s wishes, every large telecommunications user is going to call my office. What am I going to say?' I handed her my business card and said, have them call me. I will be responsible for the reliability of all of the networks.” That reliability has remained at 99.999% since Ganek’s CIS first won the original contract from the FCC 10 years ago.  


Along with parents, friends, and Paula Abdul, American Idol winner Jordan Sparks also has NeuStar to thank. Those five or six digit numbers you punch in to vote for your hometown hero or download the new Justin Timberlake ringtone are called "common short codes."“The reason that your wireless company knows where to deliver these messages is because of NeuStar’s directory," Ganek says. "It used to exist only inside individual telephone companies." NeuStar, which has been independent since 1999, serves in effect as a hub for the country’s telcos.


What Switzerland is to the EU, NeuStar is to the telecommunications industry: Neutral. That’s even where the name stems from.“There exist thousands of telephone companies that are competitors. But to complete a telephone call takes two cooperating companies. The industry said we need a competitively neutral trusted hub. This never existed before.”  


NeuStar is like a diplomatic parent who loves every child equally. “We have to be a pure hub. We treat every single telephone number and every single telephone company in the exact same way. What we do has a huge public policy component. I don’t think NeuStar could have grown up outside the Washington area. Our relationships with the FCC, with Congress, and with all the telecommunications providers are as important as our technology.” 


As for their technology, the company soon might give us all arthritis of the thumbs. “SMS text runs on 30-year-old technology and it’s expensive. IM is the next generation of messaging for handsets.” 26 of the world’s largest mobile operators have signed contracts to use NeuStar’s infrastructure to provide mobile IM. Those operators serve 300 million plus subscribers. Sounds like text messaging is soon going to have roughly the hipness factor of the VCR


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