WorldCom Connection service converges voice, data |  Networking

"What we're doing, by continuing to invest in services like (WorldCom) Connection, is to show our customers that we have complete confidence that (WorldCom) will emerge from bankruptcy. We're not investing as much in new products as we were two years ago, but Connection is one area that we view as a long-term growth area for (WorldCom) and the whole company is behind it."

Those who follow the telecommunications industry also see reason to be optimistic about the new program, but say the latest announcement will do little to thin the clouds hanging over WorldCom.

"It seems like WorldCom is a tale of two companies," said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecommunications industry analyst.

"On the one hand, there's the WorldCom that we see in the headlines every day -- the struggling WorldCom. On the other hand, there's the WorldCom that continues to roll out new services and be very successful at it."

Kagan points to WorldCom's "Neighborhood" program, which offers bundled local and long distance service to home users for a flat monthly rate as an example. In September, WorldCom announced that it had signed up over 1 million customers since launching the program in April -- a result ahead of expectations.

"WorldCom is hoping that (the WorldCom Connection) announcement will do for their business market what Neighborhoods is doing for their consumer markets," Kagan said.

Among WorldCom's biggest advantages in delivering combined voice and data services, says Kagan, is its worldwide data network, including the UUnet Internet backbone provider in North America and international data networks around the world. That enables WorldCom to deliver uniform services to companies with geographically dispersed offices, says Kagan. In contrast, many of WorldCom's largest competitors -- the baby Bells -- can only offer regional services.

Still, WorldCom must win over customers who are wary of its precarious financial situation and spooked over events such as last week's service outage on WorldCom's UUnet Internet backbone and unsure of trusting a vital business function to relatively new technology.

For those customers, WorldCom is offering assurances in the form of service level agreements and customer satisfaction guarantees that would compensate customers for downtime and other service interruptions.

Zipp sees a bright future for WorldCom in the VoIP area.

"Despite the economic malaise, we see a lot of interest in this technology. It's no longer a question of 'if' but of 'when' customers will invest (in VoIP). We're seeing positive signals that we're going to see a gradual migration of services over time," Zitt said.

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