April 05, 2001, 12:43 PM — Combining voice and data traffic over the same WAN connection is in theory a good idea. But if the practice were simple, everyone would be doing it.
Integrated access services that support voice and data on one dedicated line are more widely available today than 18 months ago, but only two service providers have national offerings. Sprint was first, with its Integrated On-Demand Network (ION) service announced in 1998, and AT&T followed several months later with its Integrated Network Connect Service (INCS).
Neither has proven all that popular.
Sprint ION and AT&T INCS are similar in that each includes a carrier-owned customer premises device that connects to a user's LAN and voice switch. The device, a Cisco router in both cases, sends that traffic over a dedicated WAN connection. Both companies claim customers can reduce costs by 3% to 20% because users are reducing the number of dedicated lines they need. But that's where the similarities end.
INCS customers access AT&T's ATM network via frame relay connections. ION customers are connecting via ATM, but Sprint is also offering customers alternative access services whereas AT&T is not. Sprint offers multiple flavors of ION that support DSL for small and remote office workers who may not need 1.544M bit/sec worth of bandwidth. AT&T says it's developing DSL access to INCS.
"We will have DSL in 90 to 100 markets by the end of next year," says Greg Gordon, director of enterprise WAN marketing at Sprint. The carrier now offers DSL access in 12 markets.
Sprint is ahead of AT&T from a DSL perspective, but AT&T also has a leg up on Sprint because INCS customers are using dynamic bandwidth allocation. Both services let customers dedicate a specific amount of bandwidth to voice traffic and the remainder to data traffic. INCS lets customers automatically burst data traffic, borrowing voice bandwidth if it is not being used. AT&T is deploying Cisco 3810v3 devices at customer sites. The device includes Cisco software that supports dynamic bandwidth allocation that's not available in the standard off-the-shelf 3810, says Lisa Pierce, an analyst with Giga Information Group.
Sprint ION does not offer users dynamic bandwidth allocation although it was one of the benefits the company cited when launching its service.
"Today, users set up a [permanent virtual circuit] for voice service and they can change that, but it's not set up so that data can burst into that voice bandwidth," Gordon says.
Fully managed integrated access is not the only attraction users find in these services.