Sprint refocuses on net upgrade, better services

By Michael Martin, Network World |  Networking

After spending much of 2000 sitting on its hands, waiting in vain for regulators to approve its merger with WorldCom, Sprint intends to vastly improve its network and services in 2001.

In interviews held at Sprint headquarters in Kansas City, executives outlined plans to add local voice to the provider's Integrated On-Demand Network (ION) service for corporations, prepare its PCS network for high-speed wireless services, and invest heavily in metropolitan-area and international fiber to boost its SprintLink IP backbone.

Sprint has watched its main competitors -- AT&T and WorldCom -- split business units in an effort to combat lagging long-distance sales, bolster revenue and fight off new rivals. Sprint has remained centralized but like other providers, the nation's third-largest carrier expects data to provide a bigger boost to its revenue in the next two years. Voice accounts for more than 70% of Sprint's revenue, but that will change by 2003 when 50% of revenue is expected to come from data.

For now, Sprint has lots of lost ground to make up after its failed merger with WorldCom.

"During the merger talks, Sprint slowed investment in all its units," says Michael Smith, an analyst with consultancy Stratecast Partners. "There were probably 12 to 15 months of relative inactivity."

Upgrading its ION services will be one of Sprint's primary directions this year. Introduced with great acclaim by Sprint Chairman William Esrey in 1998, ION is still neither fully integrated nor on-demand. ION was supposed to offer customers converged voice and data services over a single pipe connected to Sprint's ATM backbone.

"With business [ION], we are nationwide with data, nationwide with [long-distance] voice and nowhere with local voice," says Len Lauer, president of Sprint's global business market group. Lauer adds that about 40 enterprise customers are using ION for long-distance and data.

Enterprise customers won't be getting local voice as part of ION until later this year. Sprint is about six months behind where it thought it would be in bringing local voice into the ION package, says Fred Harris, Sprint's director of network planning and design. The delay, he says, is due to difficulties in developing a Class-5 softswitch that can offer the full set of features customers get from a traditional Class-5 voice switch, such as 911 service.

"For PBX capabilities, we need a service manager that can do [Primary Rate Interface] T-1 services," he says. "That will be coming out sometime this year."

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