December 15, 2000, 2:11 PM — The carrier has moved to the head of the pack by putting all kinds of traffic on its net.
Take everything you think you know about Qwest and turn it upside down. Here is an organization that calls itself "the Internet communications company" but is actually building a customer base on the back of frame relay and old-fashioned voice circuit switches.
Here is a carrier that is gunning for multinational corporations, yet it is filling its network with a sizable base of small and midsize enterprise network traffic.
Here is a company that is promising middleman-eliminating electronic commerce packages, yet whose own business model relies largely on recruiting value-added resellers (VAR) and other resellers.
Qwest hasn't allowed its vision of broadband IP networks to stop it from gaining traffic and customers any way it can. Perhaps more than anything, that drive explains Qwest's recent decision to bid for US West -- the prototypical legacy carrier. Experts aren't wild about that offer, which has faltered as Qwest's stock price has dropped the past two weeks. But experts do credit Qwest with speeding ahead of Level 3, Williams, Global Crossing and many other new telecom players in making a dent in the enterprise network services market. The company has done so by being open to possibilities - and getting the spadework done to have a network to carry whatever traffic it can grab.
"Qwest is way [ahead] in terms of building the network," says Christopher Mines, an analyst with Forrester Research. "If it could stay focused on a strategy," Qwest has a chance to enter the pantheon of leading carriers to compete with AT&T, MCI WorldCom and others.
Take voice traffic, for example. Qwest doesn't talk about it much -- or at all -- but in addition to its Cisco-based IP net and Ascend frame/ATM network, Qwest also has several dozen Nortel Networks DMS 250 long-distance switches. These are the same kind of switches used by the legacy long-distance carriers.
When Qwest burst on the scene in late 1997, it hyped a consumer IP telephony service called Q.talk that offered Internet telephony for 7.5 cents per minute. But that was when consumers were paying 15 cents per minute on AT&T's One Rate plan. Now you can barely find Q.talk mentioned on Qwest's Web site; company officials say they're still supporting existing customers but are not marketing the service.
Instead, they're promoting Q.home -- an ordinary circuit-switched service -- at either 9 cents per minute or, for a $14.95 flat monthly fee, 5 cents per minute. "The core product is a circuit-switched product because that's where the majority of the market is," says John Taylor, senior vice president of consumer markets.