AT&T and WorldCom dive into voice over IP

AT&T Corp. and WorldCom Inc. last week separately introduced services designed to help customers cut costs and simplify their networks by running voice traffic over new or existing IP and frame relay links. However, the actual cost savings customers can expect from the highly anticipated services are hard to determine because both carriers were coy about pricing.

AT&T launched voice-over-IP support for its Managed Internet Service (MIS) -- an IP offering -- and Managed Router Service (MRS) -- a frame relay offering. Customers can convert their PBX voice traffic into packets using Cisco 2600 or 3600 routers for transport over the carrier's IP or frame relay network.

MIS customers can also make off-net calls over the public switched telephone network (PSTN). But frame relay customers are restricted to on-net, intracompany calls until the end of June, when the carrier will launch support for PSTN calls.

The services, available now, are expected to reduce traditional voice costs because the per-minute and termination fees of domestic and long-distance calls can be eliminated by routing the traffic onto the carrier's IP or data network.

"The No. 1 reason we're using [voice over IP] is for cost savings," says Mark Huang, a WAN project manager at Tower Automotive in Grand Rapids, Mich. The auto supplier is testing AT&T's MRS with voice over IP at a handful of sites, and looks forward to converging voice and data onto a single network for simpler management.

While the services introduced last week represent the first phase of AT&T's voice-over-IP strategy, users can expect enhanced features that combine voice and data directly to the desktop, says Kathleen Earley, the carrier's president of Internet and data services.

That level of convergence appeals to NCR Global Network Services, which wants to connect more than 400 of its offices across 88 countries to AT&T's MIS voice-over-IP service.

"On our Dayton, Ohio, campus we have 5,000 employees that move around often," says Greg Albrecht, a project manager. "Supporting IP voice over our wide-area network and LAN will mean users can take their phone and plug into any port and not miss a beat. But only if it's at the right price."

AT&T's pricing is still fuzzy, though the carrier says it will charge a flat rate of $160 per port for its MIS voice-over-IP service. Customers that stay on-net can also expect credits because they are essentially saving AT&T additional costs by not generating traffic over its circuit switched voice network. The carrier says it will likely charge MRS voice-over-IP customers per location, but wouldn't discuss specifics.

AT&T is supporting its new services via gateways that hand off voice calls between its data and circuit-switched nets. While the carrier wouldn't detail how many gateways it has rolled out, Giga Information Group analyst Lisa Pierce says AT&T has 28 H.323 voice-over-IP gateways overseas and 10 in the U.S.

AT&T's voice-over-IP technology of choice is H.323, but Earley says the carrier will upgrade to Session Initiated Protocol (SIP) "when the standard is more fully accepted." That means the company's adoption of the technology could be 12 to 18 months away.

SIP and H.323 are used to send and receive voice calls between the PSTN and data networks. SIP is widely touted as the better technology because it sets up and tears down these sessions with less delay.

SIP is also the technology of choice for WorldCom, which, as expected, aired plans for its IP Communications service at the show (www.nwfusion. com, DocFinder: 2856).

IP Communications is a fully managed service that will be available to WorldCom IP VPN customers. The service will let users send domestic voice calls over WorldCom's IP network and the PSTN.

WorldCom is using SIP-enabled Cisco gateways for its new offering, but says it will support other vendors' gear in the future.

WorldCom says future editions of its service will enable customers to forego buying new and costly PBXs -- a strategy that fits with telecom service reseller AmeriVision's plans.

"We anticipate a time when we may have SIP phones and standard PBX phones on our desktops, but we'd gladly give up our PBX to converge both voice and data onto a single network," says Henry Liverpool, director of network operations at the Oklahoma City company, which is testing WorldCom's service across three sites.

WorldCom says customers will pay a flat fee per site for on-net calls and a per-second usage-based fee for off-net calls, but declined to be specific. The service is slated to roll out between March and July.

This story, "AT&T and WorldCom dive into voice over IP " was originally published by Network World.

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