AT&T Talks Up IP VPNs
In a call with Light Reading yesterday, Mike Jenner, VP and general manager of global IP network services for AT&T Business, said AT&T will increase its investment in IP VPNs and expand the reach of its IP VPN services worldwide, rolling out electronically ordered managed Internet services, adding a special IP VPN integration team, and introducing software tools to help customers evaluate their IP VPN options.
To pave the road to IP VPNs, AT&T's beefing up its Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) support, adding 150 points of presence equipped with MPLS outside the U.S. by the end of this year, with 180 total planned.
But few specifics are available beyond this. Jenner won't say how much of AT&T's $3 billion proposed capex for 2003 (see AT&T Results Are Upbeat) will go to IP VPN infrastructure, or how many of AT&T's 500 customer service "integrators" are devoted to IP VPNs. Nor will he comment on the platforms being used to extend IP VPNs in AT&T's network -- word has it Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is the main supplier -- or furnish data on customer adoption so far.
Indeed, this week's release is clearly a reiteration of the "Concept of One" AT&T's been pitching for months (see AT&T’s New Gods). Besides cheerleading support for IP VPNs, Jenner outlined a long list of improvements to the carrier's roster of Frame Relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) services, including geographic expansion, interworking, higher speeds, and special features such as video broadcasting.
Bottom line? AT&T's main message seems to be this: The "integrated hybrid" network that embraces Frame Relay, ATM, and IP VPNs is being pulled together. And the pitch is that MPLS is the glue that's uniting it all.
"MPLS will be the clear winner for VPN creation and consolidation of networking infrastructure," Jenner says.
The message of convergence isn't unique to AT&T. Last month, Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q) outlined similar plans to put all traffic on an IP backbone (see Qwest Heads for Convergence) with MPLS. Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON) has its own integration plan, but that involves Layer 2 tunneling, not MPLS. And the message of big convergence is being touted by RBOCs as well, which plan nationwide networks (see How Will Verizon Go National?).
At least one analyst sees a common thread behind the talk of convergence. "AT&T wants to keep its customer base," says Erin Dunne, director of research services at Vertical Systems Group. "Elasticity between Frame Relay, ATM, private lines, and Gigabit Ethernet is really the key to all this."
In her view, it doesn't matter what unifier is used, MPLS or tunneling or even a combination of technologies. If it looks unified to the customer, that's all that matters. The only people in the world who write and talk about MPLS are press and analysts, she says.
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading