Cerf Weighs In on AT&T-vs.-UUNet

The war of words and research building between WorldCom Inc. (OTC: WCOEQ) and AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T) just got hotter.

It started when WorldCom filed for bankruptcy last month, launching AT&T into the catbird's seat while president and CEO-designate David Dorman jawed away about his beleaguered competitor (see AT&T's Dorman Weighs In on WorldCom). Since then, it seems AT&T hasn’t passed up a single opportunity to tell the world that it's ready to take over should WorldCom's UUNet subsidiary go dark (see Whither WorldCom's Network? and AT&T Moves In for the Kill).

Contrary to reports that UUNet carries between 30 and 50 percent of all Internet traffic, AT&T has said that both it and WorldCom carry approximately 13 percent of all traffic each, and that migrating a large chunk of stranded UUNet customers to its network would be no problem at all -- in fact, it would be a pleasure.

Now WorldCom's talking back. In an interview with Light Reading Thursday, Vinton Cerf, WorldCom’s senior vice president of Internet architecture and technology, spoke out about AT&T’s claims.

“They’re suffering from network envy and wishful thinking,” Cerf said. “I think AT&T has a real problem.”

The RHK Inc. data AT&T used to support its network claims is dubious, Cerf says, since no one really knows how much traffic any one network carries (see RHK: Internet Growth OK).

WorldCom, for instance, collects data on how much peak capacity its customers’ networks are utilizing, he says. But that doesn’t translate into actual traffic numbers. “The data are not necessarily commensurate,” he says. “I don’t think it’s accurate.... I don’t see how they could come to the conclusion that we carry [13 percent] each. There’s no data to support that.”

"It's very hard to get traffic data," John Ryan, the chief analyst at RHK, acknowledges. "[But] we've worked long and hard to get it, and we got it." He says his firm used a number of different methods to obtain the numbers it published, including monitoring traffic on several large service provider networks. He wouldn't comment on whether or not RHK had access to monitor UUNet's numbers.

"If WorldCom is claiming that they have no way to measure their traffic... their network is not optimized," says Hossein Eslambolchi, CTO of AT&T and president of AT&T Labs. He says AT&T's traffic measurements are in line with the RHK numbers.

Cerf points to other studies, such as recent reports from TeleGeography Inc., Telcordia Technologies Inc., and Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), that don’t talk about traffic numbers but do show that WorldCom connects to twice as many autonomous systems as AT&T, or that it has many more reachable IP addresses than do its competitors.

Eslambolchi says that WorldCom is missing the point. "Just because you're connected to more networks, doesn't mean anything," he says. "The fact is that we are tied with UUNet [on traffic], and that we have more broadband subscribers." Eslabolchi says that broadband users account for 14 times more traffic than narrowband users.

Regardless of how much traffic each network runs, Cerf says there’s no way AT&T could seamlessly integrate a large portion of UUNet’s customers if the unthinkable were to happen.

“The company suffers from what one could call hubris,” Cerf says. “My conclusion is that the AT&T guys are overreaching if they think they could absorb UUNet’s traffic. Moreover, the likelihood of them having to do that is close to zero.”

That’s because WorldCom has no intention of shutting down its UUNet network, Cerf maintains. “In fact, we’re doing better now than before we filed for Chapter 11,” he says, pointing out that the company is now exempt from paying interest on its debt payments. AT&T might be hoping UUNet folds, he says, “but it isn’t going to happen.”

Furthermore, he says, AT&T’s attempt to lure customers to change providers isn’t going to work. “In my experience, customers don’t move unless they have a reason,” he says. “It’s a big pain to switch service providers. This is the largest broadband network in the world,” he says. “Why would [customers] move?”

What could force a move would be a decline in the quality of service on the network, he says. But he insists that hasn’t happened to the UUNet network.

Up to now, AT&T's downplayed WorldCom’s importance in keeping the Internet up and running. Indeed, several AT&T staff members have been among those alleging that WorldCom executives pumped up Internet traffic growth numbers during the boom years and are at least partially responsible for blowing the Internet bubble that led to the current downturn (see Did WorldCom Puff Up the Internet Too?).

Cerf, predictably, disagrees. “Those numbers were a legitimate characterization of customer demand,” he insists. “If you don’t build the network out to meet anticipated demand, you’re doing everyone a disservice.” He says that the anticipated demand numbers didn’t lie, since during the boom years customers were asking for a lot of capacity.

“If a customer comes and asks for a DS3, your first reaction isn’t going to be, let’s take a look at your business plan to see if this is a good idea,” he says. But he acknowledges that "some people could confuse that for traffic statistics… That’s how some people interpreted it.”

Meanwhile, Cerf says WorldCom is determined not to let its competitors get too far ahead while it struggles through its bankruptcy proceedings.

He insists, for instance, that the company remains focused on developing its next-generation product line. “It’s fair to say that we’re not pouring a ton of money into [new service developments],” he says. “But we’re still continuing with R&D. When we emerge from Chapter 11… we don’t want to be offering two-year-old products.” Last week, WorldCom announced a new global managed firewall solution.

Cerf says he doesn’t know which specific services will drive the industry recovery everyone is waiting for. “Instead of asking what the next killer app will be, you should ask what’s the next killer app that will generate revenue,” he says.

Applications like email and instant messaging aren't going to cut it, he says. One area he thinks might be hot is the entertainment industry, where people seem willing to pay for emergent bandwidth-intensive services.

Cerf isn't expecting to see any signs of industry recovery, though, until the latter part of next year at the earliest.

— Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Light Reading
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broadbandboy 12/4/2012 | 9:50:12 PM
re: Cerf Weighs In on AT&T-vs.-UUNet layer3: "Frame and ATM as IP networks? You must work for Cisco. Last I checked, those were L2 networks."

Sure, but they carry mostly IP traffic.


layer3 12/4/2012 | 9:50:29 PM
re: Cerf Weighs In on AT&T-vs.-UUNet broadbandboy wrote :
"I'll give you two examples of profitable IP networks - Frame Relay and ATM!

Aren't you impressed?"

Frame and ATM as IP networks? You must work for Cisco. Last I checked, those were L2 networks.

Tony Li 12/4/2012 | 9:50:30 PM
re: Cerf Weighs In on AT&T-vs.-UUNet Anyone have any more details on what happened and why?


There has been a good discussion of this event
on the NANOG mailing list.

To their credit, AT&T has been forthright about the causes.

lob 12/4/2012 | 9:50:31 PM
re: Cerf Weighs In on AT&T-vs.-UUNet What is really interesting is not how much traffic is actually going through the network, but how much demand there is. In other words - how much your traffic will grow if you increase capacity to the point of zero congestion _and_ low average queue sizes (so that latency won't decrease traffic demand).

Nowadays (with higher levels of aggregation) it is much easier than few years ago when effects of clipping the demand by capacity were quite noticeable due to higher variance and shoestring bugdets of most backbones.

I strongly suspect that Cerf was talking about demand, not about actual traffic.
eyesright 12/4/2012 | 9:50:31 PM
re: Cerf Weighs In on AT&T-vs.-UUNet I worked with Vint Cerf while I was at MCI, and he's an honorable man. Even though he carried an SVP title, he was approachable and respected everyone for their ability to contribute irrespective of their individual title.

This man has contributed immensely to our industry and does not deserve to be tarred with the WorldCom brush.
broadbandboy 12/4/2012 | 9:50:39 PM
re: Cerf Weighs In on AT&T-vs.-UUNet layer3 wrote: "Show me a profitable IP network, THEN I'll be impressed..."

I'll give you two examples of profitable IP networks - Frame Relay and ATM!

Aren't you impressed?

broadbandboy 12/4/2012 | 9:50:40 PM
re: Cerf Weighs In on AT&T-vs.-UUNet I think AT&T should be a little more circumspect when they toot their own horn. Their IP backbone network experienced a 2-hour outage the other day in the Chicago area. Router misconfiguration was apparently the culprit.

Their claim to 5x9s reliability just went down the drain!

Anyone have any more details on what happened and why?


layer3 12/4/2012 | 9:50:41 PM
re: Cerf Weighs In on AT&T-vs.-UUNet Who really cares ? The question Worldcom and AT&T are both avoiding is why neither can create and maintain a profitable business out of carrying data on their networks. Show me a profitable IP network, THEN I'll be impressed...

aa 12/4/2012 | 9:50:44 PM
re: Cerf Weighs In on AT&T-vs.-UUNet He may be a visionary and an accomplished person, but seems to have some problems.

1. Where was he when Worldcom was hyping data
traffic. Now when someone says that the
data traffic numbers were lower than reported
by Worldcom, he jumps and says its difficult
to measure traffic exactly!! Hello, where were
you when Worldcom was hyping those very

2. He says its better now after bankruptcy!!
Who would not be better off by having
thier debt loads taken off thier backs?
I can start a business by borrowing a lot
of money and would have a nice time if
the debt could be removed!!

I think he can be above board and not be
dragged into the mud by his friends at Worldcon!
iptwister 12/4/2012 | 9:50:48 PM
re: Cerf Weighs In on AT&T-vs.-UUNet I am afraid that Mr Pudnhead and myself may actually have a civil conversation of intelligence. I fear that is not allowed on LR?

A few comments in reply, spoken with the most genial of voice:

"might be possible to track raw byte throughput"

- it absolutely is, and is done by every Internet ISP of which I know

"use the aggregation of data to create an approximation of what share of traffic "

- here is the intelligent dissonance, which is that a subset aggregation of traffic data absolutely will be (as) accurate (as the collection/storage methods) (!! should be).

However, the missing variable in the equation is indeed the denominator. These ISPs are loathe to publish their figures, so knowing what is the denominator is difficult. The EU has a fair amount of data from back in 1998, but that#s not so useful now is it?

Therefore, I agree that only an approximation of traffic share is possible without entire disclosure.

Now that said, one can get a fairly reasonable amount of discloser by looking at relative traffic levels with a bit of algebra.

Having done this a plethora of times in the past, any way you slice it, UUNET (AS701) is about 1.5 to 3X the nearest competitor in terms of traffic.

ATT is clumped together in a race for third place with Sprint, CWUSA, and a couple others.

As a final bit of information sharing, using packets as a metric for traffic is not very useful, the byte throughput is most important for various reasons which should be obvious to anyone familiar with the basics of IP.

So yes, I agree, noone knows the exact numbers, but everyone knows the approximate numbers.

And everyone knows ATT Marketing is lying just like they did when they said that if you plugged a non-standard phone into the PSTN the whole thing would collapse.

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