Qwest Heads for Convergence

A couple of years ago, system vendors were the only ones touting IP network convergence, but lately carriers are also jumping on the bandwagon with the message, and many of them are beginning to publicly outline their strategies.

Recently, Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q) briefed Light Reading on its plans to merge all of its wide area networking traffic onto its Internet Protocol (IP) backbone. Specifically, Qwest says it will IP-enable Frame Relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) services, so that they can be carried over its Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) backbone. Qwest isn’t the only carrier to start talking specifics. AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T) recently divulged its plan, which in some ways seems quite similar to Qwest’s (see AT&T’s New Gods). AT&T already offers IP-enabled Frame Relay and ATM services and plans to continue its migration to a fully converged network. Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON) also is talking about convergence, but unlike AT&T and Qwest, it will not be using MPLS. Instead, it’s converging traffic straight onto IP.

“We are definitely hearing carriers talk about this more now,” says Vishal Sharma, a principal consultant with Metanoia Inc., a firm that consults equipment suppliers and carriers on network planning and design. “I think they are thinking about it more now, because they’re under pressure to do things more efficiently.”

Specifically, they are under pressure to cut costs, but at the same time offer services that are more reliable and more easily accessible.

“Customers want their links to stay up -- they don’t want to have to worry if its Frame Relay, ATM, or voice over IP,” says Dick Notebaert, chairman and CEO of Qwest. “They just want it to work."

Notebaert says that moving toward a converged backbone will allow Qwest to more efficiently and effectively sell services.

What Qwest is proposing is a new way of selling services to customers. Instead of selling customers a Frame Relay, an ATM, or an IP VPN (virtual private network) connection, the plan calls for finding out what the customer requirements are in terms of connection speeds, capacity, and remote access usage. Then the carrier can build a package of services to fill those needs. Some large companies may use a variety of services.

While this rhetoric sounds good now, the reality is that Qwest has a long way to go before it can become a reality. Currently, Qwest’s data network, like many other interexchange networks, is divided into two. One network carries ATM and Frame Relay traffic, while the other one carries IP VPN traffic. Qwest says it has already developed a five-year migration plan that will merge these two distinct networks. The first phase of this migration is expected to be completed in the second half of this year. Qwest says it will offer IP-enabled ATM and Frame Relay services via MPLS on its current network.

The company will then begin shifting those services to a merged network that will also share the same management and OSS. Eventually, by 2007 the migration is expected to be complete.

“However a customer wants to connect to our network, we’ll be able to sell them a service,” says Bob Schroeder, senior director of product management with Qwest. “All they’ll have to do is pick the speed.”

As for how Qwest plans on getting to this converged network, it's still being planned. It is already using MPLS on its Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) routers for traffic engineering in the core of its IP network. It’s also using Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) Shasta gear to provide IP VPN services using IPSec tunneling and encryption. Schroeder says the company plans to continue using these technologies and will add MPLS encapsulated ATM and Frame Relay traffic onto the network, as well. He says there are currently no plans to offer Layer 3 MPLS VPNs based on RFC 2547 or Layer 2 MPLS VPNs based on Draft Martini.

“I think there has been a lot of hype surrounding MPLS VPNs,” says Schroeder. “I’ve never heard a customer call up and say, ‘I want an MPLS VPN.’ They just want a VPN that is reliable and gives them a reasonable sense of security.”

But he admits that Qwest is still evaluating its options and has not completely ruled out using MPLS VPNs in the future.

While Qwest and other carriers will likely try to squeeze as much as they possibly can out of their current equipment, they will also be in need of new gear like multiservice switches that can map access technologies onto the common MPLS backbone. Companies like Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Cisco, Équipe Communications Corp., and Laurel Networks Inc., along with access equipment vendors like Turin Networks Inc., could benefit from this trend.

But Sharma says it could still be a while before many of these network plans come to fruition. He feels every carrier will be working at a different pace.

“There’s no magic formula that says if they converge their networks that they will cut costs,” he says. “There are costs associated with implementing these strategies. It might actually end up costing them more to put it all onto the same network.”

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

MPLS guy 12/5/2012 | 12:13:28 AM
re: Qwest Heads for Convergence Every now and then, you read about someone talking convergence. At the end of the story, they all say the same thing "Not until 2007."

About a year ago, we decided to sign up with a growth company out of Irving, Texas, named Masergy. Check out the URL.

Built from the ground up, they offer MPLS over Native IP. They belong to the MPLS Forum, so they not only follow 2547, their Chief Scientist helped bring the Martini Draft to the mainstream.

Just recently, we added their VoIP serivces to our network and it was as easy as having added their Video service which we did 6 months ago.

We're believers not only in the convergence story over MPLS but we are also believers in the company who helped get the story off the ground. We have one thig to say to Qwest prospects "Why wait until 2007, when you could have convergence with Masergy today?"

FinBurger 12/5/2012 | 12:13:27 AM
re: Qwest Heads for Convergence Losers!
Richard Hatch 12/5/2012 | 12:13:23 AM
re: Qwest Heads for Convergence Ok, Light Reading ought to be spiffed a little something for that ad. Why don't you give out their sales number too ("Hurry, operators standing by!").

This sales pitch is not FUBU but "For Bigots By Bigots" because those Masergy/BBO guys have IP-only on the brain. Go ahead if you're a greenfield but what do they offer if you have legacy services & equipment? Thanks for nothing.

Touting technology for technology's sake, as in "we're the only/first XX service" seems so 90s. People don't care, like Notebart said, make it all work easy & cheap & don't tell me how you make sausage.
Light-bulb 12/5/2012 | 12:13:19 AM
re: Qwest Heads for Convergence Hmm, my only thought is Qwest is so deep in the sack with Mahi that they actually BELIEVE Mahi will help them deliever this product. Dick, I hope you know what your people (Technical Staff) are up too! Because if they are listening to Mahi to help "Get you There in 5 years" you are in for one hell of a ride.
I could be wrong... Its happened once before but I believe that Mahi is the major contender trying to push their product and MPLS in Qwest. My understanding is Qwest is not giving alternate vendors in this realm the time of day. Again, This is just my opinion, but I'm a believer... Those who give/gave friends & Family stock are typically the ones deep in the sack. Dick didn't you lose a few of your senior sales people to Mahi? HMM......................
Coincidence, nay I think not!

Just my .02 cents,

MPLS guy 12/5/2012 | 12:13:19 AM
re: Qwest Heads for Convergence Richard,

Sorry about spreading the MPLS news bent you out. That was not the intention. Having exerienced nex-gen services, and sharing them with Article Talk, I thought, was the the reason we take the time to jump on these bulletin boards.

I look to these boards as the pulse of what's going on in the industry and not as a chance to flame if you don't like what you read. No...I am not an employee, just a a very impressed user.

I'll back off sharing the Masergy/MPLS shout out as I don't have an answer for your legacy inquiry. Perhaps, without anymore postings, you could hold on to your legacy thoughts, not do anything and wait until 2007 until the others catch up as well.

rush21 12/5/2012 | 12:13:18 AM
re: Qwest Heads for Convergence
Richard Hatch said:

People don't care, like Notebart said, make it all work easy & cheap...........


Good advice, but I heard you only get one of the two from Qwest (works or is cheap) :-)
opticalweenie 12/5/2012 | 12:13:15 AM
re: Qwest Heads for Convergence Dick doesn't know f**k all about technology.
Richard Hatch 12/5/2012 | 12:13:12 AM
re: Qwest Heads for Convergence Sorry if the tone of my post had too much of an edge, it was meant to be constructive confrontation. Not intended.

I just think there are a lot of skeptical customers out there that have heard the "XX technology is the messiah" story before. There are no all-encompassing solutions. They've been burned by so many startups and incumbent vendors. I just know those guys are religious and when that's the case, you often get suboptimal solutions.

Weenie-Now there's a real flame, MPLS guy, ha! Go ahead and say I don't know about technology, I don't care, just remember that probably 90% of the EDs & up at carriers have a much different perspective on how to use technology to sustain/build their business. Implementing new technology like MPLS is not a end goal in itself, it must serve customer needs & company objectives. There are early adopters like Masergy and late adopters like ILECs, all behaving rationally. Go ahead and tell me MPLS is bullet-proof and solves all problems, show me how much you know about technology.
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