MCI WorldCom reshapes ATM, voice nets

MCI WorldCom is moving rapidly to kill off overlapping parts of its combined networks.

Company officials this week confirmed they have decided to drop MCI's network for direct ATM service in favour of WorldCom's pre-merger ATM network, even though analysts say MCI has far more domestic customers.

At the same time, MCI WorldCom plans to shut down three international voice switching gateways and migrate all of its voice traffic onto MCI's six international voice switching gateways. MCI WorldCom officials would not comment on those reports.

The moves could mean migration challenges for many users, but they are designed to help the company build a more seamless global data and voice network.

Although MCI WorldCom officials wouldn't discuss specific ATM switches, sources say the move will mean that numerous Newbridge Networks ATM edge switches on the MCI side will be decommissioned some time in 1999. Cisco switches on the WorldCom side will begin taking over the lion's share of the company's ATM traffic.

Making the decision to move the ATM service largely hinged on the old MCI's shifting merger plans. After British Telecommunications announced its intent to buy MCI in late 1996, MCI installed Newbridge switches to match ATM gear in BT's network, says Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects, a consulting firm here. But after WorldCom outbid BT for MCI in fall 1997, the switching strategy shifted to WorldCom's preferences.

MCI WorldCom senior vice presidents Vinton Cerf and Jack Walters told Network World that WorldCom's Cisco-based ATM platform is more extensively installed internationally. And Brian Brewer, MCIWorldCom's senior vice president for business-services marketing, added that MCI WorldCom is emphasising global seamlessness on all services. "There is no exception on ATM," Brewer says.

Going with WorldCom's Cisco switches makes sense from the standpoint of integrating IP applications and offering ATM WAN services for users, says Rick Malone, president of consultancy Vertical Systems Group. That's because Cisco supports Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS), a technique for inserting IP traffic-management information into ATM and frame relay headers. Ascend, which is expected to provide MCI's future frame relay switches, also supports MPLS. The result: MCI WorldCom will be able to better support frame relay-to-ATM interworking, Malone says.

Still, MCI customers will have to make a choice of whether to switch to the WorldCom platform. Carrier officials say the MCI hardware will be supported for a while but not indefinitely. Migration decisions will be made on a customer-by-customer basis.

And the company's move to take the MCI ATM network out of commission comes with another consequence: the apparent flight of former MCI ATM specialists to equipment companies, such as Newbridge and FORE Systems, as well as to carriers and service-support organisations.

One such former employee complains that WorldCom's ATM backbone "lacks sufficient capacity" to handle the combined companies' traffic. He says he left because the decision shows "the company's sacrificing quality for the sake of cost, and I didn't want my name associated with it."

Brewer dismisses the complaint. "Don't assume that any network is going to be static," he says. "We expect to continue to dramatically grow" the ATM network.

Analysts say they doubt the merged company would dare let needed capacity slip, but they add that more personnel defections are likely. Published reports last week said EDS Corp. is looking to take over much of MCI WorldCom's data-processing and billing operations, perhaps as part of a deal to absorb MCI WorldCom's Systemhouse outsourcing subsidiary.

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