IP telephony pushed by major telecom vendors

Courting enterprise customers anew, megacarriers AT&T Corp. and WorldCom Inc. last week piped up with corporate VOIP (voice over IP) offerings at the ComNet trade show in Washington.

The VOIP rollouts show both AT&T and WorldCom roaring back at the enterprise, just when hard financial times have befallen their service provider customers.

Last year, those emerging carriers were the darlings of major networking trade shows such as ComNet, where AT&T and others showed off infrastructure offerings geared straight at the service provider.

At this year's ComNet, carriers made overtures to large corporate clients. AT&T pitched the VOIP services along with new OC-48 dedicated Internet access, hosting bundles, and a managed PBX application for teleworkers. The Basking Ridge, N.J.-based company expressly characterized the offers as an "increasing focus on enterprise networking services."

"The enterprise customer is our heart and soul; we have never lost sight of the enterprise customer," said Kathleen Earley, president of Internet services at AT&T.

And now with major business customers showing an appetite for VOIP, the larger carriers are also getting serious about the telephony space largely forged by newer, upstart carriers.

But at the same time, the telecoms have to tread lightly in VOIP, noted Jeff Moore, an analyst at Sterling, Va.-based Current Analysis Inc. "The last thing AT&T wants to do is cannibalize its circuit-switch voice business," he said.

So to keep itself entrenched in its current base of enterprise business, AT&T bundled VOIP calling with transport, access, and router management.

"It is no accident that AT&T has integrated VOIP with their managed router VPN and dedicated Internet services," Moore added. "It is telling that AT&T is offering this to high-end customers and not to customers in general."

One of the big customers biting at AT&T's VOIP offer is NCR, which is running trials with the service for domestic long-distance voice for 250 employees scattered between Dayton, Ohio, Duluth, Minn., and Rockville, Md.

"We consider this positioning for the future," said Greg Albrecht, VOIP project manager at Dayton-based NCR's internal networks.

"We are looking for places where we can save money right away on long distance and at the same time gain from the experience of having VOIP so early," Albrecht said.

Albrecht said NCR settled on AT&T after parading in six other vendors, most of them service providers that came at VOIP from different angles and applications.

Clinton, Miss.-based WorldCom is coming at VOIP slightly differently from AT&T, although the company is also incorporating its offers in VPN packages.

WorldCom is playing up the unified messaging and multimedia applications the company will make available using the SIP (Session Initiation Protocol).

"Our vision is to use a standards-based approach to deliver applications such as instant IP conferencing and messaging," said Theresa Hastings, director of multimedia services at WorldCom. The company will begin making its VOIP services available in the second quarter.

Therefore, AT&T shot back, "The difference between our services and others is that we have customers up and running, and we have since mid-2000," Earley said.

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