AT&T has outlined plans to expand its IP virtual private network (VPN) services globally, partly by accelerating an ongoing installation of technology based on the Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) standard.
AT&T is speeding up a rollout of 150 MPLS-based network points of presence in more than 50 countries this year, said Mike Jenner, the company's vice president of global IP network services. In addition, AT&T has formed a 500-person VPN integration consulting team and has made it possible for customers to order VPN setups and other managed Internet services electronically, Jenner said.
The move comes as AT&T readies itself for a market-share battle with Baby Bell companies and other network service providers that offer IP VPN capabilities, said Vijay Bhagavath, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.
"Everybody and his mother has an IP VPN service," Bhagavath said. As a result, AT&T is trying to show that it has the broadest global reach and the most advanced VPN functionality, he explained. VPN offerings that make use of MPLS could provide users with greater scalability and better traffic management capabilities than other approaches do, Bhagavath said.
Antonio Lopez, marketing director at HIT Rail BV in Utrecht, Netherlands, said his company in February went live with AT&T's IP VPN service to connect 26 data centers in 15 European countries.
"We picked AT&T because of the network coverage they have in Europe," Lopez said. "Other carriers in Europe don't cover as much area as AT&T, even though they claim they do. We did a careful study."
HIT Rail is jointly owned by 15 railway companies and manages IT projects for them. The IP VPN replaced a private network based on the X.25 protocol and is expected to produce annual savings of 30 percent, Lopez said. He wouldn't disclose the cost of AT&T's service.
Jenner said AT&T will make it a priority to provide improved VPN provisioning services. The company and its rivals have faced criticism from large users regarding their provisioning capabilities. "In general, customers voice dissatisfaction even with AT&T . . . on provisioning," Jenner said.
Telecommunications carriers like AT&T need to become more knowledgeable about business applications and other technologies, Bhagavath said. "They are very telecom-savvy, but they have to train their people more on CRM, IP and Oracle databases, for example," he said.
Another thing IP VPN customers should monitor is how well carriers work with providers of last-mile communications services, because that's where the majority of network service outages occur, Bhagavath added.