Sprint to move to packet-switch network

Sprint is to change its entire circuit-switched telephone network to packet technology in an attempt to keep up with customer demand for capacity, it announced Tuesday.

All eight million of Sprint's lines will eventually be moved over to the packet-based ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) system, allowing voice, video and data to be broken down into small digital blocks and sent, in effect, simultaneously. This allows the network to be used more efficiently, and will also allow new multimedia services, Sprint said.

Sprint is the first major telecommunications company to move all three of its networks -- the local, tandem and long-distance networks -- over to packet technology, Nortel Networks spokeswoman Ann Fuller, said Tuesday.

Nortel Networks is managing the changeover, taking responsibility for delivery, installation and testing of the new equipment.

While Nortel is working with other telecommunications companies on changing parts of their networks (usually the tandem networks that aggregate calls on the local network) Sprint is the most expansive and first to change over all three networks, Fuller said.

Packet networks are simpler to operate and more cost effective, Fuller said. Sprint hopes to see a 30 percent reduction in operating costs after the changeover, she said.

"It also lays the foundation for the next generation of services, multimedia services like instant video conferencing, virtual whiteboards and, my own favorite, a personal call manager that handles all your e-mail, Blackberry mail and phone calls. You don't need separate wireless, home and work numbers any more."

Such services can easily be bundled for corporate clients, Fuller said, and Sprint will also be able to reach areas of the country that haven't been economically viable to date, she said.

Sprint is beginning the transfer with an initial one million lines, in areas where economic factors have shown it to be most necessary, Sprint said. That decision is based on the amount of traffic in each area and whether it makes sense to upgrade the circuit switch or move to packet switching, Fuller said. The rest of the eight million lines may take up to 12 years to be moved over, she said.

The move is an important one for Sprint because it prepares them for the new services customers will demand, industry analyst Jeff Kagan said Tuesday. The move from circuit-switched to packet-switched is similar to that from analog to digital or narrowband to broadband, or indeed horse and buggy to automobiles, Kagan said.

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