MCI WorldCom Plunges Into Voice/Data Integration

MCI WorldCom Inc., which has lacked a

converged-services offering similar to those from AT&T Corp. and Sprint Corp.,

this week is expected to announce an ATM-based integrated-access service of its

own.

The MCI WorldCom offering, which will probably be disclosed at ComNet 2000, will be based on a choice of integrated-access devices (IAD) placed by the carrier on the customer premise. The devices will come from West Coast firms Accelerated Networks and Mariposa Technology.

According to well-placed sources, the service will likely employ ATM switched virtual circuits that don't have to be preprovisioned by the carrier. As a result, users not only will be able to combine voice and data traffic over the same access facility, but will also have greater circuit-reconfiguration flexibility than they do with many other convergence offerings.

And depending on which access box they choose, users may also be able to take advantage of potentially money-saving access options such as digital subscriber line and inverse multiplexing over ATM, in addition to the T-1 lines that carriers typically offer in their integrated-access packages.

It is unclear whether MCI WorldCom's service announcement will involve a firm availability date with pricing, or will be more of an initial unveiling before releasing full details later in the year.

Analysts say that even though MCI WorldCom is attempting to buy Sprint - whose ATM-based Integrated On-Demand Network (ION) has been marketed heavily over the past 18 months - MCI needs a convergence story of its own. The merger with Sprint is receiving tough scrutiny from U.S. and European regulators, and even if the deal is approved, integration of the two companies is likely to be a laborious process. Meanwhile, customers with requests for proposal coming out this year are looking for a statement of direction about how MCI WorldCom intends to pull voice and data together on its own network.

For the past two years, MCI WorldCom, which owns more extensive local fiber than its long-distance rivals, has emphasized its end-to-end transport capability via its On-Net service. At times, On-Net's broadband capabilities have been compared to ION and AT&T's ATM-based Integrated Network Connection Service (INCS), which employ Cisco and Nortel Networks customer-premise equipment to concentrate voice and data traffic onto an ATM backbone.

But On-Net is unlike ION and INCS in that it doesn't include a well-defined, standard option to have the carrier own and manage integrated-access equipment on the customer premise, says Lisa Pierce, a telecom analyst at Giga Information Group. "They are feeling pressured because of certain key accounts to [offer] an alternative to INCS and ION," she says.

Officials at Accelerated Networks confirmed that MCI WorldCom has been testing Accelerated's equipment and will demonstrate an SVC-based convergence service using Accelerated's devices at ComNet. MCI WorldCom and Mariposa officials declined comment.

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