Unidial Gets a New Name and Focus

LOUISVILLE, KY. (04/27/2000) - The people at Unidial want you to remember the name Lightyear Communications Inc.

That's because Unidial has changed its name to Lightyear to reflect that it will now sell voice and data services on its own network, as opposed to only reselling phone service on the networks of other carriers.

Along with the new name, the company is using a network architecture that extends ATM to customer sites. That way it can provide voice, data and Internet services over a single line at rates that undercut the traditional alternatives.

Rather than buy separate phone and data lines as well as an Internet-access connection, customers can buy just one link from Lightyear. An office connected to those services by three T-1s would pay $6,000 per month. With Lightyear, the bill would be $3,650, the company says.

Customers pay no upfront costs for installation of the service. Phone service includes long-distance, which ranges from 3 to 7 cents per minute, depending on the service package the customer buys.

That sounds like a good deal, according to Jon Etherton, network coordinator for The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Washington, who sets up communications for the paper's branch offices. Although Etherton doesn't use the service, when he heard it described, he said it is reminiscent of channelized T-1 services that carry voice and data. The difference is that with the Lightyear service, bandwidth not being used by phone calls is freed up for data.

Etherton also noted that in a corporate network, it might be less expensive to run all Internet traffic through a single, centrally located link rather than giving each branch office its own.

To provision its service, Lightyear installs an Accelerated Networks AN-30 integrated access device (IAD) at each customer site. The gear has ports for phones and data, and turns all traffic into ATM cells. The IAD drops the data onto the appropriate ATM virtual circuits on a T-1 line running between a customer site and Lightyear's network.

There, traffic from multiple customer sites is concentrated on Accelerated's AN 3220 concentrators and backhauled to Lucent CBX 500 ATM switches.

The switches sort out voice traffic and shunt it to local or long-distance networks as appropriate. The data is sent to the appropriate ISP or to another customer site. "We are only now able to do this. The availability and reliability of the equipment we needed has come about in the past year," says G. Henry Hunt, Lightyear's senior vice president.

The architecture is similar to that employed by 2nd Century, another competitive local exchange carrier that sees combining services onto a single access line as the way to save customers money.

If Lightyear wanted to offer such services a year ago, it would have had to buy its own local voice switches, a prohibitively expensive option. "At $8 million per [point of presence], we could not afford it," Hunt says.

In the future, Lightyear wants to use digital subscriber line (DSL) links to customer sites because they cost less than T-1s. At the moment, DSL is available to only about 20 percent of the customers Lightyear would want to reach, says Mike Johnson, the company's chief technical officer.

The company also expects to cut costs further by using expected features in Accelerated gear that will eliminate the need to buy services from other carriers that provide calling features such as caller ID or call forwarding.

Lightyear will introduce the services July 1 in Anaheim, California; Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Cleveland; Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky. They will be available in seven more cities by year-end, Hunt says. Lightyear says it will continue to resell local phone services from other carriers as it installs the new network.

Lightyear: www.lightyearcom.com.

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