AT&T airs converged network upgrades

AT&T Corp. unveiled enhancements to its voice-over-data services last week that expand their reach to ATM customers and more international locations.

The carrier now offers the same voice-over-data support to ATM customers that it has offered IP and frame relay users for more than a year. AT&T also announced that customers now can set up hybrid voice and data networks if they have a combination of dedicated ATM, frame relay and Internet access connections. Previously, customers couldn’t interconnect voice traffic between varied network types.

The carrier has deployed firewalls between its data networks to support the secure hand-off of voice traffic, says Joe Aibinder, director of voice-over-IP business services. Aibinder declined to reveal which vendor’s gear AT&T has deployed, citing security concerns.

One industry expert sees the moves as positive.

“It’s a practical, important enhancement that allows more conservative users to keep their existing network environment while adding voice support,” says Tom Jenkins, a vice president at consulting firm TeleChoice Inc. “The ability to support any-to-any connectivity for voice and data allows users to evaluate the technology without migrating locations to an all-frame relay or all-IP environment.”

To support any-to-any voice traffic, companies need to order an additional permanent virtual circuit to AT&T’s network hub, where its firewalls are deployed. This is an additional expense that companies would have to evaluate before making the switch, Jenkins says. A customer with an all-frame relay or all-ATM network would not need an additional permanent virtual circuit back to AT&T.

AT&T announced the offerings at the Spring 2002 Voice on the Net conference.

AT&T offers converged voice and data with its Managed Internet Service (MIS), Managed Data Network Services and Managed Router Service. The latter two offerings are for either ATM or frame relay networks. The carrier introduced its fully managed combined voice and data features in January 2001.

Serv-A-Lite has used the AT&T MIS service to support its outbound calls since December. The wholesale hardware distributor is using four channels from its dedicated T-1 line to support the company’s voice traffic.

“We saved $3,000 the first month we deployed the service,” says Bill Hintz, IT director at the East Moline, Ill., company. Hintz also points out that the service offers redundancy that the company didn’t have before. “If my local carrier lops a line, we’ll still have voice service,” he says.

AT&T also has expanded its in-country off-net voice support. AT&T plans to have “dozens” of gateways deployed at the edge of its data networks and the public switched telephone network (PSTN) overseas by year-end. These gateways will allow faster call termination on the PSTN within countries where the calls are destined. Aibinder says these calls were sometimes back-hauled to the U.S., terminated on the domestic PSTN and sent overseas over AT&T’s circuit switched network.

AT&T says it can support more in-country call termination because it is in the process of taking back some of its network assets that were part of the failed Concert deal. Concert was a joint venture between AT&T and British Telecom.

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