AT&T to invest US$3 billion by 2005 in global network

AT&T Corp. will spend US$3 billion in capital expenditures this year to completely transform its global network from having a voice-based carrier infrastructure into a single Internet Protocol (IP)-based network, the telco said on Wednesday. The project is expected to be completed by 2005.

“In essence our objective is to try to evolve and we are much further along than what is perceived in the industry,” said Hossein Eslambolchi, president of AT&T Labs, CTO of AT&T and CIO of AT&T Business.

Earlier this summer, IT World Canada reported that AT&T announced a global investment of US$500 million this year to improve its worldwide network. [Please see AT&T invests in its global network.]

In a global teleconference Eslambolchi said AT&T has several major strategic initiatives to build the network as the company evolves its network to an IP optical-based core architecture and continues to consolidate its legacy networks.

Some of the initiatives being planned include moving the optics into the edges of the network from beyond the core; moving from a circuit-based network to packets; having edge-to-edge connectivity, and becoming completely automated.

The plan is to retire 270 of AT&T’s legacy system across the world by the end of 2005. To date about 130 of those systems have been retired over the past 18 months, with another 140 to go over the next two years.

“We already have more IP traffic or data traffic, as compared to voice traffic,” Eslambolchi said. “Voice is still a critical application for customers globally.”

Eslambolchi said that as AT&T continues to switch over to voice over IP (VoIP), the adoption and deployment rates will likely take about a decade to be fully IP around the world.

In the optical arena, the company has already deployed 104 intelligent optical switches.

“The advantage is to allow point-and-click provisioning for customers, in essence as real-time bandwidth provisioning of the services to our customers,” he said.

Moving the network from circuits to packets is something that AT&T has already accomplished, Eslambolichi said, and the focus will eventually turn to evolving the network into an IP-based Multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) network.

There are a total of 37,000TB of data moving across the network, he explained, with about 1,000TB of traffic on the IP network compared with the equivalent of 450TB a day moving on the voice switches. There is an 8:1 ratio of packet traffic on the AT&T network compared to voice traffic.

Deploying IP-based MPLS allows the company to react to information in milliseconds, and to “drive services with higher level of quality,” he said. He added that by implementing virtual private networks (VPNs) within the MPLS architecture the level of capability, reliability and security would improve.

Right now the MPLS is at the core of the network, but it will eventually be deployed globally at the edge of the network as well.

The idea of moving the network distribution from a top-to-top capability to having edge-to-edge connectivity is also something that AT&T will turn its attention to in the next few years.

“The battleground in the 21 st century is about who has got the best network from the edge-to-edge of network,” Eslambolchi said. “To be able to access directly to customers is a fundamental strategy for AT&T.”

AT&T has traditionally been seen as having pipes and ports to applications in the network, but this perception and the idea of AT&T being a commodity based on services is changing as the company moves into having an application aware-network, he said.

“A significant amount of energy has been put into improving cycle times and the defect rate, to offer services in much more dynamic time and real-time,” he explained. Some of those services include the ordering system and the network management system.

Eslambolchi didn’t get into many details about specific software or hardware programs or partners that would be involved in the network, however, Murray Hill, N.J.-based Lucent Technologies announced on Tuesday that it would be partnering with AT&T by providing advanced optical technology as part of AT&T’s network.

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