John Dix: AT&T looks to an automated future

Despite AT&T Corp.’s convulsions – the thrashing associated with the divestiture of business units, the imminent departure of its CEO to run one of those units and the sale of its lush headquarters – the company remains an industry powerhouse.

AT&T CTO and Labs President Hossein Eslambolchi says the company will emerge from the restructuring with a solid revenue base, less debt than the average long hauler and a good cash flow story. He’s even more bullish on AT&T’s ability to meet changing market demands.

Data volumes passed voice traffic in 1998, and at the end of 2001 AT&T had generated more data revenue than voice revenue, Eslambolchi says. Today, the AT&T network carries five times more data than voice traffic.

While voice revenue is still trailing off – 12 per cent in the second quarter – data revenue is growing. Total IP revenue was up 26 per cent in that quarter, packet services revenue was up 18 per cent, and managed services revenue was up 20 per cent.

Eslambolchi says AT&T is No. 2 in IP services now, up from a lowly sixth slot a few years ago, and he attributes that to scale being AT&T’s friend – the greater the data demands, the better AT&T’s vast resources look.

Roughly half of AT&T’s backbone is OC-192, with the rest consisting of OC-48 trunks. “We’re adding 50 to 100 OC-48s for private nets every two to three weeks, essentially tripling the size of the PSTN every two to three weeks,” he says.

One of Eslambolchi’s goals is to achieve what he calls the concept of one. He wants to integrate AT&T’s various systems for things like ticketing, provisioning and maintenance, and back it all up with an intelligent global optical core based on MPLS with an IP control plane. He’ll extend intelligence to the edge and use a multiservice aggregation device to support everything from frame and DSL to ATM.

That will let him pursue his other obsession, the concept of zero. The goal is to build intelligence into the DNA of the net and reduce the need for human intervention. He wants AT&T’s network to be able to support self-provisioning and detect, prevent and heal problems by itself.

This will require building in more artificial intelligence, but Eslambolchi says 60 per cent to 65 per cent of AT&T network failures already go undetected by customers because the problems are predicted and solved before they become an issue.

He thinks he can address the other 30 per cent to 35 per cent by the end of the decade, but given the current industry turmoil that might be a stretch. Then again, other carriers are in even more trouble so that may aid AT&T’s case.

Dix is Editor in Chief for Network World (U.S.). Reach him at