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Have you ever noticed how almost every carrier calls itself “facilities-based”?

The reason why carriers do this is to reassure customers and prospects that the carrier isn’t simply reselling another carrier’s service, adding an unnecessary layer of mistake-prone ordering and provisioning to the process.

Most often you see this in the world of CLECs, where serious business users tend not to see the point of getting phone lines and dial tone, much less dedicated-access data services, from a competitor when it’s really the incumbent’s service.

But when a carrier says it’s facilities-based, that can mean a wide variety of things. I’ve seen carriers call themselves facilities-based simply because they happen to own a telephony switch somewhere within a 100-mile radius of the customer location but everything else is backhauled over – you guessed it – someone else’s transport and switching facilities.

A visit to my office by folks from a CLEC known as Allegiance Telecom Inc. provides a more realistic sense of what most serious buyers would say the minimum requirements are for a carrier to call itself facilities-based at the all-important edge of the public network.

Allegiance – the company started by former MFS executive Royce Holland after MFS and UUNET Technologies Inc. fell into the WorldCom Inc. orbit – is up-front about the fact that it rents local loops from the incumbent local telephone company. But from there it doesn’t take a “trust us” approach to getting your traffic to their switch. Even though one carrier switch – in their case, a Lucent 5ESS – may serve a metro area, the Allegiance reps say they won’t serve a location unless they also have appropriate collocation equipment in your serving central office.

In that central office they’ll place an Alcatel SA product called the Litespan 2000, a SONET-based digital loop carrier system, as well as SONET muxes to link up to a carrier backbone leading to the Lucent Technologies Inc. switch. Then at the Allegiance switch site they’ll also install DACS equipment, Lucent ATM equipment (the Litespan supports ATM), Octel voice-mail gear and, naturally, Cisco routers for Internet service.

The SONET trunking itself tends to come from wholesale carriers under Allegiance’s “Smart Build” strategy. So as you can see, it’s a mix of owned and rented facilities that leads to Allegiance’s end-user product offerings, which are primarily voice and Internet access (though again, Allegiance is up-front that its flagship offering is voice telephony).

Of course, CLECs are going through a rough patch in the court of public opinion (and public dollars as expressed in the stock market). But the good news about all this for the telecom and networking equipment community is that we’re getting past the days when corporate users would say to carriers: “Don’t bother me with the details of your network architecture – it doesn’t make any difference to me.” Any users remaining who do say that are putting themselves at risk of getting taken in by “facilities-based” carriers who are anything but.

Rohde is managing editor of The Edge section of Network World (US). He can be reached at