Convergence of voice and data as IP services signals end of separate nets

Separate networks for voice and data will become extinct as voice traffic moves onto IP
networks, telephone industry executives told a gathering of federal officials last week.

“Voice is an application on the data network,” said John T. Curran, chief
technical officer for GTE Corp.’s Internetworking Division. But that does not mean it
will be free, as voice-over-IP developers have claimed, he said.

“Internet pricing is subject to change,” Curran said. “I’m not sure
in the long term that you will see dramatic pricing differences” between voice
carried over public IP networks such as the Internet and conventional voice service on
switched telephone networks, he said.

Curran and representatives from Bell Atlantic Corp. and Sprint Corp. spoke at a forum
on telecommunications industry mergers, hosted by the Chief Information Officers
Council’s Interoperability Committee and the Industry Advisory Council of the
Federation of Government Information Processing Councils.

Although the convergence of services on IP networks has raised hopes for economies of
scale, there is considerable risk in moving mission-critical applications to the Internet,
intranets and extranets, Curran said.

“Interoperability is entirely based on informal standards,” he said.

Curran said he expects to see the standards formalized, however, as users demand
performance and throughput guarantees.

“The next wave we’re going to see is business-grade Internet,” Curran
said, which will involve transprovider agreements as well as premium charges to users.

Different service levels will be available for voice, he predicted. Although
toll-quality voice probably will cost about the same over IP networks as it does today on
the public switched network, bargains will come through setting the dial for a certain
quality and price, Curran said.

The speakers agreed that the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which was intended to spur
competition in local telephone services, so far has not produced the expected results.

“Competition hasn’t come yet,” said C. Lincoln Hoewing, Bell Atlantic
assistant vice president and industry analyst.

That is because expectations were unrealistic, he said.

The need to compete through a wider array of services is driving the current wave of
mergers, as providers try to acquire capabilities they do not have time to develop
themselves, he said.

Sprint has staked a bet that when most services move onto packet-switched networks,
wireless digital will become an important link.

The company, in partnership with three cable providers, has spent $2.2 billion
acquiring personal communications spectrum, said Donald E. Teague Jr., vice president and
general manager of Sprint’s Government Services Division.

“That market is going to be phenomenal,” Teague said. He estimated that as
much as 30 percent of the U.S. population cannot access digital subscriber loop

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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