It's an IP world out there

CHICAGO ' Anyone who doubts that old-line telecom companies have come back strong in the new mobile, IP-centric world of communications should see the elaborate AT&T promotion that opened the inaugural NXTcomm trade show Tuesday.

Company chairman Randall Stephenson touted Apple's new iPhone, with service only from AT&T, as 'the embodiment of innovation.' The all-around wireless IP device is expected to add about 400,000 new customers for AT&T wireless service when it is released later this month.

Carriers are well on their way to moving to all-IP infrastructures, where the future is seen as a tightly integrated transport-agnostic architecture that will allow anybody to access anything from anywhere on any device, and the lines between carriers, service providers and customers are being blurred.

'It's a market transition,' said John Chambers, CEO at Cisco Systems. 'The transition is going to happen a lot faster than people imagine.'

The NXTcomm conference at which Chambers and Stephenson spoke Tuesday is an illustration of changes in the industry. NXTcomm is the successor to the older GlobalComm and SuperComm industry trade shows, and its current incarnation reflects the merger of the telecom and IP networking and service industries. The trend is being driven by the rapid move from fixed wireline communications to mobile wireless, on networks and devices that converge voice, video and data.

In this new world, image is king. The new business models are being driven by consumer demand rather than businesses, and the new killer app is video rather than e-mail.

'IPTV is where TV is going,' Stephenson said, and that is a big driver for AT&T's rapid upgrade of its IP networks as it moves to be an entertainment medium rather than a mere carrier. 'Entertainment has to be part of the services we offer, or we're not going to get in the front door.'

Chambers predicted that network loads would grow at rates of from 100 percent to 500 percent a year because of this trend.

'What is driving this is video,' he said. 'If there is a killer app, it is video.'

Both the old-line telecom and the new breed communications company see a bright future in the demise of dumb plumbing and the rise of the integrated infrastructure. Chambers said the coming expansion in the communications industry will be as great as that of the early 1990s, but will be more broadly based rather than targeted to a few high-tech business segments.

The threats to this new technological paradise will be outdated regulations that segment the industry, restricting participation.

Stephenson condemned 'outdated franchise laws we've been working under.' But his industry has found a friend in the Federal Communications Commission, which has made it a priority to promote the adoption of broadband access to residences, and wants to spur investment and competition between various service and content providers.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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