Every telecom player in the world will tell you that eventually all phone calls will be placed on Internet-based networks. Though that won't happen soon, Lucent wants to be the company that gets us there.
Contrary to popular belief, telecom players aren't racing to install Internet-based hardware, which is nowhere near as reliable as circuit networks. But last week Lucent announced three new products that will bring traditional circuit-switch features and dependability to Internet-based products.
"[The new products] allow Internet service providers to offer roughly the same 3000 services available on traditional circuit-switched networks," says Frank D'Amelio, VP of product management and marketing for Lucent's Switching and Access Solutions Group.
The product line, R/Evolutionary Networking, will deliver over packet networks virtually every service and feature available on today's public networks (call waiting, 911, three-way calling etc), with the same voice quality and reliability. The new products can run phone calls over circuit, packet and Internet protocol (IP) technology.
Lucent and Nortel provide nearly all of the call-routing hardware and software in North America. While Nortel's product suite Succession already performs similar functions, some analysts consider Lucent's offering more comprehensive. But Lucent is really taking aim at Cisco and the Internet hardware companies.
"For all the talk coming out of Cisco about adding Old World technology to their Internet products, it's really up to companies like Lucent and Nortel, that actually have experience in the old telecom world, to make it happen," says Hilary Mine of Probe Research. "If I'm a carrier, I need someone who can do all the mundane, obscure things, the stupid legal requirements and stuff that a carrier needs to be able to do. I don't know that Cisco can do that."
Why must carriers slowly wean themselves from traditional phone networks before moving to Internet protocol technology? In a speech earlier this year, Frank Ianna, president of network services for AT&T, revealed that voice traffic still accounts for 51 per cent of the traffic on AT&T networks. Private lines, such as T1 and T3 cables, cover 45.3 per cent. IP traffic accounts for a mere 1.5 per cent of activity on AT&T networks. (The rest goes to frame relay and ATM services.) Voice services are still a high-revenue, profitable business, and trusting them to today's untested IP products would be very risky.
"Lucent is trying to build products that will let their embedded customer base make the transition and still be profitable," says Mine.