For an industry made up of companies long accustomed to going their own way, telecommunications is becoming increasingly dependent on partnerships.
At the Supercomm show here last week, service providers and software developers unveiled a series of intriguing partnerships.
IBM, which for years has helped network operators team up with other vendors to maximize efficiency and reduce costs, is working with a series of partners—mostly ISVs—to help carriers integrate new IP-based services into their networks.
"Were really looking to build a partner ecosystem," Michael Hill, general manager for IBM global telecommunications, in Hawthorne, N.Y., said. "Partnering is very important now. Its one of the skills that telephone companies have to learn."
The telephone companies are catching on, although the learning curve is steeper for some. In his keynote address at Supercomm, Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon Communications Inc. chairman and CEO, said that rolling out the Fios Internet Service requires participation from at least 60 vendors and will require additional help to supply content.
"We need partners in every part of the communications and entertainment industry," Seidenberg told the Supercomm audience, adding that 30 equipment suppliers and 30 contractors so far are involved in the Fios build-out.
Just as the Internet democratized IT, IP will force open the telecommunications networks, Hill said. A growing adherence to standards will allow diverse parties to get involved in building services tailored to customer needs.
To that end, AT&T Corp. championed an agreement last week to integrate Microsoft Corp.s Connected Services Framework into its network. CSF will allow AT&T to create IP-based services and deliver them over multiple networks to multiple devices. The companies plan to develop services involving messaging, collaboration and business applications.
"We really are opening up our network to the development community," said Eric Shepcaro, vice president of AT&T, in Bedminster, N.J. "Content is finally becoming king." The earliest new services will integrate AT&Ts VOIP (voice over IP) offering with CSF to allow users to click to dial phone calls from any Microsoft Office application.
Also at Supercomm, Covad Communications Group Inc. and EarthLink Inc. agreed to jointly roll out bundled voice and high-speed Internet services in Dallas; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; and Seattle this fall. For Covad, the partnership is not necessitated by an absence of technologies but by an effort to spread investment risk when building into new markets, said Jeff Ahlquist, vice president of product management for Covad, in San Jose.
"Were just not going to go build something unless we have a partner out there to go along," Ahlquist said. "Covads not out there building this thing on a promise."