ATLANTA—AT&T Corp. plans to spend $500 million this year to make it easier for enterprise customers to do business with it, holding out the prospect that dealing with this telephone company wont be clouded by the battles that have come to characterize the telecommunications industrys “customer service” operations.
AT&T Chairman and CEO David Dorman said Tuesday morning that his company is focused on “revolutionizing” the networking environment, transforming its core network to Internet Protocol with multiple service networks running over it. The number of hassles that customers experience will be reduced, Dorman pledged during a keynote address at the SuperComm show in Atlanta.
In addition to being hit hard by the recession, telecom carriers generally have been plagued by the unprecedented accounting scandals of WorldCom Inc.—recently renamed MCI—which have diminished confidence in the industry. As carriers have scrambled to reduce operating expenses, responsiveness to customer needs frequently has suffered. Because most investment in the industry has gone into infrastructure, the customer experience has been lacking, Dorman said. Billing problems have been exacerbated by a proliferation of new software systems, and network complexity has obscured the value of new services.
By the end of the summer, AT&T will offer a simplified contract structure that allows customers to order services under a single service agreement, Dorman said. By years end, billing defects will be reduced by 25 percent. And some time next year, AT&T will be able to deliver “near real-time” network-based IP VPN provisioning under one hour to frame relay customers.
“You will be able to order and provision new VPN services yourself,” Dorman said.
AT&Ts strategy is to reduce the number of its physical networks by retiring its stand-alone ATM and frame relay systems. The core network will be IP, but multiple services will run over the edge—the intention being to make it easy for enterprise customers to migrate smoothly to IP.
While giving customers more visibility into their services, the strategy will also give AT&T an increased opportunity to play a consulting role. The company plans to help enterprises integrate supply chain and procurement systems with CRM applications, with AT&T serving as an application manager, Dorman said. “The network ends up becoming the vital link to utility computing,” he said.
Wireless data will also get a boost under the new plan. By the end of the year, business customers will be able to extend their corporate intranets to Wi-Fi hot spots at airports and hotels nationwide, as AT&T continues to increase Wi-Fi access to its network.
“Were going to dramatically expand the use of Wi-Fi hotspots during 2003,” Dorman said, adding that the company plans to have a Wi-Fi presence in the 50 largest metropolitan areas by 2005.
While holding out the prospect for fewer telecommunications headaches, the “revolutionized” networking environment may also mean a slowing of the price wars that have been a pleasant trait of the major interexchance carriers for users. In a cheerful projection for investors, Dorman said that non-price differentiation is becoming increasingly important.