If measured strictly by the number of Internet service provider connections, WorldCom remains the leading backbone provider, followed by Sprint and Cable & Wireless. But ISPs are rapidly being supplanted by businesses of every stripe — from dot-coms to dentists — that are signing up for pipes big and small and are rapidly becoming the largest aggregate group of backbone customers.
It used to be that only ISPs would buy large pipes such as OC-3 (155-megabit-per-second) links. Now, a customer such as Yahoo! Broadband is likely to purchase several OC-48 (2.5-gigabit-per-second) lines for its content distribution needs. ISP-related revenue is snowballing, and backbones that cater directly to businesses, such as AT&T, can get ahead with direct sales.
The fact that wholesalers Level 3 Communications and Global Crossing made the top five indicates that few retail networks are truly global. Though struggling to find new revenue streams in their completed networks, these two make ends meet by moving bytes and minutes to the corners of the world for other carriers and backbones.
It looks as though the only losers in the big financial backbone competition are the companies that havent evolved much beyond their initial mandate to sell to downstream service providers — companies such as Apex Global Internet Services or NetRail, if anybody remembers them.
Using the expertise derived from servicing the ISP market to aim directly at end users, or skipping the ISP upstream business altogether to break into the wholesale market, are apparently strategies that make a difference.