Cable & Wireless Flies Convergence Flag

Cable & Wireless plans to start pitching voice, data and multimedia convergence in the U.S., and will unveil two new IP services at NetWorld+Interop next week in Atlanta.

Cable & Wireless plans to start pitching voice, data and multimedia convergence in the U.S., and will unveil two new IP services at NetWorld+Interop next week in Atlanta.

Cable & Wireless management said IP Local Area Network (LAN) and Convergence Private Branch Exchange (PBX) services - both already available in the U.K. - will help reel in business customers tired of dealing with different voice, data and networking vendors.

"If you are an organization moving to IP convergence, but without a forklift upgrade of the existing investment - and recognizing that a lot of users in the short term will be using standard handsets they already invested in - then the Convergent PBX is a fantastic stepping stone towards that world of IP end-to-end," said Duncan Black, Cable & Wireless director of corporate networking.

In other words, companies that want a more efficient communications infrastructure can begin by subscribing to the Convergent PBX service, which is based on Nortel Networks gear, and then move on to full IP connectivity on Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks equipment - a change that would require buying new telephone handsets. As they go down the convergence path, enterprises would be moving from circuit-switched to IP telephony.

On an operational level, Cable & Wireless hopes to convince business customers to move their voice communications onto IP data pipes furnished by Cable & Wireless. Before these services, such pipes would be used to deliver Internet access or support business-to-business or e-commerce initiatives by providing access to Web servers. Cable & Wireless also hopes to convince businesses to move their internal data networks running on frame relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode protocols onto these same IP pipes.

The company already has a star customer - H.J. Heinz, a processed food manufacturer. Using a move to new headquarters as an opportunity to upgrade its communications infrastructure, Heinz subscribed to IP LAN services in the U.K. and is considering them for its U.S. operations.

It uses IP telephony, softphones - virtual phones operated from personal computers - and links into legacy voice networks. Cable & Wireless is connecting Heinz sites with Cisco gear using Differentiated Services and Multiprotocol Label Switching-based virtual private networks. Heinz is also looking at unified messaging, service redirection and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).

While the value of the Heinz contact has not been disclosed, Cable & Wireless sells convergent IP connectivity for about $150 per port, and charges about $15 per application per desktop.

Black has a theory about why Heinz decided to walk down the convergence lane: Besides being careful about investing in soon-to-be-obsolete technologies, like circuit-switched voice, enterprises have a philosophical mandate to upgrade.

"The end game, as Jack Welch [General Electric CEO] is said to have said, is to become an e-business company of the future," Black said. "Business users ask us about reducing cost of moving to this e-business infrastructure. The most attractive way to reduce this cost of ownership is through convergence."

To fit this e-business vision, Cable & Wireless is using a large-scale, applications-on-demand project with Compaq Computer and Microsoft to play into the application outsourcing layer as well as in the convergence layer, Black said.

Of course, Cable & Wireless is not alone in touting convergence. For instance, Verizon Communications plans a number of services to address this trend before the end of this year. The name of the game, Black says, is to have all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle available from one carrier, which has been Cable & Wireless goal and, it believes, its competitive differentiator.