After years of hype, AT&T and WorldCom have launched voice-over-Internet Protocol services, hoping new premium packages and savings will prompt business customers to try the new technology.
AT&T launched its voice-over-IP (VoIP) service last week on the same day WorldCom said it has a similar product coming soon. The announcements marked the first instance of two major telecom companies visibly transitioning to all-data networking that supports voice services. The two giants seem to want to leave circuit switched telephony and its associated multibillion-dollar legacy infrastructure in the 20th century.
The moves follow years of predictions by pundits that data technologies would make networks carrying IP packets the ultimate backbones for voice, data and video services. AT&Ts top brass has high expectations of the inroads IP telephony will make.
"I would assume in the next three years we could have the majority of new remote locations heading in this direction," said Kathleen Earley, president of AT&T Data and Internet Services, at the ComNet 2001 show in Washington, D.C. She expects most business customers will start using VoIP for outbound calls because of cheaper calling plans and premium services.
Executives like Earley think premium VoIP services have major potential for boosting revenue. While they are now sold separately from calling plans, in the future they may become premium services like voice-mail. AT&Ts new Virtual Communication Services, for instance, allow telecommuters to check their business phone voice-mail via any Internet service providers connection, as well as transfer calls and set up conferences. Carriers hope to capture customers with inexpensive basic calling plans and make up for declining telephone revenue by selling "per-drink" use of services like the Virtual Communication Services platform.
AT&T executives emphasized that they already route millions of wholesale VoIP minutes, but are now ready to bring the benefits of the technology to retail customers. The new VoIP option allows businesses to combine voice, fax and data traffic on a single integrated IP connection, managed by AT&T.
Next-generation telecom vendors attending the show applauded two major carriers rolling out convergent voice and data service packages, but they poked holes in their marketing approaches, claiming they are biased toward large companies. They pointed out that sending phone calls in data packets doesnt necessarily require expensive upgrades to all IP networks.