AT&T estimates a $US3 billion price tag to convert its global network to a single Internet Protocol (IP)-based network by 2005, the company said on Wednesday. AT&T's global network currently functions on a voice-based carrier infrastructure.
"In essence our objective is to try to evolve and we are much further along than what is perceived in the industry," said Hossein Eslambolchi, president of AT&T Labs, chief technology officer (CTO) of AT&T and chief information officer (CIO) of AT&T Business.
Over the summer, IT World Canada reported that AT&T announced a global investment of $500 million this year to improve its worldwide network.
In a global teleconference Eslambolchi said AT&T has several major strategic initiatives to build the network as the company evolves its network to an IP optical-based core architecture and continues to consolidate its legacy networks.
Some of the planned initiatives include moving the optics into the edges of the network from beyond the core, moving from a circuit-based network to packets, having edge-to-edge connectivity and becoming completely automated.
AT&T plans to retire 270 legacy systems across the world by the end of 2005. Approximately 130 legacy systems were retired over the past 18 months, with another 140 systems slated for phase out over the next two years.
"We already have more IP traffic or data traffic, as compared to voice traffic," Eslambolchi said. "Voice is still a critical application for customers globally."
Eslambolchi said that as AT&T continues to switch over to voice over IP (VoIP), the adoption and deployment rates will likely take about a decade to be fully IP around the world.
In the optical arena, the company has already deployed 104 intelligent optical switches.
"The advantage is to allow point-and-click provisioning for customers, in essence as real-time bandwidth provisioning of the services to our customers," Eslambolchi said.
Moving the network from circuits to packets is something that AT&T has already accomplished, Eslambolchi said, and the focus will eventually turn to evolving the network into an IP-based Multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) network.
There are a total of 37,000TB of data moving across the network, he explained, with about 1000TB of traffic on the IP network compared with the equivalent of 450TB a day moving on the voice switches. There is an 8:1 ratio of packet traffic on the AT&T network compared to voice traffic.
Deploying IP-based MPLS allows the company to react to information in milliseconds, and to "drive services with higher level of quality," he said. He added that by implementing virtual private networks (VPNs) within the MPLS architecture the level of capability, reliability and security would improve.
Right now the MPLS is at the core of the network, but it will eventually be deployed globally at the edge of the network as well.
The idea of moving the network distribution from a top-to-top capability to having edge-to-edge connectivity is also something that AT&T will turn its attention to in the next few years.
"The battleground in the 21st century is about who has got the best network from the edge-to-edge of network," Eslambolchi said. "To be able to access directly to customers is a fundamental strategy for AT&T."
AT&T has traditionally been seen as having pipes and ports to applications in the network, but this perception and the idea of AT&T being a commodity based on services is changing as the company moves into having an application aware-network, he said.
"A significant amount of energy has been put into improving cycle times and the defect rate, to offer services in much more dynamic time and real-time," he explained. Some of those services include the ordering system and the network management system.
Eslambolchi did not discuss software or hardware programs or partners that would be involved in the network. However, on Tuesday Murray Hill, New Jersey-based Lucent Technologies announced a partnership with AT&T to provide advanced optical technology for its network.