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AT&T Issues IP Challenge

BOSTON -- AT&T's CTO today challenged telecommunications vendors to develop "plug-n-play" technology to help the carrier transition to Internet-protocol (IP) networks for all voice, data, streaming media traffic.

The call for concerted action comes as the industry weathers a "perfect storm" of economic, regulatory and technological problems that have forced many companies out of business and left venture capitalists wary of the sector. Because of this, collaboration, standard-setting and renewed investment, is necessary to navigate the downturn, said Hossein Eslambolchi.

"I believe IP will eat everything, like a Pac Man, by end of decade," Eslambolchi said in his keynote address at the Next Generation Networks 2002 trade show in Boston.

Moving to an Internet-based network will increase bandwidth, spurring new interactive content and services. But getting there could be slow and painful. Eslambolchi compared the process to heart bypass operation, where user traffic must be re-routed while upgrades are made to critical infrastructure.

No one vendor will be able to meet AT&T's needs, Eslambolchi said. That means vendors who want to do business with AT&T better consider how their gear will work in a morphing network. Hardware and software must be able to talk with decades-old systems as well as new equipment from rivals that will be part of the overhaul.

"Given the state of industry, we are not going to invest piece-by-piece, say in one switch" Eslambolchi said.

In addition, software will be king. Applications that allow infrastructure to communicate, as well as programs to automate customer service, billing, as well as detect and proactively thwart security threats such as denial-of-service attacks will be crucial, he added. And, the network must be flexible enough to add new customers without adding overhead, helping improve profit margins.

AT&T is investing heavily in its IP quest, upping research and development budgets 25 percent in each of the last two years. Eslambolchi called on others in the industry to take a similar approach. Small telecom startups, which have hobbled as venture capital funding has evaporated, are especially important to the resurgence of the industry, he said.

"There's huge innovation out there, and we are not taking advantage of it," Eslambolchi said. "AT&T is willing an able to invest in that."