AT&T Pledges $500M Upgrades, Wi-Fi Too

AT&T said it would spend $500 million on a range of next generation
networking services for businesses, including corporate intranet access via
Wi-Fi hotspots it plans to install in hotels and airports
around the country.

During the “SuperComm 2003” telecommunications conference in Atlanta,
AT&T’s Chairman and CEO David Dorman unveiled a number of improvements the
company plans as part of its half billion investment, all of them designed
to “raise the industry” bar on customer service.

Included on the list of improvements is a plan to deploy wireless
networks that would help customers access their corporate networks from
hotels and airports via the popular WiFi, or the 802.11
wireless networking protocol.

The announcement is part of an almost daily flurry of announcements about
wireless networking services to businesses and consumers, as the popularity
of Wi-Fi spreads.

AT&T is also one of the investors in Cometa, a new company launched last December to provide wholesale wireless Internet access services to
businesses.

But AT&T executives said the $500 million investment is about more than
Wi-Fi access for business travelers. The investment is about improving the
customer experience, they added, such as simplifying contracts, slashing
provisioning time, improving billing accuracy, rolling out powerful
electronic servicing capabilities, and linking customers’ computers directly
into AT&T’s network-support systems.

During a keynote address at the conference, Dorman said AT&T has been
steadily raising the “industry bar” in order to improve customers’
experience and deliver next generation networking services.

“From ordering and provisioning to maintenance and billing, nearly all
aspects of customer experience in the telecom industry have been broken for
more than 20 years,” he said.

In addition to the attention-catching news about Wi-Fi hotspots for
corporate customers, the New York-based AT&T said that within a year, its
Frame Relay customers would be able to implement
network-based Internet Protocol Virtual Private Networks .
Customers will be able to overlay the next generation networking services by
using AT&T’s new “BusinessDirect” Web-based tools that help customers
self-provision services within one hour.

AT&T officials said the latest investment news comes as the company is
already in the midst of consolidating its legacy networks into a single
global IP infrastructure (a Multi Protocol Label Switching or MPLS-based
network over an intelligent optical core) by 2005.

The company is building out its IP network and beefing up the underlying
security, as well as messaging and directory capabilities so that customers
can run major enterprise applications from different vendors on one
integrated networking environment, officials said. The change is a major
shift from the multi-platform architecture involved in traditional
networking.

AT&T said it would enable WiFi access to its business Internet and VPN
tunneling services in order to help business travelers connect to their
corporate applications and secure data from multiple public locations.

Dorman also said by the end of this summer, AT&T would offer customers a
simplified contract structure that lets customers order up AT&T services on
a single master services bill.

In addition, the company pledged to cut negotiating cycle times on
service agreements with customers as part of its half billion dollar pledge;
The Frame Relay customers will be able to upgrade to network-based IP-VPN
within a year;

Other new developments in the pledge include “e-capabilities,” which uses
the company’s “BusinessDirect” portal for management of enterprise systems,
which includes what it called enhanced sales and servicing tools that help
business customers order, manage and monitor their networking services in
real time.

“By directly linking to our customer’s automated systems and processes,
AT&T is taking a major leap forward from the traditional customer/vendor
paradigm to a strategic and trusted partner that helps a company ensure
business-flow continuity, manage network complexity, realize higher returns
on investment and improve productivity,” Dorman said in his prepared remarks
for the conference.

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