‘A Dinosaur’s Perspective’ on VoIP

BOSTON — The Voice Over Net (VON) show celebrates Skype, Vonage and other VoIP pioneers. If the Baby Bells are mentioned at all, it’s usually with disdain.

Just yesterday, a U.S. Senator equated legacy telecoms with the Recording Industry Association of America, saying both are clinging to old models that suppress innovation and competition.

But in a keynote this morning, BellSouth CTO Bill Smith said VoIP and other IP services present an opportunity, not a threat to the Atlanta-based regional carrier. Smith’s speech was given the tongue-in-cheek title “An RBOC Dinosaur’s Perspective.”

The new services begin with widespread broadband access.

“Our game plan at BellSouth is to use a combination of technologies,” Smith said. “We are fiber zealots; Our first fiber program was in 1980.”

The company is deploying fiber-to-the-node , fiber-to-the-home and and will also consider WiMAX and other technologies for rural customers.

Once that infrastructure is in place, VoIP and other services can be deployed. Smith said BellSouth is testing IP television and expects to make an announcement in the near future on a rollout schedule. (Other Baby Bells have embraced IPTV and have won regulatory changes to streamline rollouts.)

Smith said it is the integration of VoIP, IPTV, wireless — as well as back office tasks of provisioning and billing — that represent the greatest potential as well as the greatest challenges.

Part of that will be challenge will be addressed with IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) infrastructure. BellSouth will move to IMS in mid-2006, Smith said.

Not everyone is so optimistic about the Bells’ prospects. Blair Levin, managing director at Legg Mason, said the legacy telecom companies have opportunities with VoIP, but overall they have “more to lose than to gain.”

In addition, they face increasing competition from AOL, Google, Yahoo and others who are moving to offer VoIP. The telecom carriers have to be more innovative and respond better to customers to be competitive, he said.

BellSouth wasn’t the only large telco talking about VoIP today at VON. Qwest announced that it has teamed with Microsoft to provide small and medium businesses (SMBs) with converged communications.

The offering — which combines Qwest’s OneFlex VoIP and Microsoft’s solution for Enhanced VoIP — will provide a suite of services including VoIP, e-mail, Internet access, collaboration, presence, instant messaging and desktop services.

And MCI announced it has expanded its VoIP suite with two new solutions-managed IP PBX and IP TrunkingServices.

MCI’s enhanced portfolio can be hosted within MCI’s network, located at the customer’s facilities or a hybrid of the two, MCI said.

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