RealTime IT News

What Is the Future of Telecom?


LAS VEGAS -- For the big U.S. telecom networks, the telephone itself is now the least of their worries as they form the backbone of all forms of data connectivity -- the Internet, video and mobility.

In a panel session at NXTcomm, top technology executives from AT&T (NYSE: T), Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and Qwest (NYSE: Q) discussed how their networks are dealing with video, green initiatives and networking demand.

In terms of video, things are looking up.

"We have 1.2 million customers for FiOS and plan to add an additional 60 channels of content so things are going really well," said Mark Wegleitner, Verizon's senior vice president of technology and networking planning.

"If there are any challenges, it is in beefing up the metro networking and building infrastructure," he said.

For Chris Rice, executive vice president for shared services at AT&T, video or more specifically IPTV is now a proven technology.

"We're well beyond the technical issues of IPTV," Rice said. "It's scaling, it works and people like it," he said. "Our challenges are in the execution and getting enough staff to handle the demand and growth."

Another hurdle facing the service provider is finding new ways to distribute content. One option that Verizon is taking seriously is peer-to-peer, or P2P , networking.

Wegleitner noted that for networks P2P is often considered a problem, but some good things about P2P distribution could be applied to solve network problems.

A new type of network that the service providers are looking to further monetize is home networks.

Qwest CTO Pieter Poll commented that one trend that is interesting is companies such as Verizon, AT&T and Qwest all now serve in a role of trusted vendor for home networks. "Most of us are the CTO of our homes or a relative's home," AT&T's Rice said. "Standards need to develop around management for devices in the home. All the devices in the home are competing for the same bandwidth."

"There is a concept of home IT and how can we help consumers to be their first choice for networking," Poll said.

The home network also presents an opportunity for the carriers to offer more services beyond what they already deliver to the home.

"The broadband home router has processing power, and you could be providing home security on the same device," Rice said.

"We've envisioned taking the home router and expanding it to control appliances and the house itself," he said.

"It's not just about plugging in a new PC or TV -- it could be plugging in lighting and heating," Rice added. "The router is a gateway that let's you bring in the way to provide seamless connectivity."

The big carriers aren't just interested in making more money through services; they're also interested in saving money through power efficiency.

AT&T's Rice noted that his company has reduced its energy usage by the equivalent of 19,000 homes worth of energy. He also noted that AT&T has recycled 4 million wireless handsets.

Verizon has instituted requirements for its vendors to achieve energy efficiency for specific telecom equipment.

Verizon's Wegleitner noted that his company has mandated a 20 percent improvement in power usage in equipment, starting with equipment Verizon will start buying in 2009.

"We don't think we'll get anywhere unless we put a stake in the ground," Wegleitner said.

So for Qwest, Verizon and AT&T all of whom started out as telephone companies, where do they expect be in five years?

"The industry is doing a pivot, and Qwest will be about delivering a broadband pipe and voice will be just a service we embrace," Poll said. "It's going to be more about experiences and less about commodity."

AT&T's Rice echoed Poll's sentiment, noting that in five years AT&T won't look like a networking company.

"We will be more about innovative services and applications, which will be enabled by connectivity," Rice said.

For Verizon, the tune is much the same as well.

"For us it's all about the network building a robust broadband platform with a full suite of services," Wegleitner said. "A place where a customer will come for information, entertainment and mobility."