1. ATM and Frame Relay Phase-Outs Create Challenges and Opportunities for Operators and Customers

    CEN Feature (Nov 29 2012)

    1. ATM and Frame Relay Phase-Outs Create Challenges and Opportunities for Operators and Customers

      Reagan was still in his first term as president when the concepts of ATM and Frame Relay were proposed. As technologies go that makes them dinosaurs, yet they still represent a sizeable chunk of business for some operators – albeit for not much longer.

      Verizon Communications, for example, still has a lot of ATM and Frame Relay customers. Over the summer, Verizon told them they have three years to migrate to IP technologies such as Carrier Ethernet.

      By comparison, Sprint announced its phase-out of ATM and Frame Relay in February 2007.

      “We migrated our last customer to IP/MPLS in December 2010,” says Mike McRoberts, Sprint’s director of product development. “It was a very successful migration. They get a lot more value, more services, and more capabilities out of the MPLS solutions that they move to.”

      For example, customers that made the switch got access to Compass, a portal where they can monitor network performance. Class of service and multicasting also are included at no extra charge.

      “It allowed them to really load up the network and converge all of their different solutions that are mission-critical – data, VoIP, video – all onto one common network,” McRoberts says.

      Even so, not all enterprises jump at the opportunity to ditch their legacy connections.

      “Large companies have tens to hundreds of sites, and these contribute the largest chunks of WAN revenues,” says Michael Howard, Infonetics Research co-founder and principal analyst. “And they are the slowest to move to a new technology. It is a major effort, and all services must work during the transition period, which is months to years.”

      In other cases, companies have gone through a spate of acquisitions that saddles them with a hodge-podge of technologies at their facilities. The daunting complexity of migrating all of them to IP can make the upgrade a “when-we-get-around-to-it” project. Those that bite the bullet find that IP makes it easier to acquired and newly constructed facilities going forward.

      “A hub-and-spoke network wasn’t easy to change, whereas with an any-to-any IP/MPLS network, it’s very easy to add sites, whether they’re domestic or international,” McRoberts says.

      For all its benefits to operators, giving customers a hard deadline for migrating off of legacy technologies doesn’t come without risks. For example, it can result in lost business should an otherwise satisfied customers consider rival operators as part of their technology overhaul.

      “A major technology change always brings in competitive options,” Howard says. “Also, some of the same impediments for large companies – the many sites to migrate to Ethernet, and the many services to move to IP – become major projects for the service provider. Legacy products in many cases need to be swapped out for Ethernet/IP products, and the services riding over them must be tested to make sure there are no disruptions.”

      On the flip side, setting a phase-out deadline sometimes wrings more revenue from existing customers.

      “We had customers that actually ended up implementing more sites than they had with us with the older technology,” McRoberts says. “So it was a good deal for them and a good deal for us.”

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