AT&T Readies for Stress Tests

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Planning to take its multiple ISP architecture to a more scalable next step, AT&T Broadband said it will finish a limited marketing trial in Boulder, Colo. this spring, before rolling out an even larger commercial deployment in the Boston area this autumn.

The MSO is currently conducting a technical trial of its "Broadband Choice" product in Boulder. That six-month pilot, slated to end April 1, involves about 300 customers who are getting free access to four ISPs: Excite@Home Corp., EarthLink Network Inc., Juno Online Services Inc. and AT&T WorldNet Communications Inc.

Soon after AT&T Broadband completes the technical pilot, the company plans to roughly double its base of multiple ISP customers in Boulder. It will then begin other complicated back-office trials, such as billing, explained senior vice president of advanced broadband services Susan Marshall.

Come fall in Massachusetts, AT&T Broadband will again extend beyond the technical issues involved in open access, and open it up to enough customers to "stress" the system. That might require "tens of thousands of subscribers," Marshall said.

Marshall acknowledged that today's policy-based routing techniques have inherent scaling constraints, and estimated that the MSO could presently accommodate no more than 10 ISPs on a particular system before encountering network degradation problems. That total could rise once better technology becomes available.

Thus far, the MSO has yet to name any Boston ISP participants, but expects to do another cattle call and invite a host of national, regional and local service providers.

Marshall said AT&T Broadband could spend another $20 million on the forthcoming Boston trial. If that test passes technical and operational muster, AT&T Broadband Choice could be launched to a number of its "major" cable properties by mid-2002, she predicted.

AT&T Broadband has spent about $20 million on the Boulder trial, with 75 percent of that sum earmarked for the company's homegrown "service agent" software, a PC-based application that configures the computer for high-speed access. The software enables customers to choose among ISPs and select from at least three data-speed tiers.

Marshall said it typically takes customers about two minutes to provision their PCs using the software.

By way of contrast, Time Warner Cable is using a Web-based interface for its technical trial in Columbus, Ohio. Comcast Corp. meanwhile, is preparing to launch a technical pilot in the Philadelphia area before the end of the first quarter, but has yet to release any technical details.

AT&T originally solicited 10 ISPs to participate in Boulder, but several companies that initially accepted the invitation dropped out before they were physically connected to the network. That group includes Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, Flashcom Inc. and FriendlyWorks, said company spokeswoman Sarah Duisik.

Another ISP, Internet Commerce & Communications (formerly RMI.Net Inc.), is in the process of being hooked into the Boulder system, Duisik said.

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