Sprint Eyes DSL for Broadband Move


Sprint Corp. is negotiating with telephone companies foruse of their DSL facilities as a means of moving more quickly into the broadband marketnext year.

Until now, the company had indicated it would proceed withdeployment of its ION (Integrated On-Demand Network) services using its own digitalsubscriber line access multiplexers and other platforms. These include wireless and,possibly, cable, as well as traditional high-end links to the commercial market, such asT-1 lines.

The company is now moving to exploit broader reach via DSLby arranging to buy such connections from telcos "one line at a time," said MikeMcRoberts, director of next-generation network product management.

"We're deploying our own DSLAMs in wire centers withthe highest concentration of potential customers," McRoberts said.

With 2,000 of the nation's 26,000 wire centers (points ofwire concentration at central offices) affording reach to half the U.S. market, it makessense for Sprint to concentrate on putting its own facilities in these locations,McRoberts said.

But, in any given area, that might mean only half thepeople who might want service are reachable via the Sprint DSLAM.

"We want to be able to connect those people aswell," he added.

The consumer and small business DSL side of the IONdeployment is slated to get underway in the second half of 1999, following commercialrollouts over traditional links to the business sector, which are to begin in January."We're going to be saying more about our plans in this area shortly," McRobertssaid, adding that DSL is now seen as the platform that will take Sprint forward in theconsumer market for the next "three to four years."

Other aspects of the carrier's broadband strategy haveshifted as well, starting with the type of service to be offered in January. Whileofficials insisted plans were on track, the plans for the January launch represented aslight slippage from the original schedule announced in June. Back then, Sprint saidinitial commercial services to large businesses would launch by the end of the year.

So far, the only customer slated to launch commerciallywith ION in January is greeting card company Hallmark, one of the firms participating inbeta trials over the past few months.

Hallmark will be connecting multiple communicationsnetworks, including local/long distance, video, Internet and data to simplify itstelecommunications environment, reduce costs and gain access to bandwidth not previouslyavailable, said Jim Miller, vice president of information systems for Hallmark.

In addition, he said, the move gives the company anopportunity to develop new applications that "Hallmark needs to compete in thefuture."

The handful of other ION beta customers are preparing to"exit beta and become paying customers over the next 50 to 60 days," McRobertssaid. "We're also talking with some other pretty significant potential customers whowe expect to be able to announce soon."

But ION will be a different service initially from theintegrated, Internet protocol-based service announced earlier this year.

The goal now is to install ION hubs, where signals from theend user are aggregated into the ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) format and sent out overthe Sprint ATM core network backbone. At the same time, Sprint wants to offer customersthe option to take service in whatever native format -- such as frame relay, Ethernet orcircuit voice -- they are accustomed to, officials said.

Previously, Sprint had intended to put everything into anintegrated ATM package all the way to the premises, which prompted widespread skepticismover the cost-effectiveness of its strategy.

"As originally envisioned, ION was to be a singleintegrated service," McRoberts said. "But, as we've worked with customers, we'vefound each is different with preferences for certain formats and a desire to migrate tofull integration over time rather than right away."

The advantage to migration is that customers can take IONservice, gaining access to the edge hub facilities without having to purchase thosefacilities outright and also positioning themselves to move more of their traffic throughthe hub as they become more comfortable with integration, McRoberts said.

Sprint will be equipped to support fully converged servicesin seven major markets in January, increasing to 27 markets by March and expanding fromthere. The company, however, will offer to install ION hubs in support of non-integratedservice connections in all markets from the outset, he added.

Sprint will not offer local telephone service as part ofthe ION package until the second half, and then it will do so via reselling of local telcoswitched service, waiting until the fourth quarter to introduce packet voice services,officials said.

The company also has work to do before it can deliverspecialized value-added services.

"Sprint will be announcing partnerships withbest-in-class business integration specialists and software developers early nextyear," said Susan Sentell, vice president of marketing and product management atSprint's business unit.

Enhancements will include customer desktop control overservices via Web-enabled software, enhanced network reporting and such value-addedservices as online collaboration, e-commerce, resource planning and supply chainmanagement, Sentell said.