In particular, two key technological initiatives are transforming carrier services. The first is Multiprotocol Layer Switching. MPLS not only reduces the carrier's cost to deliver services, but it also delivers the same levels of reliability and scalability as an ATM infrastructure. As a result, carriers are expanding their network backbones at a phenomenal pace. MCI, for example, adds a point of presence to its new MPLS network every three days. In the next few years, ATM and frame relay will be retired by most of the major providers.
If this is the year of the big carrier MPLS rollouts, the great enterprise migration will start now and end in 2006. In Europe, MPLS services already are more affordable than frame relay. Within a year, the same will be true in the United States. Add in the other benefits--easier provisioning, better support for voice and video traffic, and simpler pricing--and you can't afford to ignore MPLS. These services add flexibility to the WAN: If you introduce a new data center, relocate servers, move users or add voice to the backbone, traffic is rerouted faster than you can say, "Give me two weeks to reconfigure my frame relay network."
The second technology transforming telecom is voice over IP. Here, the drivers are similar to MPLS. VoIP also gives carriers lower-cost infrastructure, but the really interesting part is what it does to carrier deployment. In the old rollout model, operators introduced services incrementally, plodding through a switch-by-switch, city-by-city rollout over months or years. With VoIP, services are virtualized into the cloud, letting them be hosted on centralized platforms or distributed across the network, depending on the carrier's needs.
VoIP services can be noticeably different. Features are easier to use--for example, via Web-based call control--and work the way customers expect. Flat-rate pricing eliminates the archaic distinction between local and long distance voice. But VoIP services should not be defined only by the historical telephone system models. What we've seen from AT&T, Vonage and the others only scratches the surface of how convergence changes voice service for the better.