Earlier this year, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the at the US telecommunications infrastructure was moving towards a “4th network revolution” that would be led by the transition to an “all-IP” network. AT&T is targeting 2020 to have an all-IP network in place. Other major carriers are aggressively investing in IP infrastructure. Smaller carriers may take significantly longer to get there, but the trend is clearly towards IP as a complete legacy network replacement.
Back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, Frame Relay and ATM services were heavily deployed across US corporations. Primarily used for high speed data transfer, companies realized that they could leverage these networks for internal company voice communication as well. While lower quality than dedicated or switched voice services, the voice quality was usually adequate to good, not unlike what many of us experience today with IP voice calls.
As IP continued to gain momentum, it came at the expense of existing technology such as Frame Relay and ATM. Equipment manufacturers set the tone by announcing end of life dates for the network equipment, which were followed by carrier announcements of end of service dates. For example, in 2012 AT&T announced that they would be turning off ATM services for good on April 30, 2016.
The latest announcement is from CenturyLink, who is seeking FCC approval to shut down its legacy Frame Relay and ATM services in its CenturyTel and Embarq affiliate regions. In its FCC filing, CenturyLink stated that “In 2011, CenturyLink was advised by equipment manufacturer Alcatel-Lucent that the equipment used for CenturyTel Frame Relay and CenturyTel ATM services would no longer be manufactured as of December 31, 2011 and that all support would be discontinued as of December 31, 2014.” Active migration of the remaining thousand or so affected business customers to IP-based Ethernet services will continue during the FCC approval process.
Technology changes are inevitable, but they typically don’t happen overnight. Equipment manufacturers and carriers often provide ample end-of-life notifications for equipment and services, along with new technology options to migrate to. If the trends continue, these new IP options will provide more overall functionality at equal if not lower costs for enterprises. IP is here to stay, so embrace the changes!