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Sprint and AT&T to do battle over enterprise services

Race for multinational integration projects

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AT&T and Cingular

AT&T Global Backbone NetworkWireless back-up has also been a strong headline offering for Cingular in its moves to offer converged corporate services – one that will become far simpler should its two parents merge. In November, BellSouth announced the first of a planned string of options for large companies co-developed with Cingular – the Wireless Data Back-up solution, which uses Cingular’s EDGE 2.5G cellular network to back up BellSouth's existing wireline data networks in case of an outage.

The service uses a redundant router equipped with an EDGE-compatible wireless PC modem card at each location that requires wireless data back-up. Cingular had launched its own wireless back-up offering earlier in 2005 and says it has seen strong uptake and has also been developing wired/wireless managed services with SBC/AT&T. This process will be streamlined should all three companies become one, with the common AT&T brand for all corporate offerings.

This increased weight and common brand, plus an $8bn-plus plan to invest in global networks this year, should make AT&T a powerful enterprise services player, although it needs to leverage and market its presence outside the US more effectively, since its progress has slowed there, and it may be distracted by the merger with SBC.

However, the ability to increase its focus on mobile networks will be key. For instance, BT Global Services – with France Telecom/Orange the leading managed networks provider in Europe - said that around 25 per cent of its network outsourcing contracts won in its most recent financial quarter involved running the client's mobile as well as their fixed line networks.

With this in mind, we can expect AT&T to try to build on an important alliance between Cingular and Orange for the European and multinational market, despite the potential clash of interests with Orange owner France Telecom, which has its own services arm, Equant. On the other hand, the two parent companies could benefit from working more closely together outside their core territories, especially as Equant has been losing ground to BT in large enterprise services.

Orange’s agreement with Cingular enables the users of the two operators to have functionality that includes common bid management across US and European accounts, central reporting and some discounts. The operators will coordinate transatlantic mobile services for multinationals and support discounts (starting at 5 per cent) for Cingular customers using Orange services, but there is no reduction in international roaming charges.

This is the closest transatlantic partnership to rival the Vodafone/Verizon Wireless joint venture (though these two partners have different network technology). Vodafone has a 45 per cent stake in Verizon Wireless, and the two work closely together on multinational accounts. To even try to challenge Vodafone in global roaming – often the prerequisite to any more complex mobile integration contract for a multinational customer - Orange and Cingular have hinted they will go further and offer managed roaming services, reduced roaming charges, service level agreements and single contracts.

Orange also brings to the mix its membership of the Freemove alliance of large European operators – also including Telecom Italia Mobile and T-Mobile.

Sprint

Sprint's North American IP NetworkSo with this web of alliances building up to address the large enterprise market, where does Sprint fit in? Despite its own international long lines network, it has been less active than AT&T and MCI in the integration services business, although it has been a trend setter in some respects, notably the introduction of service level agreements for international customers.

This showed Sprint starting to think like a real enterprise services organisation, something the cellcos have found difficult – less than 10 per cent of large enterprises with an integrated mobile data system have a comprehensive operator SLA, but this has been one reason why they often turn to an IT integrator or wireline carrier rather than a cellco for high level services, relying on the mobile player only for voice and data minutes. SLAs are starting to become a key differentiator both for mobile network services and managed services, especially when working with or competing with wireline carriers.

Sprint offers wireless data SLAs for its mobile business customers, based on network performance metrics such as dropped data sessions, blocked data sessions and data network availability, and will extend this to managed services, customer response and other key areas.

Another sign that Sprint aims to challenge AT&T’s international network reach by starting to behave like an enterprise integrator, not a cellco, came late last year with the creation of the Sprint Enterprise Mobility (SEM) group, which is pitching itself against the largest telecoms services integrators such as IBM. This unit aims to expand its presence in the consulting business beyond advice and into implementation and to advise large businesses and government agencies on how best to use wireless technology and to implement and manage those systems.

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