Sprint CEO Describes Network of the Near Future

In the opening keynote address at Summer Internet World (Chicago), William Esrey, CEO, Sprint Corp., (Westwood, Kan.) claimed that Sprint’s Integrated On-Demand Network (ION) would turn the tides of data transfer. The problem with networks today, he said, is bandwidth. Network administrators and end users "obviously face a chronic shortage of bandwidth. That shortage is rooted in the design conflict between conventional voice networks and advanced data networks," said Esrey.

He also claimed that Sprint’s ION will tie the two conflicting designs together. ION is designed to handle all of a corporation’s networking needs, including voice, long distance, video, Internet, frame relay and data transfer through a single integrated connection. In other words, ION consolidates all of an enterprise’s networks into one.

Sprint has secured access agreements for some key network components with Southwestern Bell, Ameritech, GTE and BellSouth, which include the use of broadband metropolitan-area networks, the high-bandwidth fiber rings within cities.

The first phase of ION’s rollout will come before year’s end. "We have already unveiled the first seven major markets where large businesses will have access to ION. These include New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Denver and Kansas City," said Esrey.

With ION, small and large businesses, as well as consumers, can activate bandwidth as they need it and only pay for what it is used. And the features can be customized as needed.

Last month, Sprint announced that it has the network backbone and equipment to accomplish ION’s goals. The company claims that through a single ION connection, businesses will be able to conduct multiple phone calls, receive faxes, run bandwidth-intensive applications and use the Internet at speeds up to 100 times faster than 56-Kbps modems. "Internet use will be so fast that typical pages on the Web will pop up almost instantaneously," said Esrey.

Sprint’s choice to base ION on an ATM backbone, rather than IP or other Internet protocols, has raised a few eyebrows. "We have chosen ATM, which fully supports IP, so that we can offer public-switched telephone voice quality now without losing the advantages offered by IP-based applications," explained Esrey.

Basing ION on ATM, however, doesn’t exclude corporations to which IP is fundamental. Esrey described Sprint as "protocol-agnostic." So companies can use IP if they prefer. "If you want to go IP, fine, it doesn’t matter. If you want to go ATM, fine, it doesn’t matter," he says. The important thing to Sprint is that ION supports high-speed transfer of data. "Our new system relies on the technologies of the Internet, high-speed switching, data packet routers and optical fiber, while still being able to use legacy systems," added Esrey.

The end result of networks such as ION becoming available to corporations is a paradigm shift in the cause of network bottlenecks. "We are moving from a situation where the network isn’t fast enough, and congestion is an everyday problem, to a situation where the applications aren’t fast enough," he said.