MCI Tackles Convergence

The carrier, formerly known as WorldCom, laid out a road map last week, not only for voice and data convergence but for convergence of the telecommunications and computing worlds as well.

Moving forward, MCI said the majority of its investments and service offerings will center on what it calls convergence networking. Its first commitment to support that agenda came last week in the form of a deal with Microsoft.

CONVERGENCE CONTENDERS: Recent deals supporting rise of converged data and voice networks:

>> MCI: Integrating Microsoft's Windows Messenger with MCI Advantage to offer one tool that handles voice, data and Internet information.
>> Ingram Micro: Signed with Speakeasy, giving resellers the opportunity to sell broadband services.
>> Internap: Tapped Cisco to develop managed services; Cisco VARs and service providers will sell and implement IP-based voice and data services.
>> Cisco and AT&T: Inked partnership to sell managed services.
>> BellSouth: Turned over management of Web hosting

business to IBM.

MCI said it intends to pull VARs into its convergence vision, particularly in the midmarket. The carrier is already recruiting solution providers and is developing a "comprehensive and robust" program under which VARs can sell MCI's classic telco services, as well as convergence solutions such as MCI Advantage and managed services. MCI intends to introduce several managed services in coming months, MCI executives said.

"We look at VARs as a critical distribution channel for us, and [MCI Chairman and CEO] Michael Capellas has said VARs will be a part of our attack on the midmarket," said Jim DeMerlis, vice president of product management at MCI, based here.

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Solution providers said they are particularly keen on the MCI Advantage offering, which consolidates such services as long-distance networks, local networks and various data networks into a single IP framework.

"I just got off the phone with about 100 of my [subagent] partners and they can't wait to get their hands on the [MCI Advantage] offering," said Ted Schuman, CEO of MCI partner PlanetOne, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based master agent with subagents that are predominantly VARs and systems integrators.

MCI still has to prove that it can deliver, Schuman said.

"An all-you-can-eat converged solution for the business world is long overdue, but can [MCI] deliver as far as performance, provisioning, [service-level agreements] and back-office support to both customers and the distribution channel?" Schuman said. "If they can, I have no doubt that they will take the industry by storm."

The building blocks behind MCI's convergence networking strategy include access, transport, infrastructure and intelligent services, all of which will be available for resale by the channel once the solutions are introduced, MCI executives said.