Cisco, Sprint Extend Alliance
New three-year agreement continues history of IP networking leadership
July 11, 2005
by Charles Waltner, News@Cisco
Cisco Systems and Sprint are making a good thing even better. The two companies, long-time partners in advancing the adoption of Internet protocol (IP) communications technologies, are renewing their alliance for another three years.
The broad-based agreement encompasses joint infrastructure, product, and marketing efforts in furthering the adoption of carrier-grade, IP-based networking services, especially for Sprint's business customers. Specifically, Cisco will assist Sprint in its new Data Product Simplification Initiative, which will streamline Sprint's product portfolio and pricing strategy to offer more comprehensive, bundled networking services. As part of the initiative, Cisco will help Sprint transition its services from its legacy network to a Cisco IP Next-Generation Network (IP NGN). Another major focus of the alliance is for Cisco to help Sprint develop and market integrated wire-line and wireless products that take advantage of Sprint's extensive communications infrastructure.
"Probably the most exciting part of the alliance is the opportunity to create new, innovative services that we hope will take various market sectors by storm," said Andre Smith, director of strategic alliances at Sprint. "The alliance embodies the idea that one plus one makes three."
Cisco and Sprint first formed a formal alliance in December 2001, although the close ties between the companies have been in place for many years, collaborating on products such as Cisco's gigabit switched router. During the past three years Sprint and Cisco have lead the industry in the development and deployment of IP technology for major telecommunications networks that handle voice, as well as data traffic. Sprint was one of the first to launch Cisco's Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology for managing carrier-grade IP networks, and it recently became the first global telecommunications company to achieve the Cisco Powered Network Quality-of-Service (QoS) certification, solidifying its leadership in delivering the world's highest quality IP-based converged voice, data, and video communications. And now Sprint is one of first and largest global telecommunications company to deploy an IP NGN run almost entirely by Cisco equipment.
"Sprint's initiative to deploy our IP NGN is a strong statement of their commitment to their customers and investors, as well as Cisco," says Carlos Dominguez, Cisco's senior vice president of Worldwide Service Provider Operations. "It symbolizes not only the rise of IP technology but also reinforces Sprint's confidence in Cisco's expertise."
Cisco and Sprint have already started working on some of the key goals of the alliance. In February this year, Sprint eliminated its legacy frame relay services from its product list. Sprint still support all customers currently using these services, but in order to quickly migrate to an all-IP network, it worked closely with Cisco to develop SprintLink Frame Relay for sale to all new customers. SprintLink Frame Relay supports all traditional frame relay features but runs on Sprint's more efficient IP NGN infrastructure. "SprintLink Frame Relay is the one of the fruits of our relationship with Cisco," says Michael Buttrey, director of product management for Sprint's business services. Buttrey says Sprint is working with Cisco to create other services that offer existing customers easy ways to transition from traditional legacy services to those offered on its IP NGN.
To complement Sprint's move to an all IP-based infrastructure, Cisco will be helping with its partner's Data Product Simplification Initiative. "The idea is to simplify our product offerings by including things that used to be considered add-ons or value-added services as features in the core product," Buttrey says. "That way customers don't have to pay piecemeal for services that are fundamental to running modern converged IP networks."
An example of a traditionally premium service is "class-of-service," the ability of a network to prioritize one type of communications traffic, such as voice-over-IP, over other traffic, such as email messages. "Five years ago that was a luxury feature for customers," Buttrey says. "But with the growth of converged networks, class-of-service is crucial for customers who are running voice, video and data on their networks. There's no point in making a customer pay extra for something that is essential."
Key to the alliance will be Cisco's efforts to help Sprint create new services that integrate the telecommunication company's wire-line and wireless infrastructures. For example, Buttrey says Sprint is using its wireless cell phone and communications network to offer "last mile" connections to businesses that would otherwise buy a fractional T1 service from a local phone company. The Sprint service could provide mid-band connection speeds of 200 to 500 megabits per second (Mbps). As part of this effort, Cisco is building routers that can connect to Sprint's wireless network.
Buttrey said Sprint would aim the service at such businesses as smaller retail locations or gas stations, which would use it to make data connections to their main offices for computer backup or other tasks that require moderate bandwidth. Buttrey says the offering could be especially appealing to quasi-mobile applications, such as ATM cash machines set up for special events. Such a service would eliminate the need for cabling and other installation or operational headaches. "It should be a real game-changer for us," Buttrey says. "We did an extensive market analysis and this service offering fits a wide swath of customers.
Whether for infrastructure, products, or marketing, executive teams at Cisco and Sprint will meet quarterly to discuss joint efforts and create businesses plans. A governance board of executives from both companies coordinates the work of the three development groups.
"We've already been doing this for three years so we have a very organized system for how our two companies can most effectively line up our battle flags," Smith said. "It's not too often you find two companies that are so well connected and aligned at the technology level as well as at the executive level, but three years of experience with Cisco has shown us this is exactly the case. It makes the next three years very promising."
Charles Waltner is a freelance journalist in Oakland, Calif.