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Verizon rising in long-distance data

The company's push into the long-distance data market is starting to show results--and that may not be good news for traditional market leaders AT&T and WorldCom, analysts say.

Verizon Communications' push into the long-distance data market is starting to show results--and that may not be good news for traditional market leaders AT&T and WorldCom, some analysts say.

Five months ago, the largest U.S. phone company began battling AT&T, WorldCom and Sprint Communications for the millions of dollars that large businesses and governments spend in order to keep offices--some of them thousands of miles apart--digitally connected.

Verizon now has 150 customers, many of which have defected from competitors, a company representative said Tuesday. David Willis, an analyst at market researcher Meta Group, thinks that, given the early results, Verizon will likely soon displace Sprint as No. 3 in the long-distance data market.

"No one else has that kind of customer movement," Willis said.

Verizon's successes in the last five months comprise the latest evidence that major phone companies are beginning to pose a more serious challenge in a market that they've long coveted but have lacked the regulatory approvals to participate in.

AT&T, WorldCom and Sprint rocketed ahead of Verizon, because each could offer a national service on their own networks. But Verizon and other Bells lacked the long-distance approval needed to transport both voice calls and data over much of the country.

Since then, Verizon has won approval to offer long-distance voice and data in all but three states, nearly eliminating the expensive roaming charges that it once incurred. "It's the long-distance approvals that now make us a meaningful and serious player in the enterprise space," said Jim Smith, a Verizon spokesman.

Peter Parish, Sprint's product marketing director, said he isn't surprised by Verizon's early successes. But he notes that Gartner analysts recently ranked Sprint and WorldCom as national players, while Verizon is still considered to be a "niche" player.

"They are definitely viewed as lesser, secondary providers," he said.

An AT&T spokeswoman said Verizon "has a long way to go before they will be a real challenge to us," but would not comment further on the matter. WorldCom could not be reached for comment.