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Lucent advances Net telephony plan

Lucent plans technology for delivering telephony features, such as call waiting or 911 service, via Net-based phone systems.

The race to provide reliable networks based on Internet technologies continues.

Telecommunications equipment giant Lucent Technologies announced plans to evolve its circuit-based switching technology today so it can deliver voice calls using a data--or "packet-based"--scheme without losing the features, such as call waiting or 911 service, that users associate with their current phone system.

The new technology feeds into a trend that has enveloped the networking industry from two sides: Telecom equipment manufacturers are honing in on Internet technologies in order to provide a cheaper way for communications providers to deliver services, while data and Internet equipment manufacturers are scrambling to make their technology reliable enough to be used in even the most demanding voice settings.

Lucent has long-stated its intentions in this area, but today it announced new "glue" that will tie its traditional voice switching technology to its emerging set of packet-based products--a side of the company that will soon be buttressed with the finalization of the company's $22 billion acquisition of Ascend Communications, expected in June.

Competitors Cisco Systems and Nortel Networks, along with a slew of international telecom equipment firms, are among the companies vying for a piece of the same market.

Lucent's new 7R/E Call Feature Server, scheduled to be available in the fourth quarter of this year, essentially takes the reliability features of traditional phone networks and moves them to the data-based world of Internet protocol, or IP, networks and asynchronous transfer mode, or ATM, cells, according to the company.

Service providers US Lec, Omnitel Pronto of Italy, Espire Communications, KMC Telecom are among the initial customers for the new technology, according to Lucent.

Analysts have long assumed that Lucent, among several telecom equipment giants eyeing the lucrative data market, would bring its expertise in circuit technology and voice networks to bear in its drive to take a chunk of the next-generation "converged" networking market. Tying voice and data networks together over a single layout is a common thrust in the networking industry these days as new carriers build out their far-flung layouts and traditional communications companies expand their existing infrastructure.

In conjunction with Lucent's new call server technology, the company has added a new 7R/E Packet Driver to its widely used 5ESS voice switching device, allowing the hardware and software to handle packets like it handles circuit-based connections. The company also rolled out other elements in a strategy it has dubbed R/Evolutionary Networking, a term intended to signify the revolutionary and evolutionary aspects involved in the strategy.

Last year, Lucent launched two new products that also feed into its emerged strategy, the PathStar and PacketStar high-end networking devices. The company already licenses technology from Ascend it plans to use in its strategy as well.