Research and Advances
Computing Applications

Personalized Communication Networks

What does personalization mean to AT&T and what are the important business propositions to provide personalized services to its customers? Guest Editor Doug Riecken recently interviewed Kathleen Earley, Vice President of AT&T Internet Services, on the subject of personalization.
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DR: It appears the Internet has been a motivating force in the design and creation of service features that attempt to personalize and help users and customers satisfy their individual goals in the use of many Web services. Do you concur with this point of view?

KE: I believe it has. I think we are at the beginning of what the Internet and personalization are going to enable users and customers to do. It is important to note that personalization means many things to many people. Generally, what it means to me is one-to-one anything, even though it’s a one-to-many experience. So, if you think about this as the Web, anybody can be going to the Web, but it’s when I interact with the Web that it’s a personalized experience to me. So a useful question is, how do you actually enable my user experience to be something that’s enriching, compelling, serves my needs, and target goal alignment in terms of fulfilling my needs?

I think the Internet with its Web services is uniquely positioned to really enable personalization because—I hate to use this old phrase—"its the unifying protocol between computing and communication."

Prior to this, we were able to do personalized communication through the telephone or personalized email, both of which are a one-to-one or one-to-many experience. It is not until you start to marry all the applications imaginable within the industry and then marry that with some front end—call it Web veneer, artificial intelligence, or a type of search engine—that a service then feels personal to me.

It’s when I can put in filters, agents, personal screens, some set of rules defining what kind of advertising I want to receive, that I have personal control over the flow of information I send and receive. I think the industry has a tremendous ramp ahead of it over the next 5 to 10 years, but the benefits will be rewarding for everyone. I suspect this might be the last major platform for computing in my lifetime. That does not mean there will not be another one beyond it.

DR: Would you explain what you mean by major platform for computing?

KE: I think of it as the Web and the Internet with IP. It is this extensive protocol platform that enables any-to-any communication between device types, applications, networks, disparate networks, disparate devices, and disparate applications. It allows you to use a personalized Web-veneer front end to shield the diversity and complexity of a distributed back end.

DR: When you speak of the Internet and IP, are you talking about transport via the "metaphoric pipe" that moves things across everything? It enables communication between everything, everywhere, at any time?

KE: I think it’s even more than that.

DR: Does that mean this ability to personally communicate, use services, and perform transactions extends beyond many traditional views of the Web?

KE: Yes. When I say IP is the unifying protocol between computing and communications, I mean this in the fullest sense of the word you can image. This platform will extend well beyond our traditional views. It will be extended to being embedded into everything, by being embedded into chips and devices that, in turn, create new types of services.

DR: Such a unifying platform could even be embedded in us.

KE: Right. In the future, heart monitors, pacemakers, and things like that will be "connected" anywhere, anytime. It’s going to be a thing onto itself in terms of pipes, ports, and Web servers, and then its going to be embedded in every layer above that and below that; from the chips up to the applications. From computing architectures to services; it will be pervasive and enabling.

DR: How is the unifying protocol to connect everything being realized by AT&T?

KE: The simple view of AT&T’s business strategy is to be the ubiquitous broadband network of choice. The reason this is important is, if you look out your rear-view mirror, everything other than private data networks has been predominately narrowband networks. These networks have been realized at 56K, analog wired lines, analog cable, X.25, and even a majority of frame ports are all 56K with only a small percentage of T1s. As we look ahead with IP and the Internet, our strategy is to provide the premier broadband network that each of our customers can use to personally address individual business needs.

Our broadband networks will reach across cable pipes, local fiber into the building, broadband digital cellular, and the broadband backbone. It will enable a greater richness of communications over the network. This is important because you can now carry anything as an IP packet to deliver such services as voice, multimedia applications, and two-way broadband video. Broadband will enable exciting innovations.

I think that broadband in the next form is going to be the broadband pipe that goes everywhere—into the home, the office, mobile locations, and in the backbone to enable new forms of content that can not be created until we have this new ubiquitous form of distribution. It’s like how George Lucas and his team invented and installed THX throughout movie theaters for showing his movies.

What AT&T is enabling is the next form of communication and storytelling. But, this next form can not be realized until the infrastructure is there to let us experience it. I don’t even think we can imagine what’s going to be created. It’s going to be very different. I know we need this infrastructure, and there is going to be a whole community of people who will create what will go on it and provide a compelling experiences for all of us.

DR: What are some important opportunities for AT&T to provide personalized business opportunities for its customers?

KE: What we are going to do from a personalization standpoint is to enable businesses to do for themselves. We are employing technologies that will allow our business customers to then personalize their services to their customers and end users any way they want. Our job is to enable. To provide such technologies as Web hosting environments, deploying Quality of Service (QOS) and Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) in the network to have different levels of quality of service, being best of breed in Virtual Private Networking (VPN) capability, and enabling certificates on the network.

I think of AT&T’s network technologies as kits of Lego blocks. By putting in place such baseline Lego blocks as the backbone, the dial-in infrastructure, the broadband access infrastructures, the firewalls, the certificate capabilities, the Web-hosting capabilities, and the credit card transaction engines, enables a Charles Schwab or BankOne or to come up with the business construct of how to appeal to an end user and then how to assemble those building blocks to suit my needs in business.

Our job is to create the massively scaled building blocks to then enable the digital economy and personalization to take place. And then, in terms on how to do businesses-to-business with us, we certainly have a responsibility because the businesses who want to do business with us also want to be able to communicate to us in a personalized way. For instance, today we have a public health site up on the Web where people can login 24 hours a days, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. When we put in place QOS and MPLS for our customer, we also enable them to personally measure network performance. They can understand what our network latency is across the country and between certain cities. They can see at what I will call a "public view level," how our network is operating.

What’s going to be much more compelling is when a Citibank or BankOne or Charles Schwab or Merrill Lynch puts their network up with us with a QOS and starts with a VPN capability. We can give them a private view into how their view of the network is running. For our customers, this is another feature of personalization. They will have their own private view of their network running on our network.

This is how AT&T’s network is evolving for each of our customers. Our customers will be able to personally realize and grow their business communication models with our broadband infrastructure, Lego-like network services building blocks, and tools to personally monitor and manage their networks.

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