Equant pushes innovation, network reach for businesses

Von Matt Hamblen

Equant, the global service provider that became a subsidiary of France Telecom last summer, is touting new wireless and Internet Protocol-based technologies, including a dual-mode wireless phone that is now being tested by customers.

Equant last week showed off a Motorola CN620 phone designed for use with both Wi-Fi and wide-area cellular networks. But in an informal test by European and U.S. technology reporters trying out the hardware, the phone dropped a call three times out of five as one user crossed a boundary between Wi-Fi and a cellular network in the France Telecom Orange research facility here.

Even though those test calls were dropped, the phone would still be useful for a mobile worker who would need only a single device instead of two to carry contact and other information, said Eric Dufresne, managing director of the research-and-development facility. "And the worker would still be able to make calls in either network," he said.

The demonstration was one of several Equant made at the Orange research facility and at MIT. The presentation was designed to show that Equant is not only a global network services provider seeking a greater presence in the U.S., but also a technology innovator, said Barbara Dalibard, the executive vice president of France Telecom in Paris who oversees the company"s operations in the Americas.

"First, our network is everywhere in the world, even where others don"t want to go," she said in an interview. "Second, we really want to be on the leading edge, working with customers on innovations."

Other demonstrations at the Orange lab included a live IP videoconferencing connection made among five parties globally. One of the videoconferencing participants was using a softphone in a laptop equipped with a camera that was connected over a public Wi-Fi network at Charles DeGualle Airport, near Paris. Another demonstration showed the ease of using an IP network to attach a voice mail file to an e-mail.

Equant officials also said that in six to nine months, the company plans to release to the open-source community a mini-browser software kernel for use with Windows CE-based smart phones. Equant has been developing the browser with The Mozilla Foundation and expects to release it for free, said Brenda Belleville, director of marketing for North America.

Equant is also working with researchers at MIT"s Sloan School of Management on emerging roles for RFID tagging. Equant is interested in offering network support and services throughout the integration of RFID tags in corporate supply chains, Dalibard said.

Much of the company"s focus on innovation revolves around the evolution of wireless networks and IPv6, Dalibard said. In Europe, Equant is already supporting wireless networks that work with machine-to-machine applications. Citing one example, she said a British insurer is using the technology to transmit data about the speed of cars over a wireless network to a central server. The information is used to promote lower insurance payments by drivers who agree to keep their speed down, she said.

"In this field, a lot will happen," Dalibard said.

In addition to its innovation efforts, Equant is expanding its basic network services capabilities in the U.S., expanding the number of points of presence for last mile connectivity from 30 to about 440, said Mack Treece, president of Americas sales and marketing for Equant. In the U.S., the company now has about 1,500 employees, with 300 devoted to service and support functions.

Treece listed more than a dozen corporations using Equant network services, including Microsoft Corp., Bearing Point Inc. in McLean, Va. and Stride Rite Corp. in Lexington, Mass. In all, Equant has about 15,000 network connections for customers in North America, he said.