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Sprint Corp. has begun converting its circuit-switched telephone network to packet-switched technology like that used on the Internet. By beginning the conversion, which Sprint disclosed this week, it becomes the first big telecom carrier to revamp the systems used by most phone companies for more than 100 years to carry voice calls to a more modern technology that's better suited to data.
The upgrade, which is estimated to cost more than a billion dollars, begins with hardware in Gardner, Kan., and is expected to take more than a decade before encompassing Sprint's entire network. By the end of 2003, the company also expects to have converted switching centers in Independence, Va.; Newport, Pa.; Boulder City, Nev.; Mill Hall, Pa.; Zolfa Springs, Fla.; and Warren, Ohio.
When completed, the packet-switched network will allow voice or data traffic to be split into packets and sent across networks using multiple routes, the same way the Internet handles traffic. The resulting system would be much cheaper for carriers to operate and also opens the door to new Internet Protocol-based products and services they could sell to businesses.
The shift from circuit switching to packet-based telephony is as important for the telecommunications world as the paving of dirt roads was for the automobile industry, telecom analyst Jeff Kagan says. This is an important move for Sprint, he says, because it helps the company prepare for the new waves of digital and video services that customers are going to be demanding.