AT&T rolls out digital content delivery system

Designed for large multinational organizations and enterprises with multiple offices.

Enterprise multimedia is moving out of the do-it-yourself phase as carriers offer services over their own infrastructure to entities that want to reach their employees, partners and customers with the latest forms of media.

Both AT&T and Verizon Business already offer the high-end form of videoconferencing known as telepresence as managed services, making it easier for business customers to get started and ensuring network connections that support the virtual meetings. On Tuesday, AT&T introduced an array of new services that include formatting, packaging and distribution of a wide range of media. They are designed for large multinational organizations as well as any enterprise with multiple offices.

The carrier will also roll out new network infrastructure to the tune of nearly US$70 million by year's end to support the two new services in the U.S., Europe and Asia, while signing on software partners to simplify the formatting of content, AT&T said Tuesday. The buildout will reach the U.S., European Union countries, Japan, China and Taiwan.

There are three main services in the new lineup, available Tuesday:

- The AT&T Intelligent Content Distribution Service will replicate enterprise data including Web pages, large files for download, and video across the Internet using the optimal path, according to the carrier. It will use geographically dispersed servers and caching nodes located near the data's destination for more efficient distribution.

- AT&T Digital Signage will be a managed service with which enterprises can use flat-screen displays in public areas for communicating with employees and customers. Digital signage is an emerging technology that has been championed by networking giant Cisco Systems and other vendors. It allows enterprises to reach people with messages that are relevant to where they are and can be updated instantly from a central site. AT&T said its managed service might be used with signs in shops, airports, hotels, office reception areas and employee lunch rooms.

- Broadcast Video is a set of transport services for full-motion video and stereo sound over a fiber-optic network.

Also as part of the Digital Media Solutions portfolio, AT&T is creating an ecosystem of software providers to simplify indexing, tagging and encoding as part of the content delivery services. On Tuesday, the carrier announced deals with ExtendMedia for digital content services software, Qumu for video management, publishing and distribution, and Stratacache for software and appliances designed to deliver media applications. AT&T will integrate these companies' expertise into its services over the next few months.

AT&T's customers want to simplify the process of using multimedia to better communicate with employees and customers, said Jim Daugherty, executive director of product marketing management.

"We've done the heavy lifting for the customer," Daugherty said. The two main types of customers for the services are those that haven't yet started using multimedia and those that have set up systems on their own but want someone to take the day-to-day operation off their hands, he said.

There is widespread interest in digital signage among both small and large enterprises, according to IDC display analyst Tom Mainelli. Many want the displays to keep waiting customers engaged while highlighting special offers or a brand. But depending on the setting, that may be a 24-hour operation.

"They don't really think about how much content that's going to require," Mainelli said. "There's nothing worse than being stuck watching the same commercial over and over again."

If AT&T can help those enterprises feed their displays with fresh content, it will help them benefit from the displays, he said.

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Stephen Lawson

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