Telecom: Can The Old Guard Switch Gear?

A telephone-company switch looks almost like a mainframe computer. It's a huge metal cabinet in a locked room, costs millions of dollars, and has thousands of wires leading out of it. The companies that make them--such as AT&T, Northern Telecom, Siemens, Alcatel, and Fujitsu--have noticed the similarity. And given the mainframe's sorry state, the comparison terrifies them. Says Harry Newton, a New York telecommunications consultant and publisher: "This is the last and largest major industry that's reassessing every assumption."

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