Networking equipment vendor Ascend has agreed to supply core switching equipment to China Telecom for the construction of its nationwide multimedia backbone. The multimedia backbone is part of an ambitious network being created by China Telecom to bring the most advanced voice and data services to mainland consumers. Running alongside inter-provincial networks, the multimedia backbone will complement a broadband backbone based on Ascend's ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) frame relay technology and cover Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and 28 other cities. The network relies on a combination of frame relay, ATM and IP (Internet Protocol) technologies and will be able to deliver high-speed multi-service capabilities on a single high-capacity platform. The project puts the mainland on a par with similar undertakings elsewhere in Asia, such as Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor. 'Unlike in the US where the Internet grew totally organically, with a somewhat messy result, China has the opportunity to do it the right way from the start,' said Joe Roissier, Ascend Asia-Pacific marketing director. 'China Telecom has learned through the mistakes made by other countries, the US in particular, and is adopting a radically different approach. Since the country has no legacy switch circuit system yet, it can start with the most advanced technologies available,' Mr Roissier said, adding that the mainland pioneered technology in terms of speed and throughput. China Telecom's project is a model of what Ascend aims to achieve with its New Public Network concept: a utility network provided by carriers that supports multiple services, including voice, data and Internet access. In the past, companies developed their own private networks until they realised that it was a costly, time-consuming exercise that diverted their budgets and concentration away from their core business. Hence the recent trend for companies to migrate from private to carrier public networks, which can offer them more services and better connectivity around the world. Carriers that are presently experiencing congestion on their voice networks are gradually moving to packet switching technologies such as ATM and frame relay which are able to carry various types of traffic in a more cost-effective way. Ascend predicts that in five years, data networks will carry 10 times their current level of traffic, but it will take at least 10 years before all networks have entirely converted from circuit switched to the packet switched technologies. By then all networks will be similar, no matter if they are operated by a telephone carrier or an Internet service provider, and they will have an equal capability to provide services. Ascend believes it is at the crossroads where old and new technologies meet. From the time of its 1989 founding, the company has focused on the development of wide area network technologies and has pioneered several technologies in ATM and frame relay. Ascend last year acquired Cascade Communications, a US company with technology that complements Ascend's main business in core switching and remote access. The merger was among the largest in the networking industry. Such large acquisitions usually present major challenges for both sides involved, and generally take time to bring returns. But Mr Roissier believed the merger could already be considered a success because it had been endorsed by customers, including China Telecom. Ascend's regional growth rate has slowed to 15 per cent, compared with the 40 per cent it reported in the past two years. But Mr Roissier said the situation was acceptable, given that the impact of Asia's recession had resulted in negative growth rates for many other companies.