Gartner: AT&T gets high business marks, but faces new competition

AT&T (NYSE: T), according to a Gartner report focused on the U.S. business services market, took home the highest product service rating for its wireline business service product suite.

In its new "Critical Capabilities for U.S. Wireline Telecom Services" report, which evaluated eight service providers, the research firm evaluated seven key areas of critical capabilities: MPLS services, SIP trunking, dedicated Internet, metro private line, managed broadband, Ethernet WAN, and managed routers.

The carrier earned an average product rating of 4.4 in the report. AT&T has leveraged its financial strength and portfolio of high-capacity network services such as wavelength, SONET and Ethernet, to maintain its presence as one of the largest providers to the medium and large business market.

Gartner said that AT&T's high rating "reflects its depth of product capabilities across the portfolio and explicit strengths in such areas as metro and optical networking and managed broadband, where competitors' offerings are not as mature or as broadly deployed."

The telco was given a 5.0 and 4.5 rating for its metro (SONET, wavelength, Ethernet) and Ethernet WAN service suites that can fit a broad set of medium and large enterprise customers who have demanding needs and large diverse footprints. Its metro service suite includes its well-established brands, including GigaMAN, DecaMAN, and switched services in addition to EPLS-MAN OPT-E-WAN for out-of-footprint requirements. Under the Ethernet WAN umbrella, AT&T offers a mix of Ethernet private line switched Ethernet and virtual private LAN Service (VPLS) services that are available on a metro, national and global basis.

Overall, AT&T has been seeing growth in its U.S. and international IP-based business service revenues. In Q4 2012, the telco grew strategic IP-based business services 10.6 percent year-over-year and total business IP data revenues 2.4 percent year-over-year.

Like its RBOC brother Verizon (NYSE: VZ), AT&T faces various challenges. For one, AT&T's overall Q4 business revenues declined 2.1 percent to $9.1 billion year-over-year, but rose 0.6 sequentially from Q3 2012 due to what it said was economic uncertainty and slow government and business sales.

And despite its broad coverage and broad product portfolio, AT&T is not without its flaws, particularly on the customer service side.

Gartner said that said that many of its "inquiry customers continue to demand that AT&T be more responsive to network upgrade requests, including physical and logical port changes."

AT&T may be the best fit for the large enterprise segment, but it will now face strong competition from both CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) and Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN) on the mid-sized business side. Through their acquisitions of Qwest Communications, Savvis and PAETEC, CenturyLink and Windstream have become the third and fourth largest business service providers, respectively.

Gartner said that midsize businesses with U.S. sites should "consider CenturyLink, because they are likely to find strong portfolio breadth, competitive rates, and consistent support and performance." Likewise, Windstream could be a fit for midsized enterprises that "are looking for competitive voice and data services" or large enterprises that need a second service provider source "for redundant Internet or backup data services."

For more:
- here's AT&T's release
- and the Gartner report

Special report: CenturyLink, Windstream, other incumbents rise to the Ethernet occasion

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