Recent research shows how much large organisations are relying ones ever more demanding. telecommunications to facilitate change. In a Cable & Wireless survey, 62% of respondents said that the power and flexibility of modern communications was the single most important factor in helping to respond to changing and unpredictable circumstances.

When we talk of modern communications, it is important to think far beyond the traditional role of telecommunications within companies. The rapid advance of the Internet Protocol (IP) into organisations’ IT infrastructure has driven demand for IP-based networking in the wide area network. But things are not about to stop there.

The trend towards convergence is now clear. Organisations realise that integrated IP communications is the way forward, and many are already on the road to transferring away from discrete voice, fax and data traffic.

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But where does this leave the traditional telco? These companies understand how to provide voice and data services to organisations of all sizes.

However, they are still on a steep learning curve when it comes to delivering strategic advice on how to move a business to an IP-based model, never mind the major infrastructure investment that has to be made to support the ever-increasing IP requirements.

From the other side of the fence, Internet service providers are eyeing up the markets that have traditionally been the domain of the publicly owned telephone companies. These companies understand IP, but are only just coming to terms with the role that pervasive communications plays within large organisations. For example, MCT WorldCom has only just introduced blanket service-level agreements to their corporate customers.

The challenge to all communications companies is clear. We are at the beginning of a new Ice Age – the age of Integrated Communications and Entertainment. IP is the language of this new age, from multimedia IP boxes in people’s homes through to quality-of-service-driven corporate communications. Understanding the opportunities of this new environment is crucial, as is ensuring that bandwidth is available for the raft of new applications that will take advantage of the IP world.

The next few years will see the emergence of total solution providers.

These communications companies will have embraced IP and be working with their customers to explore the benefits that this brave new world will bring. Quite simply, the market cannot sustain indefinitely the large numbers of communications companies making a year-on-year loss.

These new companies will not look like the telecommunications companies of yesterday. They will be nimble, agile and more customer-centric. Their expertise will be broadly-based, understanding both corporate markets and how these companies can use communications to reach consumers and potential business partners.

One thing is certain. Without a commitment to IP and a strategy to meet the requirements of corporate customers, publicly owned telephone companies could be in trouble.

Lance Spencer is managing director of corporate markets for Cable & Wireless Communications.