SBC Communications Inc. said it will invest between $4 billion and $6 billion over the next five years on IP-based networks capable of piping video, data and voice services to residential and business customers.

SBC said it will deliver those services via fiber architectures, though it will deploy them to the home only in certain circumstances. The telco said it will deploy fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) technology only in greenfield areas. In legacy areas, SBC said it would use a fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) platform to serve between 300 to 500 homes per node, and offer speeds of 15 to 25 Mbps downstream, and 1 to 3 Mbps upstream to each customer.

SBC has already deployed greenfield FTTP in Mission Bay, Calif.; the Pabst Farms development in Milwaukee, Wis.; and in Canton, Mich.

In comparison, Verizon is already moving on initial plans to deploy FTTP this year to about 1 million homes passed. BellSouth, meanwhile, remains centered on a fiber-to-the-curb architecture.

"After evaluating a full range of technologies and deployment scenarios, we're confident that our FTTN/FTTP strategy is an ideal solution to deliver the next generation of IP services, said Chris Rice, SBC's CTO and executive vice president-services.

On the software end, the telco said it plans to begin field trials later this year of an IP-based switched video service based on Microsoft TV's platform.

SBC revealed the plan with one caveat: it will upgrade the network if the regulatory environment remains favorable.

SBC, which serves more than 54 million access lines, also markets bundled DBS video services via a partnership with EchoStar Communications.

The telco's latest plan also resurrects SBC's abandoned Project Pronto from the late 1990s. The reason: growing competition spurred on by VoIP technology.

"SBC is the latest RBOC to succumb to the reality of telecommunications market competition," said Dr. Paul Polishuk, president of industry analyst firm Information Gatekeepers Inc. "The RBOCs were already squeezed by the CLECs and the cable companies; however, the introduction of a feasible network VoIP service has made the squeeze even tighter."

One of the challenges ahead for SBC will be the integration of "these two very different architectures," added IGI's Clif Holliday.