Archive for the 'Ethernet' Category

A look back on 2009

This is an article that I have written for print publication. Any feedback would be appreciated.

2009 has been a strange year for carriers providing last mile DSL access. Back in January in the midst of the recession there were worrying times being forecast for carriers as they struggled to get to grips with the financial downturn. With networks struggling to plug widening deficits, previously planned network expansion was put to one side, as capital was shunted to other areas seen as more important to stopping the rot.

At the turn of the year, there were 4 main wholesale DSL carriers: BT Wholesale, Cable and Wireless, the Carphone Warehouse Group and Tiscali. Due to the recession, BT Wholesale were stalling with the roll out of 21CN, Cable and Wireless were just re-entering the channel after a strategic exit only a few years back, Tiscali were involved in a very public tug-of-war between Sky, Vodafone and the Carphone Warehouse Group whilst the latter themselves had only just entered the wholesale market via their wholly owned subsidiary Opal Telecom. As the year progressed and we started to move towards a brighter financial climate, the industry took a marked turn for the better. Many people debate about the exact period when we started to look more optimistically at the future. However I believe that when Brown put the ball in the court of the Telco’s by stating that the infrastructure behind Digital Britain would spur growth in the economy, there was a paradigm shift, as the masses adopted what we had already realised; that telecommunications was a fundamental component to the kick-start of the British economy.

Throughout the course of the year, the broadband landscape has changed considerably. The main difference being the acquisition of Tiscali into the Carphone Warehouse group and their subsequent ambitious plans for 2010. Whether they will demonstrate the traditional pains of large scale acquisition traditionally felt by other large carriers such as Tiscali and C&W is yet to be seen. BT Wholesale has also started to gain traction with 21CN and in particular their WMBC offering. Cable and Wireless can also pat themselves on the back as having a fairly successful year, as they managed to win the Tesco contract, whilst deploying their much heralded MSP platform. However one of the big changes to the market has been the introduction of BE into the wholesale arena.

BE have always had a very compelling consumer offering; being the first to market with Annex M ADSL2+, whilst having one of the largest coverage areas of the tier 1 DSL networks. With a topology designed to underpin high bandwidth usage, they were setup from the onset to provide ADSL2+ to their subscribers. BE have entered in a very timely fashion. One of the key topics of the year has been the increased financial burden of bandwidth costs on service providers due to applications such as iPlayer and Pirate Bay. This has led to in depth debates including key industry and government personnel about how best to manage the use of bandwidth intensive applications. Solutions such as bandwidth caps, application charges and even application restrictions were mooted. Due to their mesh dark fibre-based VPLS core, BE can legitimately claim to provide solutions future-scaled to support the continued rise in bandwidth by end users. Also with a commercial model that alleviates central based usage charges, they’ve provided a low cost-of-entry into the ADSL2+ market for channel partners.

As we move into 2010, the wholesale broadband market is much changed from that of 12months prior. Both Carphone Warehouse and 21CN have ambitious growth targets planned for 2010. The latter introducing wholesale Ethernet-in-the-first-mile and fibre-to-the-cabinet trials. Many people have stated that the window of opportunity for new wholesale partners is fast closing due to this. However in my position, the consolidation in the industry has reached a natural plateau, with all the main DSL carriers now proving to be more mature in systems interface, product portfolio and commercial model used. Even BE as the new player can be seen to have an edge in some aspects of their proposition. By using ISAMs (Intelligent Service Access Managers) at the exchange with the capability of terminating Ethernet and seamlessly training the DSL to work at its optimum performance (known as seamless rate adaption) they have made the step to solidify their position as a force in the market both now and for the future. By also providing unparalleled visibility and control of their ISAMs to all service providers, they have allowed tecchies to fault find, diagnose and alleviate traditional 3rd line issues, which in turn has led to a vast reduction in the number of support tickets raised with them.

Even though this has been in the market for roughly 6months, already the features are proving compelling, even as compliment to a 21CN novation plan. With products such as bonded DSL and symmetrical DSL soon to be available from the port, they’ve positioned themselves as a prominent player in the next generation access sphere. Add into the mix backhaul capacity capable of supporting their lofty ambitions and the capital of their more illustrious parents, it’s no wonder BE are proving to be more than just an interesting alternative in the wholesale broadband market.

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Leased line services on copper?

Over at FD Wholesale, we’ve been doing some trials in our R&D department bonding Annex M tails together and we’ve been able to get throughput normally associated with leased lines. We’re roughly 1.5Km from our local exchange, and when bonding 2 lines, the total sync rate was 26.7Mbps down and 4Mbps up. When we bonded 4 lines, we obtained 56Mbps down and 8Mbps up.

The applications for this are wide ranging. Consider having a client who lives 5Km+ from their local exchange. 1 DSL would offer them little throughput to sustain a number of users. Aggregate 2 or 3 together and suddenly they can start to look at IP applications that may improve business processes such as SIP or Video conferencing. Another example may be where a client can’t gain wayleave agreement to obtain a fibre run. In this instance, they can have a bonded Annex M service offeirng up to 80Mbps down and 10Mbps up. Obviously these are headline speeds and are dependant on quality of copper and line length, but in all but the worst circumstances, a bonded Annex M service can start to become a compelling alternative to EFM or FTTC. Using the BE network, this is also available immediately, nationwide. No waiting for 2012 to have a coverage of c.300 exchanges.

Currently this is something that all our channel partners are utilising, as it gives them a cost effective alternative to a leased line. Based on the Cisco proprietory protocol, traditionally the stumbling point has been the high initial price point associated with the routers. However, we’ve been conducting some trials with a manufacturer called Virtual Access using their GW7000 boxes, and they’ve been very successful in terms of throughput and stability. However, even more compelling is the fact that they lower the initial price point of the solution to sub £500.

Personally I feel that bonding Annex M tails, at the core is a lot more resilinet solution than trying to aggregate them at the client end, using an external aggregator, as it means that there is little overhead, lower packet loss and less latency. In my opinion, the main thing to take away from this is that even though fibre will still have it’s uses, the applications for DSL are ever increasing. Whereby traditionally a leased line was the only method available to provide large amounts of throughput, the landscape is ever changing to incorporate DSL.

Adding value with broadband

Thought I’d include an article that I’ve recently written for the channel. It’s quite easy to read, but any feedback would be appreciated.

Thanks

Broadband has come a long way since it’s inception. For businesses back in the day, it was seen as a key marketing and communication tool as companies paid through the roof to have a static website with 5 pages. Email was revolutionary, and was quickly seen as the main way to communicate with clients, with their permission or without.

Now with the advent of converged or unified systems, it’s not surprising to have a company use their broadband for phone calls, data, video and even an alarm system. The advance of broadband has been the key driver in so many industries, each with their own confusing terms and acronyms. FMC, UC, SIP, Telepresence, VOIP, IPCCTV. The list goes on, but the common factor is IP – Internet Protocol. All the aforementioned use the internet.

On it’s own, its a cost effective method to transfer data, and because of it’s universal acceptance, is widespread across a number of mechanisms. Packaged with an IP application, broadband becomes fundamental for the efficient use of the respective device. For the channel, it provides a number of opportunities for vendors, distributors and system integrators alike to provide a necessary value add to their portfolio, and this is further pushed by the rise of alternative networks to use. This in itself has promoted competition and innovation in product development, and the channel has inevitably benefited from the options available. Now technologies such as Annex-M can help a reseller by going to market with an ISDN alternative, whilst also aggregating two or more to attack the leased line market.

At the top end of the channel, mobile operators have got into bed with Telco’s to have a network of their own. Large system integrators are courting network operators for a primary service. And at enterprise level, the wrath of mergers and acquisitions have left some in the enviable position of being a one stop shop for your every need, budget permitting. At the lower end, traditional resellers and SI’s have forged relationships with mobile and network operators to get the best out of both worlds. This is where the value has been added, as now an integrator has a platform to showcase their primary offering.

Lets look at one industry where this is rife, voice. Hosted voice providers who have been brave in embracing SIP have realised from a very early age that the quality of broadband is key to their offering. Therefore they have been vocal in their search for network operators who have an offering that can allow for a high quality and a high volume of calls.

Enter DSL. In it’s various guises, it’s been able to offer a low cost platform to end users wanting access to the benefits of a hosted voice offering, as now the high upfront costs of an ISDN 30 can be waived for a similar DSL service. In this instance integrators have been quick to partner with network operators to offer their services as part of a package, adding to their bottom line by boosting their margins and increasing that customer ‘stickiness’ we all strive for.

The same is now happening in a number of industries. Integrators in the fast developing video sphere are reaching out to networks with a reputation for performance. Digital signage architects are holding hands with networks with good national coverage. And for the end user, this is compelling as they have one port of call for the majority of their IP requirements.

It’s an easy story to tell. To borrow a much used analogy, selling a road is pointless without drooling over the performance of the vehicle that’s on it. And to translate this to the internet, it’s hard to get excited about fibre to the home for example, without thinking about all it’s possible uses.

All these present the opportunity for more convergence, more applications, but over one central pipe, which is where the value is provided, as if you provide the central pipe, there is always the possibility to provide other services based on that. An old director of mine used to term this “The Whirlwind model”, where you provide something small, but essential, and then provide additional services required by that initial item. However you define it, the benefits of this are unparalled for all parts of the channel, as with the technological advances being made in the numerous access methods used to provide broadband, the channel now has a chance to offer a key value add to their IP applications.


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