Channel Partners

September 1, 2000

8 Min Read
End-to-End IP Vision Comes Into Focus

Posted: 09/2000

End-to-End IP Vision Comes Into Focus
By Charlotte Wolter

A carrier’s carrier that takes traffic nationwide from customer premises to customer premises, all on the same network?

That would be a rare prize today, but a number of new carriers and established network providers are
beginning to use new technology to fulfill that vision.

The new distributed network architecture of
softswitches, gateways and feature servers gives players such as Cannect Communications Inc.
(www.cannect.com), Global Crossing Ltd. (www.globalcrossing.com), Level 3 Communications Inc.
(www.level3.com) and Pathnet (www.pathnet.net) a way to offer new wholesale services, at costs much lower than wholesale networks ever have been.

“There certainly is a market for voice over IP trunking and other types of long-distance services,” says Andrew Cray, senior analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc.
(www.aberdeen.com). “It all comes down to the fact that CLECs specialize in
building local access networks but not necessarily long-haul. That is the piece they look to outsource to other providers, and that is where voice over IP services can be offered or voice over packet services.”

Besides long-distance voice backhaul over IP, which
several carriers are deploying this year, companies can move into local phone service using access paths, such as DSL and T1, with many features customers are used to. They also can offer applications suites, such as unified messaging, specialized messaging services, Centrex and call centers, on a wholesale basis.

What’s more, they can offer the services to second-, third- and fourth-tier markets. It would be too expensive to serve these
markets if a Class 4 or Class 5 switch had to be deployed in each city.

“That is where the revenue comes from,” says Cray. “If you are providing local voice, you also get to charge for additional services that cost you almost nothing to provide, such as call-waiting, forwarding, three-way, etc., the things that make revenue for carriers today.”


Chart: Global Crossing’s 2000 VoIP Deployment

The new networks are based on IP
(or ATM in the case of Cannect) to backhaul voice, and in the future will use IP voice in local services. Instead of a Class 4 or 5 switch, the network operators put IP voice gateways, such as the Cisco Systems Inc.
(www.cisco.com) MGX 8260 Media Gateway, in a PoP in a city. Each gateway is under the control of a
softswitch, such as Cisco’s VSC Virtual Switch Controller 3000, which can be located virtually anywhere on the planet. One
softswitch–which typically routes calls, does signaling mediation, provides services access, controls gateways and includes management features–can control multiple gateways and also can
communicate with an SS7 network.

The current generation of softswitches is maturing for Class 4 functions, but not quite ready for Class 5 functions, network
operators report. The issue is having stable, scalable hardware and applications to deliver the CLASS features that customers want: call waiting, forwarding, 411, 911, etc. Those capabilities should be sorted out by the end of 2000, service providers say, which is why a number are planning to launch wholesale local IP voice services in 2001.

More complex services will be debuted when network operators are fully confident about the stability of their new networks, including the supporting routing and server infrastructure, as well as gateways and softswitches.

Global Crossing

From the basic network configuration described above, some carrier’s carriers are launching or planning to launch wholesale voice services aimed at CLECs, ISPs and even ASPs, all of whom want to add voice services of various kinds.

For
CLECs, which are likely to have local voice, there is an interest in long-distance voice. For ISPs, which lack experience in voice infrastructure, there is interest in
offering long-distance and local voice, and having the operational details handled on an outsourced basis. ASPs may need IP voice infrastructure support for applications
such as call centers and Centrex offered as hosted applications.

In August, Global Crossing announced a new IP network that already is used in seven cities to deliver retail and wholesale
long-distance voice.

The network will expand to 16 or 17 cities in the near future. The company’s plan is to build gradually the IP network alongside its existing traditional network, says John Chapman, senior director of product
development for VoIP services.

After deploying the new equipment, which will be Sonus Networks Inc.
(www.sonusnet.com) PSX6000 SoftSwitch and GSX9000 Open Services Switch media gateway, the company will begin to integrate minutes onto the network. It then will
develop a new set of applications, such as unified messaging.

Global Crossing will be first to offer long-distance services. Possibly in 2001 it will begin adding local service with Class 5 features. The company’s ISP customers “really want to start having a local feel and would like to provide a simple set of
features,” Chapman says. “In a nonfranchise market, we will not be in the consumer
business. Certain business customers who have a large headquarters with multiple sites around the country and would like to get all their services from one vendor–we want to be able to provide that capability with IP Centrex.”

After that would come services, such as unified messaging, that CLECs and ISPs could offer to their customers.

Beyond services on their own network, Chapman says, “Once the protocols are
firmly baked, we would like to do peering softswitch to softswitch with other vendors and work with other carriers.” This would enable Global Crossing to expand its reach to geographic areas it does not serve, and vice versa for its partners.

Pathnet

Pathnet and Cannect have the advantage of starting their packet networks as new providers with no time-division multiplexing (TDM) infrastructure from which to migrate.

Pathnet, which launched IP services late in 1999, initially offered only private-line transport services. Now the company has added its VPOP (virtual
PoP) Plus service, a suite of IP local-access service and long-distance transport products.

Pathnet is able to give ISPs reach into
multiple geographical locations with just one connection point to the Pathnet network. If an ISP wishes to expand into territories, such as Albuquerque, N.M.; Des Moines, Iowa; or Omaha, Neb., Pathnet will groom and deliver IP voice and data traffic to a single location, if required. The services can be used for traffic coming in through standard ISP dial-up connections or through DSL connections, which Pathnet also
provides on a wholesale basis, as a kind of “wholesale CLEC."

“We have the whole network from local to local and all the backbone between,” says Patti Kelly, vice president of marketing. “We give other providers the ability to open new markets in a matter of weeks that
otherwise would take months for them to do. We save them all of that regulatory and
capital-intensive work.”

An initial customer for the VPOP service, NaviPath Inc.
(www.navipath.com), plans to use it first for backhaul of dial-up data
connections for ISPs, but will launch services, such as DSL, VoIP and voice over DSL
(VoDSL) in its markets, including second- and third-tier cities, in the future.

Another customer, DSLi.com
(www.dsli.com), will use Pathnet’s DSL to reach small businesses, but also wishes to expand its Miami-based ISP into new markets using dial-up access. “So it’s an interesting way for companies to add new target segments for themselves,” says Kelly.

Pathnet believes it is the first carrier’s
carrier to be based solely on softswitches and distributed network architecture. The
economic advantages, Kelly says, enable the company to own backbone, and both dial-up and DSL for local connections.

Cannect

Cannect is a new competitor to Bell Canada
(www.bell.ca) that has built an ATM infrastructure from scratch. It has Class 5 features for local service and IXC services.

The company, which serves business
customers, puts an IAD-type product in a commercial building, and “it is ATM and packetized all the way to the end,” says Barry
Mackie, vice president of network development and technical operations. “There is no
TDM–none–and the only TDM is back to the ILECs."

The company looks to do IP in the future, but “we are not starting with IP because of the QoS issue,” says
Mackie. Also, most IP softswitches do not have the range of services the company feels it needs to have an attractive product for its customers.

Although Cannect originally designed the network for its own transport, the wholesale potential recently has come to the fore. “We are in serious discussions with other CLECs that were going to put in TDM networks, but instead we would take care of their networks and would packetize them,” says Mackie.

Cannect would be able to handle multiple carriers’ IXC traffic, or can use its ATM switches as a tandem switch to handle local traffic. “We are in touch with many service providers about that,” says Mackie. “CLECs can do their own transit traffic. If we put in a tandem switch for traffic, then all the CLECs can share it.”

Cannect does offer SDSL services, using the DSLAM developed by Promatory Communications Inc.
(www.promatory.com), now owned by Nortel Networks Corp.
(www.nortelnetworks.com), with 640 DSL ports.

The ATM network provides several
economic advantages, including space. The company will handle 3 million busy-hour calls in 16 to 18 racks of equipment,
compared to 200 in a traditional network, Mackie says.

Cannect has turned up networks in Vancouver, B.C., and Toronto. It shortly will add Calgary, Sask., and Ottawa. Its plans are to add another 14 cities in Canada.

Charlotte Wolter is editor in chief of Sounding Board magazine, PHONE+’s
sister publication. She can be reached at [email protected].

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