Network neutrality offers new advantage to business
In South Africa, network neutrality now offers a decided advantage when it comes to getting connected and staying connected. With more and more telecoms infrastructure being installed nationally by multiple players and the undersea cables landing and launching, we are already seeing a drop in prices and "more for your money" throughput upgrades.
For businesses, however, the strength of their communication capability is not just measured in price and the size of the pipe - it's also about agility and reliability. That comes with an ISP service that offers network neutrality.
With the arrival of open access, ISPs can tap into infrastructure that belongs to a number of network providers. This means that the size of an ISP's owned infrastructure is no longer a deciding factor for users in their selection of a service provider. Instead, it's the quality of the services that the ISP can provide on top of the network that counts.
Owned infrastructure has, in fact, become somewhat of a hindrance for ISPs, which must focus on sweating their own (sometimes legacy) assets to recoup investments and maximise returns. In addition, more established service providers are often also bound by existing long-term contracts and cumbersome red tape. These limit them in terms of exploring and introducing new technologies or packages and/or fully leveraging new services - like taking full advantage of the West Africa Cable Systems (WACS) bandwidth that terminates on dedicated undersea cables.
These factors have given agile "well-connected" ISPs like XDSL an advantage.
The new breed of ISP
In many ways, XDSL is typical of the new breed of ISP. The company came to market 10 years ago with resources that boasted leading-edge technological expertise and a great deal of experience in broadband enablement in international markets. It's taken an innovative approach to development of its offerings, leveraging the strengths of its sister companies in the ConvergeNet Holdings group, i.e. building data centres, providing government support and services, technology hardware import and supply, and countrywide operations for network implementation and Cisco Gold partner support; and adding ingenuity to deliver the best possible value proposition for the client. The two most vital components of its offering are its national operations centre that provides 24x7x365 network monitoring and support; and the partnerships it has built.
To deliver services to its clients, it makes use of a shared IP network, reaching across metro networks, carrier networks, ISPs and data-hosting centres, with the help of the fibre, 3G and wireless infrastructure of the multiple service providers with which it has peering agreements and back-to-back SLAs. This includes all the major ISPs, fixed and cellular service providers, as well as niche ISPs providing fibre to select clients (e.g. high density office parks). In all, XDSL now has access to more than 200 000km of fibre through its agreements with various providers, with dedicated links to all major fibre rings. That's access to over 25 percent more fibre than the biggest individual player.
To access it adds service, a word the definition of which has become slightly muddied when used in relation to local ISPs. To many, it's become clear that the size of an ISP's owned infrastructure and client base no longer guarantees best service or value. An ISP offering based on network neutrality offers some relief from standard responses and best-effort resolution.
With a platform comprising many networks, there are multiple alternatives in terms of infrastructure, making network scalability, better failover and least-cost routing possible. The network agnostic ISP will provide the customer with a physical link into the fibre (or other) network, identifying the best suitable access method and utilising it. The customer's communication is then routed on networks wholesaled to the ISP from various network providers, with interactions terminating in the XDSL data centre.
For consumers and business owners, the benefits of network neutrality are immense. They not only get greater capacity, but also increased reliability, which is the result of intelligent monitoring, appropriate failover and high levels of expert and proactive support.
Uptime will depend on the levels of failover used, which may include Diginet, ADSL lines, IP connect, 3G APN networks, or satellite if appropriate. Throughput will depend on what the customer wants and will pay for. Although with no legacy commitments, agile ISPs can double the capacity most businesses are experiencing at no extra charge, as well as provide more services.
Traffic management and traffic engineering
One of the key benefits of using an ISP that offers network neutrality is that to be successful and deliver on service promises they must include traffic management and traffic engineering. With a full-time data centre watching for network fluctuations, the cause of any loss in capacity or "flat-lined" throughput can be proactively identified, alternative routes allocated or the challenge resolved.
One XDSL customer, for example, was struggling with a virus that was "vanishing" all available bandwidth. Neither the organisation's ISP nor its WAN provider could or would, through their standard troubleshooting processes, identify the challenge. XDSL identified the activity of the virus, and then worked with the company to isolate and remove it. And here's another example: a customer who was seeing huge bandwidth use from a particular location with the assistance of XDSL, found that a feed from his CCTV cameras was inadvertently left "open". A short onsite visit to provide the security employees with some training resolved the matter.
For XDSL, providing the client with a service means collaborating openly with the customer's WAN and other ISP providers. It's not the kind of service you can expect from larger, red tape-entangled ISPs with their one-size-fits-all template service and support operations.
Network neutrality offers a new model for organisations to build more flexible and intelligent communications platforms on. For XDSL, a leader in the provision of SLA-based solutions built on this model since 2002, free "proof of concept" pilots that run in parallel with an organisation's existing ISP offerings are proving a winning formula. They prove the point - much of the risk of switching providers has disappeared; it can be seamless and reliability is greater, not less.
Intelligent solutions will balance access, pricing, traffic engineering and quality of service, taking into consideration technology limitations and appetite for risk, along with the need to sweat business assets and "migrate" to new solutions and technologies. For example, a cloud solution may make financial sense but without access to fibre, it's risky.
What is not longer risky is looking at new telecoms and communication provision models. The technology and infrastructure in South Africa are maturing to a point where a network-neutral model costs less and offers competitive business advantage. If it is time to find an agile, well-connected ISP with some fresh ideas, proven approaches and solid support, give it a try.
About the author
Danie Fourie is director of XDSL.