To see is to believe
The enterprise customer may be getting more sophisticated every day, but no consumer of network services is more demanding or more nitpicky than another network service provider. It's like the doctor becoming a patient.
So when it comes to providing wholesale network services, it is best if all players involved are working from the same script, speaking the same language and looking at the same data. Companies such as BellSouth and General Telecom, a business unit of Golden, Colo.-based New Global Telecom, show why providing their wholesale customers with visibility into the performance of the network service they buy is good business Providing visibility may not be profitable on its own as a value-added service — as both BellSouth and General Telecom originally thought — but it has had a “pull-through” effect on winning new business.
BellSouth launched its Network Visibility Service (NVS) a little more than two and a half years ago. The service gave wholesale customers of frame relay and ATM services the ability to see the status of their particular service at any point in time and to pull customized reports on any circuit, call or configuration. Customers could view real-time fault and alarm activity as well as get historical data for analysis. In essence, they were able to view their network performance in the same way and form the same systems that BellSouth used.
Two-and-a-half years later, BellSouth has enhanced NVS and is eager to expand other capabilities such as provisioning. The carrier also is looking to extend NVS to other technologies.
“I don't think we can provide too much visibility,” said Duane Hattaway, technical specialist in marketing for BellSouth Interconnection Services. “Customers are paying for the services and need to know what's going on with them.”
Since launching NVS, BellSouth has learned that allowing customers to view real-time network performance is not as scary a proposition as it sounds. “If anything, it has proven to our customers that our network is incredibly reliable,” Hattaway said.
A few other assumptions also have changed regarding revenue, service level agreements (SLAs) and take rates. Initially, BellSouth's interconnect group (wholesale) anticipated NVS might be a revenue-generating service offering. It may turn out to be for the other business units using it, but for this group, “We decided to change the focus for ATM and frame relay and make this enhancement part of our basic service,” Hattaway said.
While that means there is no incremental revenue stemming from the investment in the Lucent Technology gear and software that support NVS, it has helped BellSouth outpace the market in ATM and frame relay.
“NVS has helped us pull through growth that we wouldn't have achieved had we not had the service to begin with,” said Gregory Harris, director of marketing for BellSouth Interconnection Services.
NVS has altered the SLA structure as well. In the TBNVS (time before NVS) BellSouth's wholesale SLAs were built on the traditional mean time to repair (MTTR). Today, they are built on network performance. Customers can hold the carrier to thresholds on network availability, transit delay and frame delivery rate on the frame relay network and to cell delivery and cell loss ratio on the ATM network.
“These are SLAs with teeth. There are payments that go back to the customer if we miss,” Hattaway said.
Along with enhanced SLAs, BellSouth also added automated alarm and maintenance notification capabilities and the ability for customers to do their own limited configuration.
For alarm notification, customers can access the NVS and pick specific circuits they want to watch closely. Once a threshold is reached for that circuit, the system automatically sends a page, e-mail or other notification to the customer.
In the case of planned maintenance, BellSouth also sends out notification to affected customers.
Thought currently limited to frame relay and limited as well to changing parameters on a private virtual circuit, for instance, BellSouth plans to add configuration and provisioning capabilities for ATM soon.
Currently 70% to 80% of all circuits within these services are covered by NVS. Hattaway expects 100% of circuits to be covered in the next year or so.
Growth in the ATM and frame relay market is slow, to say the least; however, the NVS project has been a learning experience for BellSouth, and it plans to apply those lessons in the rollout of new services.
“The ability to provide visibility into the network will serve us well as we venture into services at the Layer 2 and Layer 3 levels,” Hattaway said.
When BellSouth will do so will depend in part on when its vendor, Lucent, is ready with the capability. Lucent already has added provisioning capability to its VitalSuite Network and Service Management platform and has added ATM provisioning to the next release, which will be out sometime in the next six months. Lucent also will be adding management and provisioning capabilities for Ethernet over Sonet, metro Ethernet and other transport technologies.
Bob Murray, executive director of operations in Lucent's network operations software group, said visibility and the ability to partition a system so that customers only see performance data on their own services is important for both parties.
“After all, they all need each other, but they don't trust each other,” Murray said.
He said that while carriers are asking for — and Lucent is supplying — the provisioning capability, it's really the network management aspect that is most important. It helps both parties understand the meaning of quality of service (QOS) because they are looking at the same data.
“If you are going to offer QOS, you have to have the ability to separate out the network and understand what it is you are partitioning out to your customers,” Murray said.
Lucent's VitalSuite product can support approximately 100,000 network elements across approximately 1000 users. The system also can make a distinction for users between voice and data services so that when it comes to SLAs, carriers know what services may have been affected by an outage or service degradation.
“It's about being able to understand that when [you] see jitter on a data network, [you] don't care. That way you are not chasing red herrings,” Murray said.
He added that the demand for partitioning IP services is on the rise. Although not a Lucent customer, General Telecom has been at the switch-partitioning business since 1990 and is currently switching about 150 million minutes per month. The company provides both TDM and IP wholesale switch partitioning.
As part of its IPartition service, General Telecom, acquired by New Global Telecom in 2003, provides network management services and visibility plays a big role for General Telecom customers as well as BellSouth's.
General Telecom uses NexTone session border controllers as the foundation of its partitionable front end for IP services.
“NexTone provides a secure login so a customer can control only his area of the world. He can see only his routes, his rates, his reports,” said Randy Weinberger, vice president of network management services for NGT.
What they do get, Weinberger said, is a low-cost entry, speed to market, operational expertise, multiple redundant connections to the Internet and secure telecom facilities with N+1 redundancy at a low cost per month.
Still, what they really want is visibility into their network performance. One General Telecom customer, TelMex USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of TelMex Mexico, is just beginning to turn up General Telecom facilities.
“The first phase is always very critical, and the tools we have been using [from General Telecom] have been great support for us,” said Julian Martinez, senior manager of carrier relations for TelMex.
The Miami-based subsidiary uses online performance management and monitoring tools that provide visibility into traffic monitoring on an hourly basis and helps them with capacity planning. Perhaps even more important is a report on the billing side that the companies codeveloped to help TelMex measure their margins on a real-time basis.
The margin report allows customers of General Telecom to enter the buy and sell rates of particular circuits and determine in real time if they are making or losing money on a particular route.
“You have to protect your margins given that wholesale prices and margins have been reduced in recent years,” Martinez said. “Visibility into our margins was one report we were not able to get elsewhere. They were able to adapt to our needs.”
NGT's acquisition helped General Telecom fine-tune its network management offerings and extend its SLAs.
“NGT has always had the tradition of a strong OSS,” Weinberger said.
As an early player in switch partitioning, General Telecom developed its own proprietary solution. The IPartition platform supports session initiation protocol and H.323 signaling and handles IP-to-IP network control and routing. It also integrates with General Telecom's TDM platform to offer IP-to-TDM switching.
“Many of my competitors make money by leasing ports, but the problem with these systems is they were set up for one customer, themselves,” Weinberger said. “All our systems are built to be outward facing.”
The other advantage to being proprietary, he said, was that he doesn't have to go back to a vendor to provide new capabilities when requested by his customers.
For BellSouth, that doesn't appear to be an issue.
“We have been extremely happy with the flexibility and capabilities shown by the folks who developed this particular system at Lucent,” Hattaway said.
$50 billion wholesale revenue generated by switched services in 2003**
25% revenue generated by wholesale wireline services in 2004*
revenue wholesale contributed to overall wireline market in 2004*
48% wholesale revenue to be generated by switched services in 2008**
60% 60 number of milliseconds of one-way network transit delay allowed in BellSouth SLA
*Source: Yankee group
**Source: Research and Markets
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© 2013 Penton Media Inc.
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