Tata Communications formerly known as Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL (News - Alert)), is India's largest telco involved in international long distance, enterprise data and Internet services. Part of the Tata Group, Tata Communications is based in Mumbai and maintains operations in over 80 cities spread across 40 countries. Tata is also one of the world's largest submarine cable bandwidth providers, having as it does the world's largest network of submarine cables as a result of acquiring the network developed by Tyco Communications (renaming it the Tata Global Network).
Michael Corso, Product Manager for Tata’s VoIPLink (News - Alert) IP-based interconnect service, says “We’re clear an international wholesale company. As communications technology has evolved from a TDM world to a VoIP world, we’re definitely moving right along with that transition. We’re trying to help lead efforts in migrating to VoIP. Ovum (News - Alert) did a study estimating that, by 2012, there’s going to be about 279 billion international wholesale voice minutes. There were approximately 75 billion international minutes in 2007. So the international growth in a small period is going to be tremendous.”
“There are several reasons for this growth,’ says Corso. “VoIP as a whole, is at the point now where the Quality of Service [QoS] has been proven. There has been sufficient analysis done, and enough carriers have been transporting VoIP to demonstrate that the quality is comparable to what it was using the legacy TDM-based networks. So that’s definitely one of the catalysts for people saying, ‘Okay, let’s put our foot down and find the best way of doing these interconnects to move forward.’ Quality definitely helps to get that ball rolling. One of the other things that we found was definitely true as a result of our growing pains was that many international carriers, retail carriers and traditional Tier 1-type carriers, had built tremendously large TDM-based networks. This involved a lot of infrastructure, and many of these consumed a great deal of physical space, were expensive, there were many hardware components. These connects were T1 and E1-based, where local loops had to be ordered. There was a lot that went with these environments. A lot of capital investment was spent on these networks. They definitely proved that they could work. But what happened in the last few years is that everyone wanted to continue growing, and the operators had to make a decision as to whether they would continue to invest in a legacy network, or whether they would move forward with the new technology that’s evolving. That’s really where this ‘next-gen’ network started to really take hold. Companies such as Tata began to invest capital in these new networks. It was definitely expensive, but we had to invest in the purchase of new next-gen equipment rather than continue to invest in the old, legacy paradigm. That was another catalyst that got everybody to move into a direction of VoIP-based interconnects.”
“However, it was a totally different story for new carriers – if you were a carrier that came upon the scene in the last few years, you would obviously have seen a lot of growth in broadband,” says Corso, “whether you’re a DSL or a cable provider. A company may have been an Internet provider, a cable company, or a bit of both, and they realized that it was easy to add voice on top of that. So, in terms of making it attractive to their consumers, they offered discounted rates, triple-plays, even quadruple-plays in some cases if they had a mobile partnership. As they built out their networks, they had started after the fact, so for them it was a natural transition to build NGN [Next-Generation Networks] that support both a TDM legacy-type of an interconnect as well as a VoIP interconnect. A lot of the carriers that are now coming into play have these in place, or are planning or are starting to roll these out. So everything is now coming together.”
The Impact of Forums & Standards
Helping to guide the worldwide transition from TDM to IP communications has been a series of voice and video codecs, protocols and standards, led by various standards bodies and “fora” (or forums, to those unfamiliar with Latin).
“From an industry point of view, there’s a growing trend involving industry forums,” says Corso. “These are starting to look into standardizing and coming up with criteria as carriers decide they want to migrate to VoIP, just to make sure that we keep that concept of maintaining the same quality as previously. There are several forums out there, but we at Tata are very active in two of them: one is the i3 Forum, was really founded by large wholesale carriers. We’re an active member of that. We came to it basically to find how exactly we wanted to proceed regarding everything from the business models to the service models to the technical interconnects and to the actual plans on how we could all migrate together, because we now have many of these networks in place and we obviously want to utilize them. As I mentioned, I believe that Ovum in their analysis talked to many network operators like us, and that’s where they came up with their numbers. They realized that everyone is now at this threshold where they’re about to move forward in a major way. There’s definitely lots of activity right now, where carriers such as ourselves, instead of going 100 percent TDM in our major dealings encompassing billions of minutes of traffic exchange, we have now have anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of the traffic now going over VoIP interconnects.”
“There another forum called IPIA [IP Internetworking Alliance] which is driven a great deal with the GSM and CDMA mobile providers,” says Corso. “They’re starting to look as to how they can get their TDM connects into a VoIP-based environment. The model in which they’re interested is one where they expect there to be carriers in the middle, such as Tata Communications (News - Alert), where we would have essentially a big pipe in which one can plug into, and one can distribute whatever services one wants: voice and video over mobile providers, instant messaging, whatever other services that a provider wants to launch. And these will be able to flow over this platform. And that platform is definitely going to be an IP-based interconnect. Tata works with the IPIA to promote and support the launch of IPX (IP eXchange) services and is planning to launch its own IPX, integrated offering to service providers delivered over a next-gen network architecture.”
Tata Communications has conducted trials as part of the GSMA's (News - Alert) IPX Pre-Commercial Implementation Project, which is verifying the design and operation of IPX networks through a series of trials designed to validate technical and commercial specifications. Once adopted, IPX will act as a private global IP backbone, open to any telecommunications company adhering to the required standards. IPX will provide fixed and mobile service providers with a technical and commercial platform for the performance-based exchange of IP-based services. Thus, the IPX model may have a huge impact on the telecom industry.
“Everything is starting to come full circle,” says Corso. “All the operators are now committing, not only from a capital point of view, but from an operational and engineering and point of view, to push together to migrate their services to IP/VoIP-based interconnects.”
“As for why they would want to use a carrier such as Tata Communications,” says Corso, “we’ve taken a close look at where our customers presence happens to be, and we’ve evolved our facilities over time to get ‘as close as possible’ to them. In the TDM world, that was really a local loop, so it may be in the same facility, or it may be in the same region. You may have a site in London where a lot of customers within Europe would be able to order circuits directly into that London facility. We are now in the process of putting our NGN switches at these locations to get to the best access points. That’s because we do know that instead of TDM-based connections going into our sites, they’re now starting to go IP. What’s nice about a carrier like Tata is that we’re also a Tier 1 ISP, so we have a very large IP backbone, and we peer with all of the other large IP providers. So for a customer who wants to connect to VoIP, we have multiple facilities from which to choose in order to connect for purposes of redundancy and since we have our own IP network, they can be assured that the quality – IP latencies, jitter, and so forth – will certainly be good enough so that VoIP can be sent over the network. Thus, our goal is to keep evolving over time, not just to bet to the ideal regional points but also, if it makes sense, to go into specific countries, if there’s enough of a demand for an interconnect there.”
“Having that is something that’s definitely going to be critical,” says Corso, “because you want to ensure that if you decide to use the public Internet, the quality will be there. Since we also have these large facilities, if a carrier wanted to, we can plug together dedicated IP and run a circuit to each other that will be used exclusively for voice traffic. So you can know that, from the carrier’s access points to ours, that we understand that that’s going to be very low latency and very high quality. Things such as QoS can be ensured. It goes back to the concept of delivering the same quality that used to be expected in the TDM world.”
Outsourcing to Focus on Core Competencies
Businesses of all sorts – even service providers, find that they can’t expend valuable time and effort doing everything. They must prioritize their activity, just as they prioritize the packet traffic running over their networks.
“Another interesting thing we’ve noticed is a trend where companies want to just focus start focusing on their core business,” says Corso. “We look at our core business as our global footprint, as our routing and all of our capabilities taken together. We have a mesh network and our NGN platform, and we have the ability to support TDM and VoIP-based interconnects seamlessly. So you connect to us via TDM or you can connect to us with VoIP, and you can still get to any other supplier in our network. If you want to buy a service from us, or buy a different level of service, we give you the ability to reach any of those different service levels. But what we’re starting to see is that some providers realize that their core focus is building up their customers or creating new services for their customers, so they may not want to have a large carrier management or customer service organization or routing management organization that has to really dig in and find the best rates, find the best routes, manage the quality, and do various other related things. With such carriers there has been a distinct trend toward outsourcing. The operator focuses on its core business, and it allow outsiders with a much better focus on these other items to take over the management for them. And as customers move to VoIP they’re looking to reduce expenses – that’s a natural driver of transition that a VoIP-based carrier is probably looking for. We at Tata have the routing depth and breadth that enables such a situation to occur.”
“Another big trend concerns interoperability,” says Corso. “It’s nice to think that when you connect two carriers together, everything will work okay. Our experience has definitely been that, generally, yes that’s the case, but there are new standards that are evolving. Take any two major hardware vendors out there and there will assuredly be scenarios where some standardized equipment may not work well together, particularly if they emphasize differing standards. A carrier in the middle that understands those limitations and has the ability to work around them will definitely be important to a VoIP-based provider. We’ve had this experience. We’ve been doing this kind of thing fro a long time. We’re constantly working to get away from these limitations and find ways around them. Some of these are as simple as codec issues where you may be a web-based provider, for example, who creates codecs you want to use for whatever reason, or you decide to use a freeware codec and you want to be able to route to a carrier. Well, guess what, the carrier must be able to support that codec. So understanding those kinds of limitations are very important, and we at Tata want to be able to take on those challenges and we want to have a flexible network where our core can essentially translate codecs, protocols, or whatever, as needed to get Customer A to be able to send a call to Supplier B.”
“And there has been a trend towards Ethernet,” says Corso. “Tata Communications’ Ethernet services portfolio is being used by operators such as Etisalat in the UAE and elsewhere. Tata’s MEF [Metro Ethernet Forum]-certified range of Ethernet services span across five continents and features Layer-2 Ethernet-over-SONET/SDH, Ethernet-over-MPLS and a range of configurations to keep pace with the growth in customer requirements. Ethernet today is becoming an increasingly popular choice for enterprises with growing bandwidth and technology requirements, since it’s cost-effective, scalable, and a flexible solution for enterprises of all sizes.”
With its continuing international presence, Tata Communications remains a jewel in the $62.5 billion Tata Group as a leading global provider of a new world of communications.
Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group. To read more of Richard’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Jessica Kostek