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Value-added broadband

Broadband service providers in India have to add value in the form of services along with traditional bandwidth access. Brad Gray, Vice President, Asia South Pacific, Unisphere Networks talks about the key strategies broadband service providers need to adopt to stay competitive. by Soutiman Das Gupta

“Although connectivity is important, broadband service providers have to add value in the form of services on top of it to stay abreast of competition”

How will a broadband service provider in India keep abreast of competition?
It is important for a broadband service provider to offer IP-driven services as value-adds along with broadband access services to keep abreast of competition. Many broadband service providers in India have laid optical fiber to provide last mile broadband access. And many others offer various access technologies and methods like DSL, Ethernet-over-cable, Trunk lines, Frame Relay, ATM, wireless, and wireline. But all the providers in the marketplace seem to service only a very primary need connectivity. Although connectivity is important, one has to add value in the form of services on top of it to stay abreast of competition.

This is especially important because the market for high-speed broadband services in India has grown rapidly due to an ever-increasing subscriber demand for IP bandwidth. And this growing demand over time will translate to more profit for service providers. In such a scenario, the provider that offers more value-added services over plain connectivity option will win.

Value may be added in the form of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), bandwidth prioritization, security services, and bandwidth on demand. And these value-added differentiated services should be provided without sacrificing the wire speed of the connection. This can turn out to be an important part in a provider's growth model.

What are the technology areas that a service provider should pay attention to?
It is critical for a service provider to provide consistent connectivity and make adequate bandwidth provision for all its subscribers. It should integrate its value-added services with carrier-class routing. It is also important to provide scalable subscriber access to keep pace with growth in the number of subscribers and increase in roll-out of services.

The router at the edge of the network needs software and hardware features that can offer PPP (Point-to-Point Protocol), value differentiated services, and individual customer interfaces while maintaining wire-rate performance. Development of technology at the provider's edge is the key to growth and perhaps the future of broadband networks.

Previous generation routers were not designed to terminate thousands of simultaneous individual connections. To address this limitation, enterprises used adjunct systems in the form of router stacks. This helped offload aggregation and management functions from a single device. But a certain number of performance issues still existed.

Early broadband networks supported customers who used bandwidth in the range of 2-4 Kbps. This has changed. An average enterprise customer today demands a minimum of one Mbps. So when service providers with older networks tried to scale up to match the high requirements, reliability and performance issues crept in.

How can these reliability and performance issues be addressed?
Providers may use a broadband router built with ASIC to address this problem. ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) is a custom-designed chip for a specific application rather than a general-purpose chip like a microprocessor. In simple terms, it performs all the routing functions in the hardware. Many legacy routers carry out routing in the software. It was all right then. But now you need to scale up. You need to change the way you look at your router.

The provider's network architecture should be able to take a packet from any user and move it across at wire speed. It should also be able to layer services on this functionality without impacting the network's performance.

Does the intelligence in a service provider's network sit at the core?
No, the intelligence is at the edge of the network, specifically on the routers at the edge. The only job of the core IP architecture in a broadband service provider's network is to move packets very fast and in large numbers. IP data packets come in and go out, that's all. If you look at a telco's network, even if it's an MPLS (Multi Protocol Label Switching) core its just moving traffic. The core network may send data on multiple paths, offer resilience and reliability, but it's just transporting data.

You can introduce security policies and perform jobs like packet classification and queuing for individual customers at the edge. You can also introduce virtual router functionality at this point. This technology lets each connection use all the functionalities of the router like its very own dedicated device. So one box is effectively many virtual routers where the customers and ISPs can connect.

When a subscriber enters the network through a virtual router, it is an isolated connection. There is no connection between each virtual router inside the box. There may be thousands of users assigned individual virtual routers in the same box but one virtual router cannot talk to another. There are separate route tables to introduce this functionality and one need to take two connections physically out of the box to join them. User authentication mechanisms can be used to map the connection into the system.

Priorities, policies, and queuing for individual customers and individual businesses are done at the edge. This is the first point of contact for a customer, so work is done on a per-customer basis. Once the traffic hits the core, the system does not relate the data to an individual customer anymore since it already has been addressed and classified. The core performs its functions on all the packets in the network as a whole.

For example, incoming VoIP data packets may be prioritized, policed, queued, and tagged 'red' at the edge. The core of the network now knows what the packets are all about and can forward them accordingly. Service value additions like security, bandwidth priority, and IP-differentiated QoS are also performed at the edge. Only a few router manufacturers produce edge routers that offer these functionalities.

From which sector do you see revenue generated for broadband service providers in India?
In India the revenue for broadband service providers is mainly driven by services in the corporate sector. The success among enterprises will pave a path for residential access. And revenue figures from the residential sector will pick up fast. But there will always be a mix of access technologies.

For example, India has a very large cable TV penetration. It's much more than the telephone user base. Service providers already offering DSL or leased lines can also think of offering services through cable. The provider does not need to build a separate platform for cable, Ethernet, ATM, and leased lines. He can use routers that support all these technologies and build a single network to deliver these services. No matter what access technology and physical location, the platform stays the same.

Many successful providers today may strictly sell bandwidth per rupee. But as it works out, it's not a long term success story.

Unisphere Networks
Unisphere Networks was founded in March 1999 when Siemens AG merged three voice and data networking companies, Castle Networks, Redstone Communications, and Argon Networks with Siemens Information and Communications Networks Group.

The company's primary focus is to deliver services over IP infrastructures. Unisphere provides IP networking equipment that enables service providers and enterprises to use and offer IP-driven services for both voice and data networks.

It has products like edge routers, media gateways, soft switches, and management consoles and application services like broadband connectivity and voice services.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at

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