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Broadband: How much bandwidth do you need?

Bandwidth will soon be available on tap and there are a plethora of broadband connectivity solutions. But are enterprises using bandwidth-hungry applications yet? by Brian Pereira

In the recent past there has been talk about India being a bandwidth-starved nation, and about how much we could lose if we fail to upgrade capacities on broadband networks. That consensus might change.

Considering the rate at which private sector companies are deploying fiber optic or HFC (Hybrid Fiber Coaxial) networks across the nation, we'll soon have surplus bandwidth. The question is, what are we going to do with all that bandwidth, and what are the applications that are really going to drive bandwidth requirements?

Market research organizations have projected the country's broadband requirements for the first half of this decade.

Nasscom projects 300 Gbps Internet bandwidth demand in India by 2005. Market researcher Frost & Sullivan predicts growth rates of over 93.6 percent for Internet bandwidth, between March 2000 and March 2005. Industry reports indicate India could loose out on $22.5 billion in business earnings if it fails to address its bandwidth requirements.

While Internet access may be the main driver for bandwidth demand, the high requirement on enterprise networks is debatable. A clearer picture emerges when one examines global trends and the demand drivers.

Enterprises deploy broadband networks for Internet access/international connectivity, or for internal LAN/WAN point-to-point connectivity.

Traditionally, exporters and software development houses have been big bandwidth consumers. But now certain factors are prompting corporates to upgrade capacities on internal networks.

Typical applications running on corporate LAN/WANs are messaging, ERP, CRM, SCM, databases, and customized applications. We asked vendors, IT-Heads and network consultants whether these applications are bandwidth hungry, and got mixed responses. While some felt 64K and 2Mbps links are adequate, others feel applications like ERP are driving bandwidth requirements.

Says R N Bhaskar, Chairman E-convergence Technologies Limited (ETL), “Applications like VPN, ERP, CRM, and SCM don't require high bandwidth. These are all low-bandwidth applications that are manageable within 128Kbps.”

Continues Bhaskar, “at present everyone uses 'thin' bandwidth. Ninety percent of VSATs use 64Kbps or less. Hindustan Lever for instance uses very low VSAT bandwidth and NSE uses 64Kbps. Bandwidth requirements are low because companies have not yet combined video, audio and data on their networks.”

Though bandwidth requirements have not grown at the projected rate, enterprises certainly feel the need to go in for additional bandwidth. "One of the reasons for this is that enterprises want to have backup links," says Anil Garg, VP-IT and New Media, Sony Entertainment Television.

Rahul Swarup, President, Enterprise Solutions, Satyam Infoway (Sify), says bandwidth will continue to be in short supply and corporate applications are the main demand drivers. "If corporates adapt to applications like ERP, then there will be a need to connect. Similarly, Web-based applications around SCM (Supply Chain Management), Sales Force Automation and Intranet/extranet based workflow require bandwidth for fulfillment."

S V Ramana, VP-Systems Engineering, Cisco Systems India, says enterprise users, consumers, service providers and even the government demands bandwidth on tap. He says investment from private players has seen India record a phenomenal increase in both incoming and outbound traffic. "There is clearly a demand for broadband what has changed however is the supply situation. Network i2i recently announced the opening up of its undersea submarine cables with capacity to carry 8.4 Tbps of traffic out of India. From mere Gbps India is now entering the TB (Terabyte) space. Even India's regulatory framework has turned favorable for telecommunications bandwidth vendors and resellers."

Many feel the real driver for bandwidth is multimedia applications. Years ago there was talk of "rich multimedia content" and video being the real drivers. In reality this isn't happening yet in Indian enterprises. However, organizations are increasingly using their IP networks for voice communications in closed user groups.

Some consultants say voice isn't a bandwidth guzzler as voice streams are compressed before transmission on data networks.

"VoIP will be a big driver for bandwidth," says Ketan Sanghavi, Managing Director, Wanland Datacom (India). "It may seem that VoIP does not hog bandwidth, because voice can be compressed from 64K to 14K. But to use multiple voice channels on a network you do need adequate bandwidth. Even if the routers are configured to prioritize voice traffic, latency will come in."

Many also talk about network convergence. When voice, video and data are pushed along the same pipe, bandwidth requirements can soar. As connectivity costs drop more enterprises will consider a common network for voice, video and data. The real attraction here is the huge cost-savings.

Another driver is business growth. Enterprises, especially in the banking and finance sector, are opting for more bandwidth to fulfill growing business requirements. IDBI Bank for instance, is upgrading its bandwidth by 50 percent this year, as it introduces more ATMs, branches, and new applications.

"Heavy messaging and core banking applications use a lot of bandwidth," says Neeraj Bhai, CTO, IDBI Bank. "We also use VoIP and have installed 80 phones on our network. In the next few months we will have 200 phones. In the month of March, we made 1,60,000 calls over the IP network."

K Ramaswamy, CIO, MIRC Electronics, the company that manufactures Onida TVs, says his organization is considering video conferencing over the network. "Doing this over the present LAN will pose problems, so we may need to go in for more bandwidth."

Other drivers are entertainment and distance education. Live Webcasts of events through data networks and interactive classroom sessions will be bandwidth guzzlers feels Bhaskar.

New connectivity options at lower costs are also prompting many companies to consider broadband connectivity for business operations. For instance Optical Ethernet technology enables businesses to connect their existing Ethernet LANs to DWDM-based optical backbones.

Transmission speeds are boosted as optical components replace silicon in switching equipment.

The cost of wireless equipment is falling and it's also becoming easier to set up wireless networks.

Radio Frequency links and IP-VPN are becoming popular because of the features and benefits they offer.

What's more, all this new technology is available right here in India from vendors like Nortel Networks, Cisco, Avaya, Unisphere Networks, Motorola, Texas Instruments and others.

Service providers have moved quickly to address corporate bandwidth requirements, and many types of broadband solutions are available today (See page 23). Network consultants say CIOs/CTOs have certain concerns while choosing these solutions. Some carelessly neglect certain issues.

Leslie Frank, partner at Lancomp Networking Solutions (a Mumbai-based network integrator), says a manager should look at business requirements, the geography/locations of offices and the expectations.

His colleague Sudesh Tendulkar says managers overlook things like securing their systems before connecting them to shared networks.

"When a business is heavily dependent on broadband connectivity, it's not enough to have firewalls or expensive security systems in place," says Frank. "What is needed is skilled manpower. The management of those networks and their security is most crucial."

ISPs feel corporate customers are most concerned about throughputs and uptime.

Praveen Shrikhande, CTO, Hathway Cable Internet says customers worry what the performance will be like when they buy shared bandwidth. "Besides performance, they also worry about security. Some ask whether their applications will run on our network, or whether we will allow voice traffic to be transmitted."

Shrikhande says it is important for service providers to manage the network well and offer different levels of QoS (Quality of Service.)

Another consultant says managers should also look for value-adds, which are service differentiators.

While throughput and uptime top many a CTOs wish list, it is important to carefully consider the features of each connectivity option and understand the environment it is best suited to. Though bandwidth is available from many service providers, managers must study their applications, monitor network performance and then determine their bandwidth requirements.

Brian Pereira can be reached at

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