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Issue of October 2002 
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Case Study Special: RF links for maximum uptime
Within line of sight

EIPL had to ensure always-on communication links between its central office and operations offices in Mumbai. It found leased lines unreliable and inflexible for its need. The solution was to deploy wireless Radio Frequency links. by Soutiman Das Gupta

EIPL (Exel India Private Limited), a logistics solutions provider, was looking for a reliable means to connect its offices in Mumbai. It found leased lines unreliable and inflexible for its need and had to ensure always-on communication links between its central office and operations offices. "The aim was to keep up to a commitment made to our customers. We promise our customers to clear all consignments within two days. And in order to fulfill the promise, it is essential that the links between our offices in Mumbai have very high uptime," said Suresh Subramanium, Assistant General Manager-IT. The company opted for a RF-based (Radio Frequency) wireless link to connect six locations in Mumbai.

In a Nutshell
  • The Company
    Exel is a global leader in supply chain management, providing customer focused solutions to a wide range of manufacturing and retail industries. Exel, in India has its central office in Mumbai. In India, Exel has 22 offices and eight warehouses.
  • The Need
    The company was looking for a reliable means to connect its offices in Mumbai. It found leased lines unreliable and inflexible for its need and had to ensure always-on communication links between its central office and operations offices in Mumbai.
  • The Solution
    After a line of sight survey the company implemented wireless RF links between six offices in Mumbai. Each link offers bandwidth of four Mbps.
  • The Benefits
    The links are very reliable and are rarely down. The company is able to keep up to its promised service levels. In future the company plans to link more warehouses and offices with wireless links.

Leased lines didn't help much
EIPL had installed a 2 Mbps leased line between its Mumbai offices. And the leased line was backed up by an ISDN link. But the company felt that the solution was not of much help. "It takes a very long time to implement a leased line. To add to this difficulty, leased lines offer unreliable connectivity and erratic customer service. Our network is so business-critical that even five minutes of downtime will result in delay and loss of business," said Suresh.

Deciding on wireless
The company had independent servers in all its offices in Mumbai. The servers were consolidated last year to a high-capacity centralized server architecture in the central location. The operations offices are all within a 5 km radius from the central office. "Since the central office was the most critical area, we wanted a reliable solution for the links. We heard of successful implementations of wireless links and we decided to evaluate the technology," opined Suresh. "We spoke to HCL Comnet and Tulip for their solutions. We tested the RF link and decided to go with it. RF is now the primary link, the 2 Mbps leased line and the ISDN link serve as backups."

Tulip conducted a 'Line of Sight' survey, studied the requirements and recommended Cisco's wireless solution. It then designed and implemented the links and is also responsible for managing the network.

The wireless state of things
The central office was linked to the first operations office in 2001. Since then Exel has successfully linked six offices in Mumbai. The bandwidth on each link is 4 Mbps.

Wireless is easy to upgrade. On the other hand, upgrading a leased line involves an additional complication. You have to support the cost of the modem when upgrading from a 64 Kbps leased line to a 2 Mbps. Basically, the cost difference between the two links justifies the investment. Another advantage of the wireless solution is that we did not have to reconfigure any of our existing links to implement wireless," said Suresh.

The wireless platform supports applications like Exel's freight forwarding, financial accounting, billing, MIS systems developed in PB/Sybase, and Import Clearance system which works on a VB/SQL server combination. The platform also supports regular e-mail connectivity using Lotus Notes. "Since implementation the links have rarely been down," claimed Suresh.

The wireless future
"We are considering linking all our warehouses to our key offices using the wireless technology. Providing more interface options like V.35 and G.703 along with RJ 45, and in-built routing capabilities may deliver great advantages to us," added Suresh.

Exel plans to wireless network more offices to Mumbai. This includes offices in Pune, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Goa. And later, the warehouses in these respective cities will be connected to the city office over wireless links as well.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at soutimand@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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