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IP Backbone: Hard sell, not so much


Think you’re too busy to blog? Think again. Or just ask your boss. After more than 100,000 miles in coach class this year (so far), my backbone may be aching, but the IP backbone market is as agile and dynamic as ever. Sales opportunities abound, but to take advantage, you’d better be savvy, and just a little cagey.

So, as our gleaming 777 departs Kuala Lumpur, I’ll just relax in my fully-reclined, ultra-deluxe coach seat and tell you what this globetrotting sales guy has seen, heard and figured out.

Two new trends

As if the global financial crisis weren’t enough, beleaguered NSPs have to rejigger their business plans (yet again) to accommodate encroachment from brazen usurpers and ever more competitive pricing:

  1. Large eyeball networks (5 million+ subscribers) are selling paid peering to the largest content providers.
  2. There are big price reductions in IP transit all over eastern Europe – now close to parity with western Europe.

Just two years ago many large European and some North American NSPs thought eastern Europe would be their salvation, the best way to sustain growth and maintain margins. And why not — IP transit in eastern Europe was selling for an extravagant €12/Mb/month back then. During 2008, several NSPs took advantage of this seductive pricing to increase their customer base in the region:

  1. Global Crossing
  2. TiNet
  3. Cogent
  4. Deutsche Telekom
  5. TeliaSonea
  6. Interoute
  7. Etc.

Cogent does it again

Not for the first time, most NSPs are blaming Cogent for shaking up the system (spoiling everybody’s fun with tough competition). Early this year, they started providing eastern Europe with IP transit for just €4/Mb/month. Despite this, a few providers successfully entered the eastern Europe transit market this year:

  1. TiNet
  2. TeliaSonera
  3. Global Crossing
  4. Cogent

Their success came mainly at the expense of Verizon and Sprint. Level 3 and Telecom Italia Sparkle managed to maintain their positions.

An interesting result of lower pricing

Regional NSPs have abandoned the IP transit market and are using their networks to offer connectivity to major IXPs. And they just might reach out to Russian IXPs next year. I’ll keep you posted.

IP sales teams react

So, how are IP transit sales teams coping with this market evolution? It varies. A few have cashed in their IP transit chips and are focusing on enterprise MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) opportunities. Others are reconfiguring their IP networks to gain revenue from peering partners that were previously settlement-free (paid no fees). Some are building their “on-net” business by seizing every available IP transit opportunity. While the most savvy NSPs are relying on Renesys Market Intelligence® to give them a competitive edge. 🙂

Road Tip: Get cozy with the crew.


I always chat up flight attendants and/or pilots when I’m going someplace I haven’t been to before; after all, they go there regularly and can let you in on stuff you’d never find in a guide book.

On a recent visit to a not-so-well-developed part of South America, I got to talking with an American Airlines captain in the departure lounge at Miami airport. He and the crew would be staying at the same hotel I was, so I asked the usual questions about shopping and restaurants. During his enlightening response he casually mentioned that I shouldn’t casually wear my fancy watch outside the hotel. Whoa. I asked him to elaborate. Turns out, just a few weeks ago his copilot stood outside our hotel waiting for a crew bus, all his possessions crammed into a backpack. A motorcyclist zoomed out of traffic, slid impressively to stop right in front of him, produced a gun and demanded the backpack. It was over in a split nanosecond.

Flight crews wait inside the hotel now. So do I.

Paid peering has its effects

Now that large eye-balls have seen their way to paid peering, the traditional wholesale IP transit market has split into two groups. Some have eyeball networks, the rest are wholesale pure players.

In this scenario, incumbents and cable operators with large domestic retail broadband networks have the advantage. So far, only retail-focused NSPs offer paid peering, but only because they don’t have large legacy wholesale businesses to cannibalize. I’ll be keeping my own eyeballs on IP transit wholesalers with large retail networks (e.g., ATT, Deutsche Telekom, BT) to see if they join the fray. My money’s on no. Pure players such as Cogent, Level 3 and TInet have the most to lose if this trend spreads.

On-net business

is a sweet deal for NSPs. They get revenue coming and going because both parties pay for exchanged traffic. (If traffic on their network is from a peering link or an upstream provider, they can only charge at one end.) It’s not just giants like Level 3 cashing in on this, regional NSPs are doing it at home and abroad.NSPs are very secretive about their on-net percentages, but insiders believe the largest NSPs’ on-net routing is in the 30% range.

Asian tigers hungry for more

The Capacity Asia NSP networking event in Kuala Lumpur was as vibrant as ever this fall. Asian NSPs shook off the financial crisis and are growing again, while their European and North American counterparts continue to struggle. Prices haven’t plunged in Asia, and many populous locations are still eager and ready for broadband connectivity.

Asian-generated Internet content is growing rapidly, so they don’t want or need more connectivity to the USA. But there was a lot of buzz about the pressing need for a fail-safe mechanism – additional subsea communication cables in key areas. Sites to consider: just offshore from the Singapore landing station and emerging low-cost manufacturing locations such as Bangladesh.

BTW, I heard a rumor that a single cable from Singapore to Hong Kong had four breaks already this year. NSPs with limited fiber diversity were not amused.

Road Tip: The laid-back dichotomy.

Bobf_Visa.gifI really enjoyed my first visit to Sao Paolo, Brazil last March. As promised, the steak was fabulous, the people friendly and easygoing. This charmingly relaxed attitude extends to the Brazilian consulate in Boston where I applied for a visa about a month before I was scheduled to travel. The application process was effortless, and I anticipated the return of my passport and the requested visa in a few days. That’s what usually happens.

Ten days pass. No mail. No contact. I begin to leave increasingly urgent voice mail messages at the consulate. Another ten days go by. I’m running out of time and options, so, I dive into their IVR system maze hoping for contact with a sentient being, and finally get connected to . . . voice mail. OK, I’m supposed to leave in three days now. It’s visa hotline time. To my surprise, a very amiable fellow instantly responds . . . oh yeah, he seems to remember something like that, and he’s pretty sure he put the paperwork somewhere.

Brazilian visas are good for five years. So, if you’re planning to go to Rio for the 2016 Olympics, apply for your visa in 2011. On the other hand, if you’re planning a Russian excursion, not to worry – nothing escapes their attention. You’ll have a gorgeous, foil-embossed document within days. Sunny, relaxed Rio, or frigid, efficient Russia. You decide.

A kind of twisted unity

Google and a group of NSPs (Bharti Airtel, Global Transit, KDDI Corp., Pacnet, and SingTel) recently formed a transpacific cable consortium. They call it Unity. Cable deployment is ahead of schedule and should be activated soon, but with an interesting twist. Members pay a share of the infrastructure cost, and get to install their portion of the cable in their own optical equipment at both Chikura and Los Angeles. So, some members may deploy 10G waves, while others might fancy 40G or even 100G.


A few NSPs quietly mentioned that Google has already been offering to sell bandwidth on their part of the cable in the wholesale market. This puts some NSPs between a rock and a hard competitive place — with one of their biggest customers!

This creates an intriguing dilemma for Google, according to a financial markets expert I chatted with at the Capacity show. Google’s P/E valuation has been driven by its reputation for disruptive technologies since the beginning of Google-time. Although it’s unlikely, if they also start operating as a telecom utility (offering bandwidth and all sorts of cellular technology/services), that could change. P/E values for NSPs, wireless equipment manufacturers and wireless operators are rather modest to say the least. So even if Google has spectacular success selling bandwidth, I can’t imagine it would contribute to even a modest change in their P/E expectations.

Will the bumpy IP transit ride continue in 2010? I’ll be watching and reporting from my cushy coach seat.

Bob Fletcher
Sales guy


An Eyeball Network is a content provider, such as a cable TV provider or DSL access network, which connects its content viewers (eyeballs) to the Internet through an NSP.

An Internet Exchange Point (IXP) is a physical infrastructure that network service providers (NSPs) use to exchange Internet traffic between their networks. It enables networks to interconnect directly, rather than through third-party networks.

Peering is a mutually beneficial interconnection of separate Internet service providers to exchange traffic between the downstream customers of each network. With paid peering, fees are accessed by the NSP that receives significantly more downstream IP traffic than its peering partner.

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