The Challenges Before The ISPs

Today, Internet has more than 40 million users
world-wide. According to Morgan Stanley, this figure is expected
to reach 160 million by the year 2000. Basically, a
network-to-network connection which would mean that all the
networks, sub-networks, and intranets are interconnected,
Internet today has become the new road upon which our voice,
data, and images travel.

This was something that Internet was not
supposed to be initially. So, it was not designed to provide the
kind of fault tolerance and assured delivery that the business
users expect. On the other hand, the present telecom
infrastructure was also not designed for this kind of traffic
requirement.

Added to this is the emergence of what is
called intranet, the organization-wide “internet” that
provides the users with a common interface for all their
applications. Many organizations use them as their sole corporate
computing medium for employees. Many a times, these intranets are
interfaced with Internet and try to use the latter as a medium of
communication.

This has resulted in a lot of pressure on
Internet. This also means that the Internet services have
tremendous business opportunities. Looking at this, many
traditional telecom operators have embraced Internet service
business. In other words, Internet and intranets have created
both challenges and opportunities for service providers
specializing in data networking.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) exist to
provide access to services on Internet. But for the first-time
service providers, the whole game is an expensive proposition.
These ISPs have to build and maintain modem pools, routers, and
thousands of other relative infrastructure nodes and resources.
The hardware and technical design problems should not be solved
by the ISPs. These should be left to the equipment vendors and
solution providers. And an ISP must worry about marketing,
content production, and about technical innovation of the
business, where it excels.

Most of the ISPs use a network in such a way
that the entire Internet traffic is routed over the voice network
through local switches to the tandem switches and then to the
toll/TAX office. Toll/TAX office then interfaces to the
centralized VSNL modem pool for access to VSNL backbone and
servers and then to Internet. The existing network is already
congested and VSNL has almost stopped giving any more Internet
connections to the customers.

Infrastructure and data network architecture
being used at present have several challenges to be addressed.

  • Congestion on the voice network. The
    traffic requirements per Internet subscriber are very
    high (0.3-0.6 Erlang approx.) and existing voice network
    is designed for 0.1-0.2 Erlang per subscriber. This
    excess load on the local and tandem switches of the voice
    network is degrading the overall network performance.
  • Limited number of ports and modems.
    The number of modems and ports are limited which is
    resulting in limited subscribers access to Internet.
  • A complex network. This network has
    too many lines, adapters, servers, and cables. This makes
    the network more complex and also results in poor quality
    network.
  • Limited SNMP. Does not have Simple
    Network Management Protocol (SNMP) on all devices. SNMP
    basically manages the nodes on IP network.
  • All the devices are not secure.
  • No remote management on all devices.
  • No dynamic traffic-to-line allocation.
  • Long holding time on voice network.
  • Dissatisfied customer. Since the
    existing infrastructure is not able to support high speed
    and quality service, it results in dissatisfied
    customers. At times, www means World Wide Weight.

This exponential
growth of Internet may have created problems for ISPs, but it
provides several opportunities to them in offering bundled
services and in demand capitalization. Some of the typical
services which could be bundled with Internet include:

  • Analog access (up to 28.8 kbps) and ISDN
    access–64 and 128 kbps.
  • Dedicated access, i.e. leased line of 64
    kbps/2 mbps speed.
  • Free space for home page, Netscape
    navigator software.
  • Help desk, web page development, and
    hosting.
  • Consulting/training, messaging database,
    and directory services.
  • Domain name registration, security
    services.
  • Credit card billing and commerce.

Phasing out huge networks is not an easy task
from the investment point of view as a major chunk of the
investment has already gone into modems and trunks and into
technical support. (The present network is full of modems and
trunks which has resulted in heavy investments and the large
number of nodes in this network have resulted in more number of
technical support/staff). Apart from this, there are other
limitations.

  • Costly router ports. This is because a
    single router is not being utilized to its speed (access
    network limitation).
  • High access charges. The access charges
    are high because of multiple Point Of Presence (POP)
    maintenance.
  • Inefficient network management. Since the
    existing network is not well planned and it has many
    types of nodes that have to be maintained, it is really
    difficult to maintain the network cost effectively.
  • Little customer loyalty. Because of poor
    network performance and poor customer care, the customer
    does not show any loyalty to its ISP.
  • Poor customer education. Presently, ISPs
    are not focusing on customer training or creating
    awareness on Internet and its access. Even corporate
    customers have not been given any attention. ISPs really
    have to educate the customer.

Challenges Before The
ISP

The main challenge before an
ISP is meeting the huge traffic demand and providing quality
service in a cost-effective manner. There are other areas of
concern too. These include:

  • Providing high-speed connections for
    quality service to corporate customers.
  • Profitably expand data networking options
    for ISP and enterprise customers.
  • Increase profitability and improve
    efficiency of the inter-switched network.
  • Providing premises functionality in a
    central office environment resulting in improved user
    satisfaction.
  • Deliver a carrier-grade access,
    navigational, and security platform resulting in new
    revenue generation and cost saving. To meet Internet
    and ISPs’ challenges, the government must plan right
    policies and allow several ISPs for country-wide network. In
    fact, most of the countries have several ISPs to cater to their
    needs in an efficient and cost-effective manner. At the same
    time, ISPs need to plan a separate data network to suffice this
    kind of huge requirements. And, ISPs may be allowed to get into
    the Internet content services business.

    These ISPs will be expected to build the
    information superhighways in a short duration. As Internet users
    mostly have a dial-up access on the existing voice network using
    conventional modems. This approach of providing Internet
    connection brings the traffic to a stand still/congestion in the
    peak hours. In fact, Internet users are looking for something
    faster like ISDN, cable modems, or even faster technologies for
    providing access. Service providers would love to oblige, but
    there are problems in putting the faster technology into place
    and managing it afterwards.

    If the above challenges are met, then ISPs can
    benefit in terms of voice network resources, new data services
    revenues, and single data network equipment. These will make the
    maintenance easy, enhance market image, and help to focus on core
    businesses and on the end customer. However, achieving these
    challenges is not an easy task and will not be possible by one
    ISP, i.e. VSNL.

    There are many steps that need to be taken by
    the government and the ISPs, themselves, in order to see that
    Internet succeeds in India. While policy related issues are to be
    decided by the government and the regulator in consultation with
    the industry, ISPs can focus their activities on better
    infrastructure, innovative service offerings, and aggressive
    marketing. While the latter two will depend upon geographic
    regions and the size of an ISP, here is a brief outline of what
    to take care of as far as infrastructure is concerned.

    Basic Infrastructure

    The following infrastructure
    needs would have to be addressed:

    • More Internet connections would mean more
      number of computers. But the computer prices are still
      high. To bring down the computer prices, government must
      remove the duties and it may be fully depreciated by one
      to two-year period.
    • The telecom infrastructure must be
      designed for data network applications which could
      support high-speed services. This infrastructure must be
      able to provide 64 kbps, nx64 kbps, ISDN, 2 Mbps, and
      high data rate connections to the end user. For example,
      the data network could be based on ATM/Frame Relay.
    • To have smooth traffic flow from one point
      to other, it is suggested that number of backbones be
      increased and these backbones shall support high speed.
      For example, ATM over SDH backbone.
    • ISPs should be free to borrow the backbone
      from GSM and basic service providers or from DoT at
      nominal charges. Access Network And
      Access Gateway

      u Existing
      access network infrastructure is designed for voice applications
      but not for data/Internet. Therefore, the access infrastructure
      must be designed by the equipment suppliers for high-speed data
      services. This could be achieved by using more fibre in access
      network and or cable TV network could be utilized. Similarly,
      from equipment point of ISDN facility, 2 Mb or high data rate
      leased lines and ATM switches or multiplexers with routers be
      used in the access.

      • ISPs must be allowed to have their own
        access gateway to have international data link connection
        from MCI, BT, or any other information connection
        provider.
      • This infrastructure must guarantee the
        quality services. The quality of service, high speed, and
        easy connection to end user will be the key
        differentiator for the private ISPs.

      Network Management
      System

      The new infrastructure and
      design should have optimized the number of nodes in data network
      and these nodes must be connected on suitable network management
      system. Only one network management system per network, at high
      level is recommended. The existing VSNL network management is
      very complex because of many technologies and many number of
      nodes in the network. Better network management system means
      better quality of service to end customer and easy life for ISP.

      The present infrastructure is not at all
      suitable for Internet services offering. The government must
      encourage more and more ISPs to set up new data networks and
      provide quality and speedy Internet services.

      As for the prospective ISPs, though there has
      been slight delay in the whole process, they should start
      thinking about the most crucial part of their business, the
      infrastructure. 

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