Swisscom entices corportate customers with next-generation IP network
Swisscom, the dominant public carrier in Switzerland, has started work on an ambitious project that will put Internet protocol (IP) technology at the heart of its national fiber-optic network in cooperation with Cisco Systems (San Jose, CA). Swisscom will invest several hundred million Swiss francs in a new IP-over-DWDM (dense wavelength-division multiplexing) network infrastructure over the next few years. This project will enable the company to offer business customers and Internet service providers (ISPs) affordable services for the transmission of data, voice, and image.
The first IP services, available as early as the second half of this year, will offer the Swiss business customers gradual migration to the "next-generation" IP network.
Service quality, market leadership, and operating costs were crucial to the investment decision, according to Denis Gheysen, director of data and multimedia at Swisscom. "The integration of several services on one network will provide considerable cost savings and increased flexibility," says Gheysen. "The Internet protocol is fast becoming the leading transport protocol worldwide. We aim to have the project up and running this year and to be able to offer tailored services next year."
The rise of IP traffic is being driven by the corporate sector's demand for higher-speed data and Internet services. Indeed, many companies already have their own private IP networks in the form of intranets, in order to share information within closer user groups, and extranets, which tie in suppliers and customers as well. In the next phase of Internet growth, Swisscom will be counting on the emergence of electronic commerce that will take IP traffic into the telecommunications revenue mainstream.
Swisscom's plan is to capitalize on this fundamental shift in networking by delivering integrated IP voice and data services to the Swiss multinational business community and bandwidth-hungry ISPs. Both Swisscom and alternative Swiss carriers have already announced "free access" to the Internet, which is expected to double the number of Internet users this year. The Blue Window, Swisscom's ISP company, is restructuring its services. Subscription fees were cut last April and the existing service will be re-launched under the name Blue Window HighWay. Blue Window FreeMail, a free e-mail service, was slated to be offered last month; free Internet access, called Blue Window FreeWay, will be offered alongside the extensive, subscription-based Blue Window HighWay in August.
Reports Hal Gurley, Internet/IP project leader, "Swisscom's enhanced IP-over-DWDM backbone network will have eight main points of presence-Zurich, Basel, Bern, Luzern, Lugano, Lausanne, Geneva, and St. Gallen-and transmission rates of up to 2.4 Gbits/sec. Customers in all Swiss cities will have access via local points of presence [22 PoPs-see Figure]. The project's emphasis is on efficient structures and integrated designs for voice, data, and video transmission, which offer considerable total cost savings. The planned services based on the new IP network and the bandwidths available in Switzerland will allow Swiss companies to implement state-of-the-art network designs."
The aggressive time-to-market schedule will permit advanced IP services in 1999, hence making Swisscom the first deregulated European carrier ready to offer next-generation Internet. "In contrast to other European dominant national public network operators, Swisscom is driving technological innovation in Switzerland," Gurley claims.
Everyone involved in this IP-over-DWDM project points to the close relations with Cisco Systems as a critical success factor. "By European standards, networks in Switzerland are above average," says Michael Ganser, general manager at Cisco Switzerland. "Many Swiss companies require IP-based services that offer high-speed connections. Cheaper telephony is not the business customers' main requirement."
Swisscom must address the rising customer expectations about quality of service (QoS) associated with the random transmission of IP packets along diverse paths. Gurley says voice calls are traditionally circuit-switched, with bandwidth allocated for the duration of the call. In contrast, IP traffic makes more effective use of capacity by intermingling voice, data, and multimedia signals and transporting them simultaneously.
"With our new IP network, IP traffic will use faster routes to avoid any unacceptable delays," he explains. "IP standards are evolving very quickly, and many outstanding QoS problems will be resolved." An example of this trend is Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS), which promises to eliminate the need to propagate routing updates in the event of a local network outage. Once the standard is approved, MPLS will allow optical Internet networks to carry out restoral and path protection switching at Layer 3, the IP layer, rather than Layer 1.
Graeme Fraser, vice president, optical internetworking at Cisco Systems, sees this IP-over-DWDM infrastructure innovation by Swisscom as a deployment that several alternative European carriers are evaluating. Already, GTS Carrier Services (formerly Hermes Europe Railtel) announced an upgrade to its pan-European network (see Lightwave, May 1999, page 1). Other carriers that have committed to the IP-over-DWDM approach for long-distance fiber-optic networks are Racal Telecom, KPN/Qwest, Telia/Telenor, Telemonde, and Cable & Wireless.
Right now, Swisscom's investments are focused on the Swiss national market, with an aim to branch out from its traditional areas of strength to build up its IP-based service portfolio. Current project plans provide for a second phase to extend the fiber-optic network to neighboring countries. Swisscom already has joint-venture partnerships and subsidiaries in southern Germany(Tesion), Austria (UTA), France/Alsace (Estel), and northern Italy (Swisscom).
Concludes Gurley, "It's important that we get things right in our own backyard, because Switzerland is a critical hub for IP traffic in Europe. Our IP network will give us a great opportunity to provide capacity to international carriers and resellers." q
Edward Harroff writes from Bellevue, Switzerland.