Going the distance pays off for CLEC

Companies frequently tout their willingness to "go the extra mile" for their customers. Sometimes, as the folks at CLEC Pacific LightNet Communications (PLNI—Honolulu) recently demonstrated when they shopped for DWDM equipment, those customers will be happy to take this statement literally.

PLNI is a three-year-old carrier that provides data transport, voice, and Internet services across Hawaii, partly on fiber purchased when GST Telecommunications went bankrupt. The company calls its network the "Hawaii Interisland Fiber Network."

"We are the only operator that has fiber connections to every single one of the islands," says PLNI president and chief operating officer Pat Bustamante. In particular, that means links among Oahu, Maui, "the Big Island" of Hawaii, Molokai, Lanai, and Kauai.

The company has performed several upgrades on its terrestrial links, says CEO and founder John Warta, but the combination of new customers, the acquisition of Internet service providers, and a desire to extend PLNI's provision of Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) services threatened to swamp the SONET-based festoon network that linked the islands. Bustamante and his team determined that evolving the submarine network from its current SONET-based Lucent DDM 2000 and Nortel SuperNode equipment to a DWDM approach offered the best solution to PLNI's infrastructure problems.

While a festoon network offers performance hurdles that differ from a typical terrestrial application, the problem PLNI's requirements presented had more to do with what happened after those hurdles were overcome. "Being located in the middle of the Pacific, it's a little difficult if we have issues to gain support. And there's not other people here who are trained," explains Bustamante. Thus, it was essential to PLNI that the carrier's equipment vendor provide enough training to enable PLNI technicians to handle future maintenance and provisioning without outside assistance. The logistics of equipment implementation approximately 2,000 mi from the U.S. mainland also posed problems.

Warta and company relied on discussion rather than a formal bidding process when it came to vendor selection. "We talked to Nortel, we talked to Lucent, we talked to Alcatel—we talked to probably eight or 10 vendors," Warta relates. "Then, instead of issuing an RFP, we just started a negotiated process in which we talked to all the vendors [and] got information about the specs and capabilities of their systems."

The PLNI staff received a reminder that they were on an island figuratively as well as literally when it came to reviewing equipment and training options. "Because of the distance, most of the vendors would allow us to go to a lab somewhere on the West Coast and we could kind of see something in place. Most of the people would provide training on the West Coast somewhere," Warta says.

Thus, when Movaz Networks (Norcross, GA) offered to ship both equipment and personnel to Hawaii, the company moved to the top of PLNI's vendor list. "Movaz turned out to be the vendor who made the greatest commitment to us in terms of making this thing work," explains Warta. "They put somebody onsite with our team during the implementation. Since it was a submarine system and some of the loss characteristics are a little different and some of the dispersion issues are a little different than a traditional terrestrial network, they wanted somebody onsite basically holding our hand during the implementation. And that became very valuable throughout the process because of the distance and location where we're at; we were very, very pleased to have someone sitting here for direct access to the manufacturer."

Movaz also established a training program in Hawaii for PLNI's technicians, which included access to the equipment they would be operating. According to Movaz chief executive Bijan Khosravi, the trip out to Hawaii was only partially seen as a hardship for the company. "All the engineers have signed up to support this customer," he says wryly. "Our engineers love this customer in many ways."

PLNI's festoon-network-upgrade plans include a network of 12 fibers: four directly between Oahu and Maui, four that divert to Lanai on their way between those two islands, and another four that make a stop in Molokai. The initial upgrade will see Movaz's RAYexpress DWDM and RAYextender amplifier systems installed on two of the fibers that run directly from Oahu to Maui as well as on the fibers that run through Lanai.

"We have a substantial upgrade in bandwidth," says Bustamante, commenting on the benefits of the new equipment, which were turned up in March. "But it allows us to get into the GigE service area. And frankly, we'll be able to provide larger pipes to customers."

Warta and Bustamante envision another RAYexpress in Molokai, which would create a collapsed ring. They also are pondering adding DWDM to the other two direct Oahu-Maui fibers, the incorporation of reconfigurable add/drop multiplexing capabilities (which would be a field upgrade, according to Khosravi), and installing Movaz's RAYstar optical-switching gear.

"We continue to want to build and upgrade where it makes sense and where customer demand pushes us. But we also want to be innovative in terms of our product offerings and price points," says Warta. "As such, we'll probably upgrade the link between the Big Island and Maui and at some point we'll do the same thing between Oahu and Kauai. Once we do that, that will give us end-to-end GigE across our entire inter-island footprint and DWDM capacity that will be unmatched."

Movaz and PLNI will work closely together to plan and implement these upgrades. "It's not just a supply-the-customer relationship," Khosravi explains. "It's a partnership where we get to know the requirements in advance of those requirements being needed in the marketplace, so we can be positioned better in offering the capabilities that they may need."

As business consultants repeatedly stress, it is just such a relationship that vendors must establish with their customers, particularly when customers are hard to find.

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