Networking Pendulum

What was once old, is new again


One of the benefits of age is perspective. You notice that many of the “new” ideas are simply old ones that have come back into vogue, like the swing of the pendulum. The aptness of the metaphor is clear, as history demonstrates a tendency for human events to swing back and forth from one extreme to another.

We see this in politics (conservative vs liberal), we see this in fashion and in telecom networking. Early in my career, while still a systems engineer, I remember one of my first published articles being about the swing from companies using public networks based on X.25 packet protocol (like Datapac) to private networks using their own multiplexors and leased lines. (Note I had just moved from Bell Canada where I supported Datapac to General DataComm where we were selling muxes)

We’ve seen this pendulum swing between using public and private networks for a company WAN many times over the years. Leased private lines gave way to X.25 packet networks, which ceded ground to T1 or T3 networks (or fractional T1 like Megastream). Frame Relay, ATM and then the rise of MPLS, “Multiprotocol Label Switching”. Now we are seeing a challenger in the corporate networking world, SD-WAN, which uses the public Internet and extensive software to try to mimic and replace MPLS.

MPLS can be slow to implement, especially internationally, as it takes time to order and connect all of the connections, especially the final local Ethernet connections at each country. MPLS can also be expensive compared to DIA, Direct Internet Access. In MPLS’s favour, as with most private networks, is it’s inherent security, consistent latency, and guaranteed service levels and Quality of Service (QoS). For overseas voice circuits and critical enterprise data that is essential.

SD-WAN, based on the now ubiquitous public Internet, is now widely available, quickly deployable and seemingly less expensive. By using multiple business grade Internet connections (DIA which should be contention free) and some fancy software , it can approach the level of consistency of MPLS. Is it less expensive ? Well, vendors will make that case based on pure network costs, but soft costs of running and maintaining the equipment and connections have to be factored in.

The tension between secure and reliable private networks and less expensive shared public networks (like X.25, Internet and cloud) is one that has been going on for years, and watching this pendulum swing back and forth is something I find fascinating.

Arctic Fiber Optic Cables

Sea ice melting in the Arctic

A week before Christmas, I shared a story on Twitter from Capacity (here) magazine about a new 2,000 km submarine cable linking Oysanden, Norway (just south of Trondheim) and Killala Bay, County Mayo in the Republic of Ireland. The cable will be called Celtic Norse and will make northern Norway an international hub and very attractive for large data centres. Norway has plenty of land and vast amounts of renewable power and a climate that makes it attractive for hyper scale data centres. The cable will cut the latency to Eastern USA by 30%, effectively making Northern Norway a thousand miles closer to New York than routing south through Oslo and the European continent.

Reading it made me wonder why we cant build more submarine cables in the Canadian Arctic ? Our population in Nunavut is entirely dependent on satellite services. There are some terrestrial cables in the Yukon and Northwest Territories but still large parts of all the three territories are woefully underserved. Resource development such as mines and oil and gas projects need access to modern telecommunications. The people living in the North deserve access to modern telecom as well to thrive and prosper.

If you look at the map of the worlds submarine cables regularly put out by Telegeography, you can see that Iceland is served by multiple fiber optic subsea cables. Greenland is served from Iceland and also from Newfoundland. Even the Svalbard Islands halfway between continental Norway and the North Pole is served by two cables. Why can’t we build them here in Canada ?

One of the most publicized effects of climate change is that the Arctic ice is melting. The ice cover is not as extensive, nor for as long a period. As the ice is receding, new passageways have emerged for laying subsea fiber optic cables. It is a golden opportunity for Canada to better serve our population, businesses and government in the North. It could also be an modern opportunity for the NorthWest passage.

There is a company in Finland, Cinia Group Oy that is building a Northeast passage cable, Arctic Connect, that would stretch from Helsinki to Tokyo. It would run along the Russian Northern Sea route and cut latency between Europe and Asia dramatically. So why cant we in Canada build a route through our NorthWest passage to connect London, U.K. and Tokyo ? Surely financial traders would love a new route that also cut latency.

These are questions that I will be exploring in AurorA in the coming months. You will see new sections coming on this website devoted to Remote Communications. Arctic cables, satellite systems for both voice and Internet and Global IoT machine to machine systems. Connectivity in some of the remotest and harshest environments in the world is an area AurorA will be exploring.

Stay tuned and contact me if you have any interest in these areas as well.

2019 Canadian ISP Summit – Day 4

Day 4 ? But the conference only ran from Nov 4 to 6 ? How could there be a Day 4 ?

Well when you are self-employed like I am it takes a full day AFTER the conference just to try to get caught up. There is the large backlog in the email inbox, phone calls to return, meetings to attend.

There is the followup from all the social media posts. I made the commitment to blog each day of the Summit, and really appreciate that you readers took the time to follow along on my website and left great comments on my Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter feeds.

Finally, there is the followup from the pile of business cards that I came home with. I will connect with you all on LinkedIn and Twitter, and send you some details on AurorA and Amitel to remind you that when you need something “International”, contact me, “Your Friend in Telecom”.

Looking forward to next year’s Canadian ISP Summit, Nov 2 to 4, 2020, the 10th anniversary edition.

We’ve Reached Peak Voice

Woman looking at her phone in surprise

This article originally appeared in Telegeography

It’s true that 2015 marked a turning point in the international voice market—the first time since the Great Depression that international call traffic declined. However, that slump in voice traffic has turned into a rout, as carriers’ traffic fell a further 8.4 percent in 2017 to 484 billion minutes.

Graph of International Voice Traffic 1998-2018
What Goes Up Must Come Down International Voice Traffic 1998-2018

Going Over the Top

The same transition to mobile and social calling that drove a 20-year boom in voice traffic has left the industry uniquely vulnerable to the rise of mobile social media.


Both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger topped 1.3 billion monthly active users in 2018, and WeChat is not far behind, with just over 1 billion active users in September 2018.


TeleGeography estimates that just seven communications apps—WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, QQ, Viber, Line, and KakaoTalk—combined for over 5 billion monthly users in September 2018. These estimates exclude apps for which directly comparable data is unavailable, including Apple’s FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Skype (the latter two of which have over 1 billion downloads from Google’s App Store).

Calculating OTT’s Impact

TeleGeography has fairly reliable estimates of Skype’s traffic through 2013, when the company carried 214 billion minutes of on-net (Skype-to-Skype) international traffic.

GRaph of Carrier and OTT Traffic 1998-2018
OTT Delivering More Minutes Every Year Carrier and OTT Traffic 1998-2018

This calculation suggests that cross-border OTT traffic overtook international carrier traffic in 2016, and would reach nearly 952 billion minutes in 2018, far exceeding the 450 billion minutes of carrier traffic projected by TeleGeography.


Telcos terminated 547 billion minutes of international traffic in 2013, and Skype plus carrier traffic totaled 761 billion minutes. If we assume that total international—carrier plus over-the-top (OTT)—traffic has continued to grow at a relatively modest 13 percent annually since 2013, the combined volume of carrier and OTT international traffic would have expanded to 1.24 trillion minutes in 2017, and to 1.40 trillion minutes in 2018.

Want to know more? Take a closer look at the source—the recently-updated TeleGeography Report and Database.

World Cup of Telecom


Last Thursday, the FIFA World Cup of football began in Russia with a 5-0 win for the host nation over Saudi Arabia. The tournament has seen lots of thrills already with powerhouse nations like Germany, Brazil and Spain having some disappointing performances and tiny nations like Iceland punching well above their weight with a 1-1 draw against Argentina with the great Messi.

This week, since AurorA and Amitel specialize in international telecommunications, we are going to look at competition in that sector among nations, World Cup style.

Our next door neighbour, the U.S.A. is undergoing some rapid changes in their telecom playbook. They have always had a fast, attacking style and recent moves in the commercial and regulatory scene indicate that that is not about to change anytime soon. The FCC has repealed Net Neutrality laws, and the Supreme Court has allowed AT&T to purchase Time-Warner despite objections from the Department of Justice. Now Comcast is looking to swoop in and buy Fox. The biggest service providers in the U.S.A. are bulking up with content to compete against Silicon Valley players like Amazon, Netflix, Apple and Google. They can now provide super bundles of connectivity (Internet and Phone) and their own content can be prioritized (zero rated so it doesn’t count against data caps). They are trying to keep all consumers tied to their offerings to avoid being just ‘dumb pipes” .Will we see that battle move into Canada where cord cutters are continuing to drop their telecom bundles ? Is that is what is truly behind Bell/Telus/Rogers “anti-piracy” crusade ?

It also never pays to under-estimate the giants of Silicon Valley. They all have deep, deep pockets and a desire to dominate all the markets they enter. To them telecom is existential, it is what lies between them and their customers which is why they fought strongly for Net Neutrality and continue to do so in Congress and at the State level. Their calling apps like Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Hangouts etc have taken the voice and messaging market from telcos worldwide. And each of them is quietly exploring Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and other unique systems to bring Internet access to anywhere on the globe; and conveniently bypass AT&T, Verizon, Bell etc totally from the equation.

India is a fascinating market, ever since the huge disruption brought about by Reliance Jio. In the space of one year, Jio has captured over 100 million customers in India. They brought in a modern network, leveraged new tech like 4G, VoLTE and fiber and brought in disruptive market offers that were consumer friendly like free voice calling and cheap data plans. India ranked 155th in the world for data consumption before the entry of Jio into the market; now it is the biggest consumer of data by volume in the world.

These tactics are being copied in other markets. TPG in Australia recently launched with a new state-of-art network and an offer of 1 Gb a day for free for the first 6 months. It is data only, no voice as they tell you to use WhatsApp or Skype etc if you want to make calls. Will we see the launch of such a consumer friendly competitor here in Canada to shake up the complacency of the incumbents ? Someone who’ll play a quick-strike counter attack ?

It promises to be an exciting month-long World Cup tournament featuring the best from around the globe. International Telecommunications also is in a very exciting phase and will continue to be long after this World Cup ends. So stay tuned, keep coming back to this blog (and my social media sites where I post other tidbits ) as we navigate this journey together.

Canadian Telecom Summit – Day 1


What a Day !
A big thank you to Jaime Leverton and Cogeco Peer One for feeding me dinner and a lovely networking event at the end of the first day of the Canadian Telecom Summit.

Viewing the day from an international telecom lens there were no specific panels or keynotes that were directly relevant but there were many highlights;

– Chris Wright, the CTO of RedHat making the case for the importance of Open Source software versus proprietary vendor software

– the always entertaining Ibrahim Gedeon , the CTO fo Telus

– Michael Weening from Calix outlining the ways that smaller service providers can use Amazon and Google to seize control of the “Smart Home” opportunity to better monetize the Network

– Panels on Customer Experience Management, Cyber Security and Network Innovation that all liberally borrowed from the language of agile tech start-ups . Coming from Waterloo, and understanding a little bit of this environment, it was interesting to hear how each of these panels were referencing the Steve Blank lean start-up methodology towards stodgy old telecom. Having a wife that is an executive in UI/UX made it even more entertaining.

– Finally a keynote from Jaime Leverton of Cogeco Peer One on blockchain. Not a sales pitch, just an overview on the technology and how it can change a lot things, for the better. A true example of #TechforGood

So in my discussions with people at the Canadian Telecom Summit I did find one overarching theme and that was that the traditional telcos and service providers are yet again settling for just being a commodity, a dumb pipe.

With all the talk around 5G and the Internet of Things, including a keynote from Rogers at lunch, the prevailing attitude was one of being happy or content with simply providing connectivity. Even though telcos bemoan the cost of the investment to provide the network for 5G and IoT , they cant seem to think beyond providing the commodity service.

Other players will provide the platforms and services that will take the bulk of the revenues that the new 5G networks will birth. Just as Skype, Netflix and WhatsApp and other OTT applications have taken the bulk of the revenues from Web 2.0

It seems that the traditional telcos are content with that model.

I may be wrong, perhaps in their executive suites they would contest that. But that was may takeaway from what I heard yesterday. Looking forward to Day 2

Timo

PS A final takeaway . If you find yourself at a Canadian event, hang out with the folks from Saskatchewan, they are the best !