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BellSouth Unveils MPLS BackboneBellSouth Unveils MPLS Backbone

BellSouth's the latest ILEC to start serious deployment of MPLS/IP in a regional backbone. Will it go national?

May 13, 2003

5 Min Read
BellSouth Unveils MPLS Backbone

BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) today officially announced details of its region-wide MPLS network. All of the carrier's VPN, DSL, and dedicated Internet traffic will now be carried over the unified backbone.

While other regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) have announced plans to build in-region IP/MPLS backbones, BellSouth claims it’s the first to offer services across all 38 of its local coverage areas or LATAs (local access and transport areas).

“All the carriers are talking about offering a unified VPN using a common packet backbone,” says Vishal Sharma, principal consultant for Metanoia Inc., "But the question has always been: How soon will they really deploy it?"

”This is a big validation for MPLS,” says Tom Nolle, principal analyst with CIMI Corp. “There’s never been any question that the RBOCs would deploy it. But now we’ll see exactly how they will build these networks." Of interest going forward will be how BellSouth's network differs from others who are planning nationwide MPLS-based backbones, Nolle says.

BellSouth had been planning its BellSouth Regional IP Backbone (BRIB) for at least two years. Construction on the network began last September, says Mark Kaisch, vice president of data product management for BellSouth. In the company’s press release today, it identified Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) as its suppliers for IP routing gear. Kaisch would not comment on any other vendors. Specifically, BellSouth has deployed Juniper’s T640 routers in the IP core and Cisco 10000 and 12000 routers at the edge of the network.

The financial impact on both Cisco and Juniper is expected to be small, since the network has already been built. But Kaisch says these vendors will see some incremental spending as the network is continually upgraded. BellSouth plans to announce details of the optical portion of this network build in the next few months.

The network was completed in December and consists of three supernodes in each of BellSouth’s main cities: Atlanta, Miami, and New Orleans. These sites are interconnected to one another and take in traffic from the 50 Internet points of presence (POPs) throughout the 38 LATAS, where the DSL, Frame Relay, and dedicated Internet access traffic is aggregated and put onto the IP/MPLS network. BellSouth has plans to add Ethernet and ATM access in the third quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, BellSouth has already begun offering new services on the BRIB, including a fully managed Layer 3 MPLS VPN service, based on Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) RFC 2547. The service was announced on March 24th and has already seen strong demand.

The RBOC also has plans to add a Layer 2 MPLS VPN offering, based on Draft Martini, later this year.

“We’re calling it the ‘one-a-day’ product,” says Kaisch. “We’ve been offering the service for 31 business days, and we’ve already got 31 customers signed up.” Kaisch adds that a mixture of small and large companies have been signing up for the IP VPN service.

Using the IP/MPLS backbone, BellSouth will be able to offer customers with locations spread throughout its 38 LATAs the opportunity to connect all of these sites under a single VPN service. Frame Relay, ATM, Ethernet, DSL, and dedicated Internet access will be sold as the access technologies, rather than as separate services. And all of the traffic will be converged onto a common packet backbone.

This means that a customer with multiple locations will be able to use high-speed Ethernet for access in locations where high capacity is needed. And they’ll be able to use Frame Relay or DSL access in branch offices or for remote access, where the bandwidth requirements are not as high.

While BellSouth’s MPLS network is purely regional, Kaisch says that it can extend its VPNs over its long-distance network via IPSec tunneling and encryption. BellSouth currently wholesales long-distance bandwidth from several different carriers, says Kaisch. He would not comment on whether or not BellSouth had plans to build its own IP/MPLS network into other out-of-region parts of the country. CIMI's Nolle says it’s unlikely that BellSouth or any other RBOC would do such a thing.

“They don’t have a sales force,” he says. “They may extend VPN services over their long-distance networks, but that’s using wholesaled capacity from carriers like Qwest or Level 3.”

But at least one other analyst disagrees. John Hodulik, an analyst with UBS Warburg, says it makes sense for RBOCs to move out of region.

“The economics don’t justify only having a regional MPLS play,” he says. “These carriers need a nationwide network to make the investment in MPLS pay off.”

Other carriers are following their own paths to packetization. SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) announced plans for its IP/MPLS buildout last year; Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q) have also outlined plans to build wide-scale IP/MPLS networks that will carry all of their data traffic. Meanwhile, interexchange carriers such as AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON), and MCI (Nasdaq: MCIT) have already begun deploying packet-based backbones and are offering converged services of their own.

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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