Questions asked over Advanced Network

TelstraClear's win has raised industry eyebrows over the transparency of the process

The announcement that TelstraClear is to be the preferred managed service provider for New Zealand’s long overdue Advanced Research and Education Network (AREN) has raised eyebrows in the industry over the transparency of the selection process.

The selection of TelstraClear appears to contradict the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology’s Advanced Network background document. This states that the AREN will be owned and operated by an independent structure representing New Zealand research and education institutions.

However, TelstraClear says it will lay fibre from its national backbone network to points of presence (PoPs) at educational and research institutions around the country, as well as some ISPs. A dedicated 10Gbit/s wavelength will be set aside for the AREN on the fibre-optic backbone, according to TelstraClear.

The telco’s IT services subsidiary Sytec, will take part in the construction and management of the network. However, TelstraClear declined to provide any further details of costs and how much it would charge for the use of AREN. No details were provided on how TelstraClear, which refuses to peer with New Zealand ISPs for national traffic, intends to connect AREN to local traffic.

Overseas connectivity for the AREN is believed to be through Telstra’s international provider REACH, via the Southern Cross cable network.

Asked if having TelstraClear to “run, manage and maintain” the network didn’t contradict the earlier MORST statement that it would be the responsibility of an independent body, AREN implementation manager Charles Jarvie says the telco’s role is to provide technical day to day management of “network elements” and reporting to the management of the AREN on these.

Jarvie adds that there was no government mandate to build new infrastructure itself, only to facilitate connectivity throughout the New Zealand and international research and education communities. According to Jarvie, most overseas ARENs are set up the same way the New Zealand one will be, leasing bandwidth rather than laying fibre over long distances. As examples of these, Jarvie quotes Britain’s UKERNA/JANET, the trans-European GEANT, Internet2/Abilene in the US and CANet in Canada.

Bill St Arnaud of Canada’s advanced internet development organisation CANARIE points out that while UKERNA, Internet2 and CANet lease point-to-point wavelengths from various carriers, they run, maintain and manage the networks themselves. St Arnaud says “We own the switches, routers and other devices — the carriers only manage the layer 1 equipment within their own domain.” Next year, St Arnaud says UKERNA will purchase its own dark fibre. GEANT already owns its own.

Describing TelstraClear running and operating the network as a “very bad outcome”, St Arnaud predicts serious trouble for the AREN and that it will have “no end of problems”.

Telecom was one of the bidders on the AREN. Spokesman John Goutler says Telecom is clearly disappointed at having missed the chance to build an advanced network for New Zealand. Goulter says however that Telecom thinks it’s excellent that the country will finally have such a network and that TelstraClear’s win demonstrates that there is strong competition between telecommunications companies in New Zealand.

TelstraClear is denying rumours that it put pressure on Treasury over the contract, claiming it would be forced to pull out of New Zealand altogether if the network build went to Telecom. TelstraClear counts a number of the universities among its customer base and the suggestion is that those customers would be more inclined to move their business to Telecom if Telecom built the network.

However, TelstraClear spokesman Mathew Bolland says it’s completely untrue.

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