On top of recent troubles with its frame relay network, Telecom's Netway service is about to lose Internet bandwidth business to a company which - ironically - has a dog called Spot as a mascot.
In late March, the Internet Group (Ihug) will cease to do to business with Netway and go to a configuration which sees 80% of its international bandwidth coming from PanAmSat, which operates a four-satellite global IP network that it aims to double in size by 1998.
Like Telecom, PanAmSat, which bills itself aggressively as a provider of "private enterprise in space" has long based its branding on a dog called Spot. Spot is described in company literature as "an opinionated dog created by PanAmSat’s late founder Rene Anselmo ... a long-standing PanAmSat emblem for the company’s entrepreneurial approach and intolerance of bureaucracy."
Although PanAmSat is a newcomer to the New Zealand market, satellite links have been tried and found wanting before, notably by the former NZGate facility at Waikato University, which switched from satellite to fibre in the early 1990s, and some doubt that satellite bandwidth is any more viable now.
But Ihug director Tim Wood says the latency problems which have traditionally turned users away from satellite bandwidth are not enough to overcome its advantages, and that a test circuit has been working well.
"The delays are of the order of 100 milliseconds, and we'll be keeping 20% of our capacity in fibre from Telstra. We'll provide separate dial-in numbers for people who want to do voice or streaming things," says Wood. "And if it doesn't work well, we'll just adjust the balance and make it a 60-40 split between satellite and terrestrial.
"The satellite service is 50% cheaper than we can get terrestrial bandwidth. Netway have admitted they're not coping with the service they're providing now, and they can't compete financially either. Telstra seem to be getting more aggressive with the privatisation, so I think Netway will struggle to keep customers."
When it takes the satellite feed, Ihug will go to total individual bandwidth of 6.5Mbits/sec, 2Mbits more than it buys at the moment. More capacity will be purchased for its recently-opened Sydney branch, which has been adding 30 customers a day.
Meanwhile, a Dunedin company, Pacific Networks Limited, has announced it will launch a service based on PamAmSat bandwidth in early April. But while Ihug's feed uses a US tail provided by Pacific Bell, Pacific is buying the satellite provider's new SPOTbytes service, which links via UUNET to the Internet backbone.
Director Andrew Frazer says the company will operate satellite dishes in several locations around the country, at bandwidths up up to 4Mbits/sec and aiming at ISP-level customers "and I think we're going to make waves fairly rapidly."
He says his company has been working on the plan for about nine month, since "one day I decided that I was sick of Telecom and I decided there had to be another way."
Frazer, who is also a director of the Deep South Networks ISP, a Netway customer, says Pacific will keep some terrestrial bandwidth for redundancy, "but the bulk of it will be going via satellite. The point is, we will probably have better availability out of our satellite link than we can out of the terrestrial services here anyway.
"Last week's outage with Telecom was ridiculous. We're a 256k Netway customer at the moment, but we'll be leaving them altogether. We'll probably go with Clear for a terrestrial bandwidth from now on."
Christchurch Internet consultant Daniel Ayers has taken issue with a claim by Frazer that the satellite service would not result in "any appreciable slowing of response times" as compared to terrestrial links.
Ayers says that in the "real-life case study" at NZGate "There was no difference in terms of capacity, but a notable difference in terms of latency. Transfers using windowed protocols, such as TCP, won't be so badly affected by the latency - startup will be slower, but transfer will be fine. But any highly interactive use - like telnet session, Internet phones or live audio and video - will be very badly affected."
Meanwhile, a frame relay software problem which occurred late last month at Netway, which affected 20% of the network’s connections, has still be be identified.
The problems began at 3pm on Thursday, January 30 and it wasn’t till 1.30am the following Saturday that the service was restored. Netway says it was able to use the system’s redundancy to route affected users into safe areas.
Managing director Richard Taylor says a significant number of customers were affected, ranging from levels of irritation to major business inconvenience
It’s the first instance of system failure to this level since the frame relay service was offered four years ago, Taylor says. Netway upgraded the system last October.