Clear assesses role in global Internet alliance

Clear Communications is 'assessing' its likely part in the major new global Internet backbone announced by its parent companies, British Telecom and MCI.

Clear Communications is "assessing" its likely part in the major new global Internet backbone announced by its parent companies, British Telecom and MCI.

Concert, the BT-MCI joint venture behind the new InternetPlus backbone, claims the service will increase overall Internet capacity by 30%.

Although Clear is still considering its response, its links with the two global carriers make it highly likely that it would take up service from InternetPlus, especially given that Telecom has aligned itself with the similar Sprint service, GlobalOne.

The new service should also improve both pricing and availability for Internet customers in New Zealand. Along with GlobalOne, it represents a sea-change in treatment of IP traffic by the global "supercarriers".

Where in the past the carriers have leased out circuits of up to 2Mbit/s capacity for general telecommunications use, Concert will now sell access to its 45Mbit/s InternetPlus "pipe" which is dedicated to IP packets.

The service will be rolled out over the next few months and will initially be pitched to corporations, with the promise of guaranteed network performance, enabling businesses to use the Internet as their private global network for groupware, email, messaging and electronic commerce, according to a BT spokesman. There will also be bandwidth sales to ISPs, and even dial-up and roaming services.

"It is logical for the global carriers to develop high-speed backbones," says John Houlker, head of the New Zealand Internet Exchange at Waikato University, which has just upgraded to a 100Mbit/s switch in anticipation of demand. "They're recognising that IP is a major contender and a major consumer of global bandwidth. It's also entirely likely that the international operations, such as Clear, will seek to buy from the bigger aggregators."

While welcoming the announcement as holding out the prospect of better and cheaper Internet access, the manager of one national ISP points out that the trend for Telstra and, more recently, Telecom, to buy end-to-end circuits to the US means MCI can no longer depend on revenue from "half-circuit" or interconnect business from the Pacific region.

"This does seem in part a bit of fluff and puff to acknowledge that they actually need to establish and market a product here. They needed an infrastructure and an office of their own."

Concert InternetPlus will be connected to BT's and MCI's existing networks through eight new "regional superhubs" in Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, the UK and the US. It plans to provide value-added services from about 1200 locations in 70 countries.

A key element of the new network is the agreement that Nippon Telegraph Data (NTT-Data) will market InterPlus in the Asia-Pacific region, thus plugging a regional gap in the Concert portfolio. BT had already attempted to fill out its Asian presence with an unsuccessful attempt to merge with Cable and Wireless, which has substantial interests in Hong Kong Telecom.

"There's no question the Internet infrastructure through Asia is growing rapidly in size and importance," says Houlker. "At the so-called Apricot Meeting in Singapore in January the interest from carriers and vendors was huge--as are the projections for growth. I'd keep an eye on AT&T for a response now--they've been in Hong Kong and Singapore for some time."

Houlker was confident NZIX would continue to have a role in the new supercarrier environment. "The purpose of exchange points still holds good. I would still expect there to be a multi-vendor environment with horizontal layering."

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