Dark fiber is at the core of Colt Technology Services' business.
The service provider has 26,000 buildings connected to its international network, leveraging its own fiber infrastructure and technologies such as SD-WAN and network functions virtualization to serve enterprises.
UBB2020 Editor Alison Diana spoke recently with Peter Coppens, global director of product management and marketing at Colt, about its dark fiber strategy, the provider's use of technology and the commonality of different geographical markets. Read on for an edited version of the interview:
UBB2020: Congratulations on the promotion from European to global director. Are you finding worldwide customers are different or the same?
Peter Coppens: The basic fundamental needs are, of course, exactly the same: People need access to the Internet. They need wide-area networking. They need to connect sites with high-bandwidth Internet. Obviously, country-by-country, there are some differences, which often are due to the incumbent provider setting a certain standard, which then becomes the standard for the country and sets the expectations in that country. There are country differences and country expectations. Asia, for examples, expects a more stringent SLA and an SLA that guarantees even more. In Europe we have quite a high [service level agreement] but in Japan the expectations are even bigger. The market is really globalized now. Everyone needs the same kind of stuff everywhere.
Do you find customers seeking digital transformation as their ultimate end result for high bandwidth investments?
PC: Yes that is definitely the big theme. Of course you have different players and different layers there. We come down where it comes more practical and pragmatic. To do digital transformation there is, of course, a need for high bandwidth. There is a need for connectivity. There is a need for faster connectivity that you can deploy much faster than you could in the past, that you can scale up and down much faster, so it's definitely driven by digital transformation but that's a much broader concept and Colt is responding to parts of that on a much more down-to-earth level, let's say.
What we see is a lot of increase in the average bandwidth we sell year-over-year. The average bandwidth more than doubled from the first half of this year to the first half of last year in terms of the new orders.
UBB2020: How does Colt use SD-WAN and virtualization?
PC: We have our on-demand portfolio. On the other we have SD-WAN. In the on-demand portfolio, that applies to where Colt has fiber into the customer building and there we deliver a physical infrastructure built on Colt fiber and some network equipment at the customer site that's capable of scaling up to 10 gigabits. That can be completely driven and consumed online by the customer by a portal. That's a real live example of software-defined networking, where a customer can use SDN and as a service he gets an on-demand capability. He goes to the portal and asks for 100 Mbit/s. After an hour, he says 100 Mbit/s was not enough… let me increase to 300 Mbit/s. [Later] he says that's too much now, let me decrease to 200 Mbit/s. That capability is our on-demand capability. It's really automated so it takes out all the manual steps in the middle.
Then we have the SD-WAN part, which is for multi-site customers, those with 30, 50, 100 sites. That's always a mix of on-net and off-net, so customer buildings that are on our fiber network and not on our fiber network, because the chance of having 50 buildings and 100% of them on the Colt fiber network is relatively small. We have a good network but there always a few in the middle of nowhere -- a small office, a production plant. There, the proposition is different. There, we combine hybrid networking with a portal, so the hybrid networking is where you connect an off-net line not just via a third-party leased line -- which can be costly, doesn't scale well cost-wise -- to connect the Colt network with the customer building and use low-cost Internet access and both the leased line and the Internet access you use in a smart way so you can bundle all of them into one virtual access to the customer site. Then you have the quality of the leased line and the much higher bandwidth and lower cost of the Internet access. From the customer point-of-view it's transparent because it's virtualized into one virtual pipe to access the customer site.
The other part of SD-WAN is when we do that we put a box on the customer site. That box is not a physical router anymore or firewall. In the past we had to source this firewall from Cisco, maybe Juniper, all these boxes standing on top of the other and not really speaking to each other. Now we put one server, a generic server, at the customer site and that server can run, in software, the different applications as network functions virtualization so we deliver the network function, it's virtualized and running on one and the same server.
UBB: Switching gears, what are Colt's dark fiber plans? Are you expanding?
PC: We call it our fiber network and our network is one of the services we provide on top of that. On top of that fiber network we provide dark fiber, which is the lowest service. It's really just fiber. Or Internet or IP, if you go up the stack. So our fiber network is really our reason of existence. It's our biggest investment and it's our biggest differentiator. Without our fiber network, I'm not sure what we actually are. We have over 25,000 fiber-connected buildings on Colt-owned fiber that we have put in the ground in Europe and Asia. It's definitely very, very key in our strategy. It's the focal point of our strategy because that's where everything starts.
Thanks to that fiber we are able to guarantee high quality because we are responsible end-to-end. We are able to guarantee an interesting price. We do not have to depend on incumbents who might have an incentive to keep some of their revenue high. We don't depend on that. We can disrupt the market. We can fill it up on all the potential of the fiber by giving the ability to upgrade to high bandwidth. We're not depending on anyone.
How is fiber part of your expansion plans?
PC: We have two types of expansion plans. We are expanding in depth, so that means in a particular city we are investing a considerable amount of money in connecting more buildings. Last year, we might have had 24,000 buildings; now it's 25,000. We had hundreds and hundreds of connected buildings per year. That's all based on our dark fiber passing new buildings or passing into new areas in a city or new buildings being added onto existing fiber that was running in the street but the building was not connected. This is really the DNA of what we do.
The other element is the geographical expansion. For the moment I cannot say anything. We will inform you when we have some news there.
— Alison Diana, Editor, UBB2020. Follow us on Twitter @UBB2020 or @alisoncdiana.