A while back I headed out to Sardinia Italy to attend a media roundtable hosted by Tiscali International Network regarding the state and future of broadband technology. I do get invited to quite a few of these press/analyst events and this one really stood out in my mind due to the quality of the speakers and the location of the event itself. Sardinia is located in the middle of the Mediterranean and if you picture Italy as a boot kicking Sicily - a soccer ball, Sardinia would be located at the top of the kick.
Sardinia on the map
The island is part of Italy and is a truly hypnotic place, full of mountains, cactus, incredible food and warm, hospitable inhabitants. Some of the sights worth seeing are nuraghi, which are conical beehive-like structures made of massive stones up to 90 feet high built for defense and as central meeting places/homes. I visited one such structure seen below dating back to 1,500 BC.
More recent ruins consist of Phoenician villages which were built around the first century AD. A visit to one such site, Nora shows colorful mosaics on the floor of homes as well as white marble in the baths and a theatre seating hundreds built from stone and thin brick.
The central theatre at Nora. Notice the large jug in the photo
And it is the rich history of the country which was in stark contrast to the leading edge presentations on the future of the Internet led by some of the brightest minds in academia and the business world.
About Tiscali International Network
Let me bring up to speed on Tiscali International Network - the only pure play wholesale provider of wholesale IP and Ethernet services serving broadband networks and content providers. The company was founded in 2002 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Tiscali S.p.A and is growing revenue at 28% with an EBITDA of 10 million euros. The company owns one of the top IPV4 and IPV6 backbones TINet and was recently acquired by BS Private Equity.
Tiscali International Network Overview
The takeaways from CEO Paulo Susnik are that the company is extremely focused on a small set of products, IP Transit, Ethernet Private Line and Ethernet Extension. They tout their simple product line as a key reason for their success and he adds that this focus allows superior support, service, flexibility and speed. In addition they rely exclusively on Juniper for networking technology and they say they work closely with the company to keep the network operating efficiently.
In addition, the company does not own fiber... It leases it - and this allows them to have a lower headcount which is currently around 100.
In contrast to the presentation made by Susnik was the presentation by Paulo Gambini, Tiscali CMO who explained that the market his company plays in has low barrier to entry with perfect information flow meaning that all players have all pricing within a week of new prices being set. You see while Paulo Susnik explained how his company provides a superior service, one would expect the CMO to follow up by explaining the pricing power of the better network and service levels.
This was not the case as Gambini explained the prisoner's dilemma - basically two thieves are caught and separated for questioning. If neither talk, each gets six months in jail. If both talk they get three years. If one talks, he goes free while the other gets ten years.
One of the beautiful ocean views on the island
Point being - for the good of the system, neither should talk and get six months apiece. In a bid to go free or serve personal interests each wants to talk.
This relates to pricing - meaning you can always count on one carrier to lower prices - especially in a market which has so many players. In fact just as all prisoners want to talk to go free, all carriers (well at least most) want to sell cheaper to win the most business.
It is also worth pointing out technology has made it easier to achieve redundancy in networks by aggregating wholesale carriers which means retailers may not have the interest in paying more for better quality.
So in a market where the one certainty is lower prices, the company has bet on having a simpler network with one networking partner as the best way to compete effectively. He contrasted the company's approach with competitors who have to support multiple types of equipment and markets from wholesale to retail. As broadband becomes universal and video proliferates online the company expects to opportunities to grow.
Authentic Sardinian restaurant
One point Gambini made was that WiMAX seems to not work well according the carriers he speaks with and he mentioned Malaysia as the one place where it working well from what he has heard. He also mentioned IPTV and IMS penetration was minimal in a slide titled "Much ado about nothing." Other factoids of note are that developing nations are beginning to realize the crucial importance of broadband connectivity and 20% of the traffic on their network is due to CDNs or content delivery networks.
From their Maurizio Binello the COO took an interesting approach to the meeting which was to explain the simplicity of business model we had heard about up to that point is in stark contrast to the complexity of dealing with customers who can send crippling bursts of traffic and the management of dDoS attacks. From there he went on to describe how his company deals with situations where a network outage affecting another provider could result in ten Gbps of data being sent to them as a spike in demand.
Binello further explained his desire to see networks evolve and adapt over time and spelled out what the network of the future should look like. It should:
- Report its functional status correctly with high granularity.
- Be able to be seamlessly configured for any customer topology with little or no manual intervention.
- Have enough intelligence to fully automate routine tasks leaving engineers to concentrate on new features.
The company is working on these problems now and is calling for more industry interoperability and network abstraction to deal with concepts like cloud computing. They are already working on automating their dDoS response and in addition they are working on the ability to provide drag-and-drop route additions and changes.
Prior to this meeting I knew very little about Tiscali International Network or Sardinia. I leave the trip feeling more educated than I ever thought I would be about both.
The two main takeaways are that Sardinia is an amazing place - scenic, historic and full of culinary delights. In addition, I learned Tiscali International Network is in a pretty good position as even in these financial markets, broadband penetration is growing and more and more governments have recently determined broadband is strategic which bodes well for companies which supply the world with connectivity.The Tiscali International Network Marketing and PR Team (left to right -- Maria Grazia Angei - Marketing Communications
Manager, Jaymie Scotto Cutaia -- Founder and CEO Jaymie Scotto & Associates, Paolo Gambini CMO, Ilissa Miller -- Executive Vice President, Jaymie Scotto & Associates)