Ensuring Net Neutrality
Net neutrality advocates are scared senseless that carriers will start charging companies like Google in order for the search giant and others to have access to service provider customers. These phone companies argue they have to charge Internet companies because the increased volume of traffic generated by such organizations requires service providers to upgrade their networks at a faster clip than they normally would. Many in the Internet community fear service providers could charge certain content providers for riding their networks and not others. Providers could effectively favor their own services and moreover act as censors of the Internet.
Service providers who are looking to charge companies like Google for riding on their networks may find they aren’t able to accomplish this goal as carrier hotels act as an alternate way for content providers to get to customers.
Now I don’t mean to trivialize the situation as there are levels of complexity I won’t touch on in this article. Simply stated however, the carrier hotel is the best champion of net neutrality. You see these buildings act as massive interconnection facilities for carriers around the world to interconnect with one another and peer traffic.
I recently had a chance to tour the CRG West One Wilshire building in downtown Los Angeles, California and it was a fantastic experience as this is a carrier hotel I have been meaning to visit for many years. The building is 30 floors in size and 24 of those are devoted to telecom. Other floors contain law offices and other businesses. Telecom demand is tremendous so according to John Savageau the SVP of Operations we can expect to see more floors converted to telecom space soon.
I did see some of the things you would expect to see in such a building such as multiple power sources and redundancy everywhere. I saw numerous UPS units five times the size of a kitchen refrigerator as well as a Caterpillar generator that looked like it could power a city.
I started my tour on the nineteenth floor and worked my way down. I saw virtually every carrier I have ever heard of in the world. There are hundreds of these providers in the building. If you take the tour you will see major telecom companies from virtually every country as well as all the VoIP providers you have heard of and many you haven’t. Unfortunately I am not allowed to share any names with you which is pretty frustrating.
What is exciting to me is the amount of VoIP traffic coming into the building. Many service providers have ripped out massive and aging Nortel DMS and Alcatel DSC switches and put in softswitches from the likes of Sonus.
This is the sort of moment which makes me proud to have decided to launch Internet Telephony Magazine back in 1997 — back before it was evident the IP communications market would be exploding with growth. We are truly seeing the wholesale replacement of circuit switching in favor of packet switching in carrier hotels.
The number of manufacturers and familiar logos was staggering. Some of the companies that stood out were Juniper, Cisco, Tekelec, Sansay, NACT, Sun, Dell and I even got to see a pre-Orca Nuera frame relay box. Once complaint I heard lodged by the facility was against Dell servers — which were very common in the building by the way. The problem? The massive heat generation of their power supplies which is much higher than from companies like HP and Lenovo. Obviously One Wilshire is responsible for cooling all this equipment so thousands of Dell Servers means lots of heat that needs to be dissipated via increased cooling.
A point I found interesting is how many service providers get around VoIP regulations in their country — such as India and Australia — by bringing calls into this facility and connecting them so they aren’t officially a VoIP provider in their home country.
As LA has seen more than an earthquake or two in its past the current regulations require reinforced cages that are resistant to such disaster scenarios. These units are bolted directly to the floor in accordance with regulations. I am told unreinforced cages crumble like Coke cans in an earthquake.
Perhaps the highlight of the building is the meet me room on the fourth floor which has 230 companies represented in it. This is the most densely connected room in the world and the bewildering array of cables is enough to make your head spin. Thankfully the facility has a sophisticated database system to keep track of the cables and equipment throughout he building.
The demand for space in the room is great as you can imagine and in many cases where you might expect a coax connection from point A to point B the coax cables are multiplexed onto fiber and then converted near their destination. This is done to save space and also to reduce the DB loss over the distance the cables have to traverse throughout the building.
While on tour I noticed some cables that were cut and labeled down one of the rows of equipment. I was told that when a cable is no longer needed it is marked and discarded. The building throws away one ton of such cables per month which I thought might qualify for some sort of Guinness Book world record.
Interconnecting is a simple matter for CRG West as they just need to cross connect fiber on demand. Depending on the location of a service providers connecting them could take as little as a few minutes to actually complete. What this means in reality is by simply connecting two different service providers you can immediately connect two continents together allowing them to rapidly communicate. To me, the concept of immediate global interconnectivity embodied by two disparate pieces of fiber coming together is what the internet is all about. These carrier hotels are where much of the exciting interconnecting takes place.
So in the end carrier hotels around the nation and world help keep the Internet open and can provide protection against companies who may not believe in network neutrality. That is the good news. The bad news is there needs to be local carrier competition enabling some service providers to provide network neutrality and subsequently force the other providers to follow suit.