Big news: we’ve joined the Secret Club

 

By Simon Woodhead

We have some huge news!

Long-time followers of this blog will no doubt have heard me rant about BT’s strategy and specifically their ability to vary commercial terms to attract desirable major networks over to an IP interconnection – the Secret Club. In other words carrying over commercial elements from the Standard Interconnect Agreement (SIA) to what some would call unregulated and negotiated IP. We’re delighted to have now, in a less homo-erotic way than many secret clubs appear to require, been initiated.

This is a big step. We’ve been knocking on the door for 5 years or more. We’ve invited ourselves in once but the terms were lose-lose. This time we’ve knocked in the right way and been embraced in a frankly disarmingly warm manner. Joking aside, BT has been a pleasure to work with. Anything more can wait for my memoirs!

We’ve always known the future is IP and, with the exception of BT and Virgin, all our carrier side interconnects are IP. In fact we were 100% IP before adding TDM was necessary for regulatory position and economics back in the day – you can’t compete against your own suppliers, they have to be peers. But BT’s apparent strategy around IP threatened to reset this list and I was very worried that the market was bifurcating into those who were desirable peers for BT and those who were destined one way or another to be Type A resellers. Whilst the WVMR proposes a softening of that polarisation, we’re still delighted to be a desirable peer than at the end of the list worrying about the future. It puts us 5 years ahead of our peer group and insulates customers better from what we expect to be quite a bit of potential for disruption over the next 5 years (gathering pace towards the end no doubt) as other TDM networks migrate to IP. It also gives great opportunity for customers who wish to secure the future of their hosted ranges 5 years earlier.

What we’ve absolutely not done is throw in the towel and become a ‘Type A’ BT reseller. Some of our greatest concerns were around aspects of the agreement that were scarily far from the protections of the SIA so we’ve worked very hard to ensure that our variation is as equivalent to the SIA as we can make it. So we’ll be Type B, working in a similar manner to SIA TDM, with little change other than the transport. We’re viewing this as a carrier IP interconnect to SDIN, the underlying platform which BT’s IPX also happens to run upon.

What we’re also not going to do is route traffic unencrypted over the Internet to BT. We saw in 2016 how fool-hardy yet common that easy option was when Telehouse North had a power outage. We’ll be swimming upstream as usual and taking full advantage of the redundancy built into SDIN if you can access it. We’ll be connecting in multiple locations around the country, which, with the exception of Telehouse North are all in BT exchanges. Rest assured that no traffic will migrate from TDM to IP until we have a greater level of redundancy on the IP interconnect than we have now over TDM – that is a really high bar to set ourselves and one I am uncompromising about us achieving.

You may have caught hints in recent blog posts about us building the IP network out to up to 14 new sites; you now know why. We face 5 BT TDM sites from each of 3 of our sites over TDM in a fairly unique way designed for fault-tolerance; our minimum threshold over IP is 5 BT SBC pairs, geographically diverse, over at least 3 geographically diverse private interconnects from the Simwood network, growing to all 15 over time.

Whilst we won’t be jeopardising service availability (not to mention risking our 25x 100% SLA!) we’re looking forward to being rid of some of the complications of SS7. We have seen a lot of TDM circuit outages over the last year or two, perhaps stemming from a winding down of maintenance on legacy equipment. They don’t affect our customers of course because of our architecture but they cause us anguish as they reduce the over-capacity that exists to maintain service to customers in the event of a BT/TDM/switch/site outage.

It has also generally taken a year to add new capacity involving a new TDM switch (which ours does given we deploy a full switch each time), whilst planning new capacity involves a negotiation with BT as to why it is needed, with redundancy apparently not being a justification! Last time we wanted to triple our capacity to take the heat out of things and provide room to grow into (over the coming year whilst it was installed) it wasn’t sanctioned. We had to settle for doubling capacity instead and it was pretty much consumed by the time it was in service a year later. Thanks only to our efforts with BTZero, have we prevented that becoming a problem – ensuring we could grow faster than we could grow the BT interconnects whilst delivering numerous benefits of its own.

During early COVID-19 we had opportunities to triple traffic on the network, through international operators who couldn’t scale their own BT TDM capacity quick enough. We could help partially using our non-BT capacity but were in the same boat as them when it came to BT TDM. We could have sacrificed our redundant capacity, thus compromising all customers in the event of an outage, or resold that not being used by furloughed customers. We weren’t prepared to do either which felt good in the heart, but hurt in the pocket.

The good news is that we’re planning on provisioning more than double our TDM capacity again over IP, whilst we still have our TDM in place. We will grow the IP capacity further as traffic migrates from TDM to IP which we’re assured we can do within a few days unlike the year it took us with TDM. Thus we’ll have a huge amount more headroom and can scale more quickly than before as need arises.

Don’t expect that migration to happen overnight – we’re planning to be done in Q1 2021. We will not be notifying traffic flow migrations, just as we don’t notify of routine BT TDM routing changes now, because they’re not generally service risking.

We think if we get the deployment right, and we’re determined to, that this is win-win for customers, Simwood and BT too. We’re very relieved not to be stood out in the cold worrying about capacity, or disruption from TDM retirement and waiting for our turn to migrate in the chaos of 2025.

And don’t worry, this isn’t a love-in with BT. There are many injustices still to be righted and normal rants will resume soon!