• United States

Sprint takes the road less traveled

Feb 09, 20044 mins
Internet Service ProvidersNetworkingVPN

* Sprint: MPLS not required

Sprint has chosen a different path to providing next-generation IP services than the other top-tier global ISPs. But company officials are so sure of their approach that they’re backing it up with robust service-level agreements and money-back guarantees.

Other top-tier global ISPs – including AT&T, British Telecom, Equant and Infonet – are deploying in the core of their networks a traffic engineering technique known as Multi Protocol Label Switching. MPLS is an emerging standard that provides different classes of service for network applications such as voice, data and video.

Sprint, however, has a 100% native IP backbone here in the U.S. Company officials say they don’t need MPLS in the core of their network to support mission-critical corporate applications.

“MPLS is not a binding technology that’s required for our network to operate,” says Steve Parrot, group manager for Sprint Link Dedicated Internet Services. “We have a 100% native IP network. It operates and performs better than anybody else’s in the market, and we back that up with SLAs and services.”

We’re looking at Sprint in this fifth installment of an ongoing series about the reach, focus and stability of today’s top-tier, global ISPs. Network executives needing Internet access in many locations around the world have six main ISPs to consider: AT&T, BT, Equant, Infonet, MCI and Sprint. In previous newsletters, we profiled AT&T, British Telecom, Equant and Infonet (see the ISP News Report archives:

Sprint officials explain that they don’t need MPLS at the core of their network because they didn’t deploy an earlier, circuit-switched technology called Asynchronous Transfer Mode at the core of their network either. MPLS was developed as a carrier technology to ease the transition from ATM to IP.

Nonetheless, Sprint announced in January that it will support MPLS at the edge of its network for customers who want MPLS-based VPNs. Sprint’s MPLS VPN is a network-based solution that is backed by Sprint’s SLAs and 100% credits for standard monthly recurring charges.

Sprint’s MPLS VPN offering is available across the U.S., and Sprint plans to offer the service internationally later this year. Sprint also plans to offer add-ons for its MPLS VPNs including network-based firewall, remote access and other security services. One early customer of Sprint’s MPLS VPN service is the FBI.

“For the past few months, we’ve been evaluating the maturity of the MPLS standard,” says Steve Leckoff, group manager for IP services at Sprint. “We’re not leveraging the traffic engineering and traffic management capabilities of MPLS. But when we look at our government and enterprise customers, MPLS is rapidly evolving as the de facto standard for any-to-any VPNs.”

While other carriers focus on MPLS, Sprint is focusing on customer service. Last October, Sprint unveiled new SLAs for all of its global data services. The SLAs use common performance measures for Sprint’s IP, frame-relay, private line and ATM services. Sprint now offers a full refund for the monthly recurring charge on its IP services if it fails to meet its SLA metrics. Sprint also extended its SLAs to include jitter, a measurement that’s important for voice and video applications.

“Our key differentiators are not only our [native IP backbone] network but that we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” Parrot says. Parrot adds that the new SLAs are designed to give corporate customers the comfort level they need to support Sprint’s iconoclastic technical approach.  “If we don’t perform, we pay out,” he says.

Sprint offers a range of IP services for enterprises including CPE- and network-based VPNs and managed e-mail and firewall services.

Sprint’s IP network reaches 27 countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Sprint offers IP services in 70 more countries through partnerships with other ISPs.  All of the services offered by Sprint’s overseas partners fall under the new SLAs.

“We’ve extended our SLAs to those providers because from a customer perspective, this is a Sprint solution,” Parrot says. “If we’re going to be selling it as a Sprint service, we want to ensure that those SLAs and those metrics than those partners providing the services are as we expect it to be.”

Later this week: Sprint expands its VPN offerings.