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GlobalStar offers tips for buying IP service in the hinterlands

Jun 09, 20044 mins
Internet Service ProvidersNetworking

* Providing service to far-flung locations

If your company is opening up new offices in remote locations, consider the experience of GlobalStar, a satellite telephone service provider with an IP network that traverses some of the most remote regions of the world.

I recently interviewed GlobalStar executives about the challenges they face providing robust IP services in far-flung locations. This is the first in an occasional series of newsletters that feature interviews with corporate network managers offering advice about purchasing IP services.

GlobalStar uses an IP VPN from Equant to connect 25 ground stations that handle satellite telephone calls and hands them off to the PSTN. GlobalStar’s 105,000 subscribers use their satellite telephones for applications such as shipping, oil and gas exploration and military operations.

“Our biggest business is going to be in those odd-ball locations,” says Mac Jeffery, senior director for marketing communications for GlobalStar. “We serve customers in places like the Russian Far East, South Asia, China and Africa. We’re all over the place.”

GlobalStar recently renewed its contract with Equant for IP VPN services for three years. Jeffery says GlobalStar selected Equant because it offers service in so many countries and because it has reasonable prices.

“The key issue for us is that we do have this wide geographical breadth of our network,” says Peppy Woll, senior network engineer at GlobalStar. “While we’re only in 15 countries, we’re not in the major cities in those countries. We’re in out-of-the-way places by the design of our network. It’s a challenge to get to our locations…The last mile might be 500 miles long.”

Woll says that supporting ground stations in remote locations requires a different mindset when it comes to network availability and reliability. She recommends selecting a top-tier global ISP that has staff located in the countries where you do business and can manage local access providers.

“We couldn’t deal with working with local access providers in 15 countries, so having a single point of contact for network management and troubleshooting is key,” she says. “It was important that the ISP we go with have not only services in those countries, but have people in those countries.”

Woll recommends choosing an ISP that is familiar with the various telecommunications regulations, politics and people around the world. As an example, she points to the benefits GlobalStar has received from Equant’s expertise with Russian ISPs.

“We had an outage in Russia and found out that the Russians were on holiday and it would be four or five days before the local access provider could address our outage,” Wall says. “By escalating the problem to Equant, they knew who to contact to get the problem fixed…The right provider can orchestrate that for you.”

Woll suggests asking a prospective ISP about their “meantime to attend,” a metric that describes the time it would take an ISP to get a technician out to each of their locations for repairs. In its SLA with Equant, GlobalStar includes the time it would take for Equant to reach its remote ground stations in the case of a serious outage. GlobalStar also has back-up routers at its remote sites that local staff can use during the time it takes Equant to travel onsite.

“If you’re in the middle of the jungles of Brazil, it might take 48 hours to get a technician on site,” Woll says. “We chose to have hot spares ready so Equant could talk somebody through the replacement instead of waiting for them to get there.” 

While GlobalStar outsources most network management functions to Equant, Woll retains responsibility for monitoring the IP VPN.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re utterly reliant on a vendor to look out for our interests,” she says. “We generally know about an outage before the vendor knows. We’re on top of that 7 by 24. We report problems to Equant and track their progress in fixing them.”