Open access vs. Open Service Provider Networks

There is a lot of confusion about the "right" approach to community broadband, and part of the problem is a lack of clarity about the meaning of "open access" systems. At a high level, open access refers to a network that allows multiple services providers to compete for customers--the right way to do things, as opposed to closed networks typically offered by incumbent telephone and cable companies, who do not want competition (rightly so, from their perspective) on their own infrastructure.

The problem is that there are two common ways of implementing open access systems. The open access "wholesale" model is implemented using Layer 2 network protocols. Using the road analogy, it is as if the community built nice paved high speed roads but did not paint any lines on the roads and did not provide any traffic signals. Each company using the digital road system has to have their software and systems to get packets from their servers to their customers, typically using something called VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). The problem is that lashing up multiple VPNs to a customer (a VPN for phone, a VPN for video/TV, a VPN for Internet access, a VPN for some telehealth service, and so on) creates a lot of overhead and complicates troubleshooting if something is not working. It also raises the cost of service, since each service provider has to provision their own network management system.

An Open Service Provider Network (OSPN) is a different kind of open access system that uses Layer 3 protocols that are managed by the network owner/operator. So every service provider gets to use a single, common network management system. This lowers costs for the service provider (a very good thing), makes it easier for small service providers with new, innovative services to get started (they don't have to have their own network management system), and greatly simplifies troubleshooting.

Everybody wins with an OSPN system because it lowers costs and encourages competition--giving telecom users more choice among providers, more choice of services, and lower prices. When vendors come calling, ask if they support Open Service Provider Networks with full Layer 3 end to end service provisioning. There are two vendors that already do this: Packetfront and WaveTeq. Disclaimer: Design Nine has recommended these vendors to some of our clients.

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