Ever made a Skype or Vonage call to a really far-away—or out-of-the-way—place . . . and stopped to wonder how it got completed on the far end?
Every phone that rings—anywhere—is connected, somehow or other, to a local phone provider. But the question of how your local phone provider—or Internet-based VoIP service provider—gets connected with a local provider on the other side of the world is one of those things we tend to simply take for granted. It happens; it shows up as a charge on your bill, or minutes are deducted from your total; and that’s that.
Of course, there is a more concrete explanation. In the case of Skype—since last month—and Yahoo! Voice—since last December—the short answer is VSNL International’s Teleglobe VoIPLink, an organization whose reason for being is to sell international phone-call termination minutes to any and all comers.
VSNL (Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited) is the leading international telecom and Internet service provider in India. VSNL International, headquartered in Singapore, is the global wholesale voice operation, which, over the past couple of years has grown and consolidated, acquiring the communications assets (including undersea cables) of Tyco Global Networks and the Canadian company Teleglobe, which, in turn, had acquired ICXC, a pioneering VoIP-based international wholesaler.
We recently had an opportunity to speak with Teleglobe’s product manager Mike Corso, and gained some insight into how this world of international termination wholesaling works.
First, to give you some idea of scale, according to Corso, VSNL International has some 1,200 employees in some 35 countries, world wide. “According to some of the research out there, we’re considered the largest wholesale voice provider,” he told VoIPplanet.com. “Last year we did 21 billion voice wholesale minutes.” Yes, that’s billion.
Since all of the merger activity of 2005 and 2006, VSNL has put a lot of time and effort into standardizing and unifying its network infrastructure. “Our voice network is a hybrid network,” Corso said. “We have legacy TDM switches, which we have IP-enabled with media gateways.” This is true because, unlike Skype and Yahoo!, the bulk of customers still connect via TDM.
Perhaps more important than the hardware is the unified routing system that VSNL created—a single routing table that serves the entire network. “We call the system Best Value Routing; it is the brains behind our operation,” Corso explained. “That controls all our routing endpoints. It doesn’t matter how you’re connected to us—whether you’re connected via a TDM native connection or you’re connected as voice over IP. All customers have access to the same exact routing table and the same exact service levels.” Corso clearly regards this as a major accomplishment.
In another sense, though, the core of VSNL’s wholesale business is a set of relationships with carriers. “We’re connected to over 415 bilaterals—directs—all over the world,” Corso explained. (That is, 415-plus one-to-one interconnect agreements.) “We can pretty much handle any destination in the world,” he said.
But there’s more to this than simply extending the reach of the network. Many of those bilateral partners are the world’s tier-one carriers, and this contributes to the overall quality of network performance. “We have what you might call the best of the best in terms of suppliers to most destinations,” Corso said.
Maintaining network quality—even when you start with the best—requires constant monitoring. “Our routing engine—Best Value Routing –takes metrics of the network. It takes real time call completion stats, duration stats, network quality, IP quality stats—and crunches all those numbers together,” Corso explained. “On a destination-by-destination basis, we can constantly rebuild the best quality routing for each of those destinations.”
One of the things this makes possible is tiered service levels, and this has been a key factor in winning up-and-coming customers like Skype and Yahoo! “Although you might not know it, those types of customers are very concerned with quality and availability,” Corso observed. People have lots of choices in how to make calls these days. “So it’s in Skype’s interest to make sure that his experience is the best it could possibly be.”
Different service levels (with different pricing) meet the needs of different kinds of customers. “A more retail type of a customer is more concerned with quality—they don’t want a lot of throttling; they want to make sure they send us a call and it works and they get a good experience.” Other kinds of providers, especially those that have their own systems for on-the-fly routing changes, may be more concerned with price, Corso said.
But the Best Value Routing engine makes it possible to fine-tune each customer’s plan. “If you’re a Skype, and, say, India is a critical destination for you, you can buy that high quality from us, but then if there’s a destination you’re not as concerned with, that you may have a smaller user base for, you can buy a different service level from us.” Each customer gets to craft its ideal routing table.
Adding Skype and Yahoo! to its customer base is a harbinger of things to come, according to Corso. Whereas today a majority of VSNL’s customers connect via TDM, “every major carrier out there is announcing their next-generation, IP-based voice network,” according to Corso. “We expect most of those legacy connections to be migrated to VoIP-based connections in the next two years.”
And VSNL/Teleglobe aims to be ready to connect them all.