Comcast Business thought long and hard about rolling out SD-WAN services. The company did -- when it thought the technology was ready.
Comcast Business's Jeff Lewis, vice president of connectivity services, said that his company's advantage over competing SD-WAN offerings was the lack of a legacy MPLS customer base to support, which allowed it to move aggressively on SD-WAN.
In May, Comcast Business announced an SD-WAN beta trial, which it said was the first "carrier-grade" SD-WAN offering by a cable company. Comcast Business expects to have its SD-WAN service, which is paired with its gigabit Internet services, available to customers later this year. (See Comcast Woos the Enterprise With SD-WAN, and Comcast Begins SD-WAN Beta.)
In part one of this Q&A with Telco Transformation, Lewis said that the company's SD-WAN service could fulfill any role customers have for it; from being the main provider to enabling backup services.
Telco Transformation: Describe Comcast Business's evolution to SD-WAN.
Jeff Lewis: Two to three years ago our general perspective was that the technology was the place where we needed to go, but we didn't really think the technology was mature enough. We needed to get into, quite specifically, the VPN space to further penetrate the enterprise market as well as continue to serve what we call the mid-market space where MPLS is dominant.
When we go in to see these types of customers, they have MPLS or some type of a Layer 3 VPN service more often than not. Where they don't, we're already able to serve them with our Ethernet portfolio. We very much wanted to add substantial value to our higher-end and mid-market customers.
When we started looking at the technology options, the team started with an assumption: Just like everybody else, Comcast has an MPLS core. We looked real hard at whether to take the MPLS network from the core and bring it to the edge and offer an MPLS solution just like everybody else had done.
The analysis was somewhat lengthy but the conclusion was fairly straightforward. It's "no," because you're building a solution to compete against an embedded base that is 15 to 20 years old. You're the last one to market and everybody is looking to skate to an SD-WAN environment. It was fairly easy to determine that if you're looking to deliver a very, very robust cutting-edge leading end solution, you need to be doing that with today and tomorrow's technology instead of the yesterday's. That's not a sound bite. That just made sound business sense.
TT: So the key is that Comcast comes from a different starting point?
JL: Comcast enjoys a certain position of being un-conflicted. We don't have a legacy MPLS customer base to protect. We completely believe customers in all shapes and sizes would very much like to move away from MPLS. We've been talking to very, very large businesses and let's say moderately sized, ten-, 15-, 20-site customers, which we sure as hell don't want to ignore. They all want to move in some way, shape or form into an SD-WAN world.
We don't ever walk into a discussion saying, "You need to rip and replace." We don't think that makes any sense whatsoever. It's too disruptive to the business. And by the way, they've got a lot of internal stakeholders to whom they have to demonstrate that the technology is sound, that applications will run just as well in a broadband-based environment as over what has become the somewhat accepted, although extremely limited, MPLS T1-based network that exists today.
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TT: The telcos don't have that flexibility?
JL: I'll call them out: Level 3, CenturyLink, AT&T and Verizon. You're going to get a certain spin out of those companies because of what? Because they've got really, really big MPLS networks. They've got customers on MPLS networks, and the last thing they want to do is find those networks rolled over in an SD-WAN world. So they have a certain spin.
We're thrilled to go into a company and provide them our service. If they want to ride lock, stock and barrel on us -- or if they want us to provide them aggregate broadband nationwide, which we can do -- we're happy to do it. And if they say, "Hey, I want redundant backup broadband links" we can help them with that too. We can help them with LTE backup, and if the customer says, "You know what? I've got this big-ass MPLS network. I really can't afford to grow it because MPLS is quite expensive in today's dollars per bit," we can help with that, too.
I am stunned that some businesses are still running on single and double T1 networks. It is mesmerizing to me. A cable company wakes up and throws 50 megs out without even flinching. Things have changed in the space since MPLS was created. Applications are very different today than they were 15 or 20 years ago. Bandwidth does solve a lot of ills, but it doesn't solve everything. There are applications that are still quite intolerant to latency or jitter.
Companies are saying, "Hey, wait a minute. Why can't I grow in scale with SD-WAN and leave my MPLS network where it is?" You build MPLS networks on T1s one at a time until you hit your DS3 (DOCSIS 3.0) crossover. Well, you can also unwind an MPLS network the same way. You can just pull T1s out one at a time.
To link this to our beta, what we've done is we've invited our customers by saying, "Hey, you want to see what this technology does?" We're offering a full gig wherever we are. Clearly, not every cable company is at that threshold today. They're all going to be there within the next year or two. We will be able to offer a gig of broadband nationwide at that point.
TT: Where are you with the rollout of gigabit Internet services for business customers?
JL: For now, we offer a gig wherever we are. We are going to cover 40%, 45% of the nation with our footprint. By early 2018 we'll be pretty much D31 (DOCSIS 3.1) everywhere with a gig. If you think about it, we could do 250 [megabits per second], we could do 200, we could do 150 compared to three megabits in a dual T1 environment. It's almost a nonsensical conversation for some customers.
Our number one beta customer is a ten-site business, which is right in the sweet spot of what we are offering. They're running two terabits of data a month and their number one application, I think the stats say, 50% of their traffic, is video. That's interesting to us and we're just going to keep augmenting it. We believe very, very strongly in hybrid networks. We believe customers are going to need a path to migrate to and they're going to do it at very different paces and through very different paths.
— Carl Weinschenk, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation