Q&A: Eric Loos, senior product manager, capacity and IP, BICS
Eric Loos, senior product manager of capacity and IP at BICS, talks to Capacity about the company's latest offering, Routeflex, and the benefits of operating in the African marketplace.
We have been a provider of capacity services for satellites for many years now and we were looking for a way to help our customers beyond just the next upgrade or getting a better price.
We wanted to look at the real challenges they were facing, mainly with regards to business continuity because we saw satellite disappearing in favour of submarine cables.
We are naturally sensitive to that because we deliver services on the top – voice, mobile, data etc – to a lot of carriers in Africa, and we felt that one of the biggest problems was finding an easy way to share capacity in an intelligent way.
Secondly, we wanted to make sense of whatever capacity operators had. If you’re packing up 600Mb of IP traffic into 50Mb of satellite, it is never going to fit and you need to make choices. We wanted to help operators make those choices easily.
We take traffic predictions from the networks and are aware of how much traffic there is going to be at any moment in time. One of the things we felt was that when you have an outage in the network, the data you get out of the network is no longer really defined so you actually need to have a plan ahead of time.
That is why we use traffic predictions in two-to-four hour periods to know where the important traffic destinations are from the operator’s point of view.
For instance, if we decide that there is not enough capacity to serve the most important traffic profiles, the system will flag an alarm to our network operations centre (NOC) saying that a customer really needs capacity and then our NOC will provide the traffic. By December that will be fully automated.
Is BICS unique in this offering?
When we started we didn’t want to develop this product. We wanted to buy something off the shelf, and offer it to our customers, but there was nothing out there.
One of the reasons for keeping it under the lid for some time was because we filed a patent on this entire approach. The patent lawyer also didn’t find anything that was obviously in the same league. This is a genuinely new product.
We had three stages of our IP over satellite product: SatFlex, MultiFlex and RouteFlex.
SatFlex is a basic point-to-point service and it was part of our voice offering. MultiFlex was based on the capabilities of our new hub which allows us to run scripts automatically, but it does not scale because you cannot foresee every single scenario.
With the growth of internet traffic in Africa, whenever you make a plan, two months later you need to redo the entire plan. Intelsat heralded this service as very new about five months ago, but we didn’t feel that that was really scalable.
We are now at the next stage where we are thinking about how much traffic is needed and we will only assign that amount. In November we will be able to activate the chunk of capacity we need. Early next year we’ll look at larger capacities but we don’t want to make it too complex.
Is satellite the best connectivity method for Africa?
No, but it serves an important place and I think that was where we felt we could make a difference. We are not married to the satellite world but we want to have a system that helps operators with both terrestrial and satellite connectivity, and the easy migration between the two.
That’s also why the solution that we have developed already supports some basic traffic manipulation techniques, and we will expand on those going forward.
We also developed a solution that could also work without satellite, and add value into larger networks. That being said, there are certain regions where satellite is still important and we are trying to re-course satellite connectivity to be able to integrate with the rest of a telco’s IP connectivity needs.
What makes Africa an attractive market to work in?
What I find truly enjoyable is that you get to be creative again with basic stuff. Just getting connectivity in place and getting things up and running is much more difficult than it is in Europe, but it’s somehow more worthwhile. I started in 1997 in the internet industry – the time of building the internet in Europe – and now everybody considers internet as electricity.
In Africa we are still getting the basic infrastructure in place. There is a lot of infrastructure going in which is great and BICS wants to be part of that ecosystem in serving our customers.
We have moved into the content with the intention of keeping local traffic local. We feel that it makes technical sense, but we also feel it’s a real push from the operators themselves. They almost see it as a new kind of colonisation that they have to go via Europe to go between neighbouring countries and that’s absolutely a valid concern.
And then if you think about LTE and all these protocols, they are fairly latency sensitive so you also have to take that into account by building PoPs locally. We already have PoPs in Djibouti, Mauritius and Johannesburg, and we will add Kenya in two to three months time. We are also looking at the west coast to add other PoPs there.”