Internexa: Creating an IP backbone across Latin America

10 May 2012 |


Internexa has single handily created the most extensive terrestrial telecommunications network ever to grace Latin America. As its IP backbone continues to firmly take shape, Alex Hawkes discovers how the Colombian company plans to use it to help facilitate the growth of local content.


   
 


While there may still be many challenges facing carriers operating in Latin America, one thing no longer holding them back is the absence of an IP backbone.

In the space of just over a decade, the Colombian backbone network operator Internexa has deployed one of the most extensive fibre-optic networks ever created in Latin America. Under the assured guidance of CEO Genaro García Domínguez, the company now operates 21,000km of fibre crossing seven countries in the continent.

Each phase of Internexa’s project has marked a new milestone for the Latin American market, which has traditionally lacked a comparable IP infrastructure to those found in Europe, North America and Asia. The continent’s sheer scale – Brazil alone is roughly the same size as the European continent – and inhospitable terrain; the Amazon and Andes are just two of the fierce obstacles facing overland infrastructure, has long been an understandable handicap for carriers looking to deploy terrestrial cable projects.

So much so in fact that Internexa is almost alone in its quest to connect Latin America overland. The company’s nearest comparable rival is Oi subsidiary GlobeNet, which operates a 22,000km network that mainly aims to complement extensive subsea cable connectivity to the US with a large terrestrial network in Brazil.

Internexa took the hard path; choosing to leverage its more modest subsea cable connectivity to the US with a large terrestrial network that has grown all the way along the west coast of Latin America, intercepting into the lucrative Brazilian market via Argentina. It’s the nearest any operator has come to spanning the length of the continent overland.

A hard path to follow

Internexa first launched commercial operations in Colombia in 2001, with a 1,831km network serving the cities of Medellín, Bogotá, Cali, Manizales, Pereira, Popayan, Tunja, Bucaramanga, Barranquilla, Sincelejo, Monteria, Riohacha, Santa Marta and Valledupar.

As an affiliated company of the ISA Group; a large Latin American organisation specialising in electricity and telecoms infrastructure, Internexa was able to synergise the deployment of fibre with the large infrastructure the parent group had access to.

This business model was first applied outside of its domestic market in 2003 when the company signed a partnership with a local Ecuadorian network provider, and again between 2005 and 2010 when the company began serving customers in Peru and Chile.
Over the last year, Internexa has worked tirelessly to extend its network down into Argentina and Brazil.

In March, shortly after Capacity Latam 2012, the network operator officially announced the launch of its operations in Brazil. Covering the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Parana, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the company is said to have invested $30 million in its Brazilian operations and is targeting a share of nearly 21% of Brazil’s data transport and internet market access over the next five years.

Such a fiercely ambitious target is matched by a huge drive to create a unified and resilient network. In order to launch operations in Argentina and Brazil, Internexa recently leased subsea cable capacity between the Peruvian capital of Lima and the Chilean capital of Santiago.

The company presently finds itself looking to complete that same connection overland: “In order to have a network that is homogenous, it is necessary to offer a long-haul route by land in the north of Chile, which is why we are planning to roll out a network there,” says García.

At the same time, the company is also looking to add redundancy to its network: “Other parts of the network that we already have in operation, we plan to complement with rings. This will help make the network available to the market demands of carrier class services by adding redundancy where necessary,” adds García.

Localising content

As Internexa continues to strengthen and refine its network across Latin America, its attentions have increasingly turned towards facilitating the growth of local content. The company has recently signed a number of agreements with CDN companies to host their servers in Internexa’s data centres in Colombia and Brazil. The move is aimed at offering content owners greater reach in South America: “We are allowing our CDN customers to connect to the network enabling them to migrate content from overseas to this region. This is the first step to reach the goal of converting our network into the IP backbone of Latam,” says García.

According to García, approximately 80% of content accessed in Latin America still originates from overseas. Internexa, he says, is ambitiously looking to help transform that same percentage into localised content: “Our initiative will look to change that equation. That is how we will impact positively on the market,” says García. “Our customers are the CDN providers. They are the companies that will be responsible for migrating content to our network, and at the same time, they will also generate the right conditions for implementing local content.”

In order to achieve this goal, Internexa has also sought to strengthen its international connectivity and last year struck an important partnership with Level 3 Communications. The deal enabled Level 3 to expand its CDN services to Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru, while allowing Internexa to help Latin American carriers more efficiently access and deliver content to their customers.

García is now looking to further expand the company’s international connectivity: “We are working on the integration of our international connectivity, because to reach our goal of being the number one IP backbone in Latin America, we need our own connectivity particularly to the US and then secondly to Europe,” he says.

The company already has access to cables in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Brazil, all of which provide connections to Miami. It does seem, however, that they are now in the market to lease or even buy more subsea cable capacity: “Yes we are looking at which is the better financial scheme to do that – probably we will have some ownership in multiple cables.”

Creating a buzz

Given its large number of recent announcements, it was perhaps no surprise that Internexa, and in particular García, was generating quite a buzz at this year’s Capacity Latam. García admits the company is seeing “a lot of impressed customers”, but was also quick to point out that Internexa will not be able to create an ecosystem for producing local content all on its own: “Many others need to do their part, as well as all the governments and respective regulatory bodies.” 

García hopes that as Internexa continues to extend its IP backbone, it will help encourage regions still reliant on satellite communications to become connected to fibre.

“In each country in Latin America, you have areas where operators are still reliant only on satellite links. We hope that the growth of local IP transit will help telecommunications companies in various countries to deploy more networks.”

He adds: “At the same time, service providers will need to implement new broadband access solutions – by either fixed-line or wireless. But we are not in that business - that is part of the bigger vision that we want to implement through this strategy of generating our own IP traffic between countries in Latin Amercia.”


 

Key Facts: Internexa


History: Internexa first launched commercial operations in Colombia in 2001, with a 1,831km network serving the cities of Medellín, Bogotá, Cali, Manizales, Pereira, Popayan, Tunja, Bucaramanga, Barranquilla, Sincelejo, Monteria, Riohacha, Santa Marta and Valledupar.

In 2003, the company launched operations in Ecuador through a joint venture called Transnexa, and in 2008 it extended its operations into Peru and later Chile. Most recently it has extended its operations into Argentina and Brazil.

Ownership: Internexa is an affiliated company of the ISA Group; a large Latin American organisation specialising in electricity and telecoms infrastructure.

CEO: Genaro García Dominguez is CEO of Internexa.

Network: Internexa operates a 21,000km telecommunications network in South America, providing connectivity to Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and soon Central America.

The company’s terrestrial network is also complemented by access to seven submarine cables.

Services: The company offers a wide range of transport and IP services, including Carrier Ethernet and optical networking services.