SPONSORED Q&A: Michael Wheeler, EVP, Global IP Network, NTT Com

10 May 2016 | Jason McGee-Abe


NTT Communications has an ethos of working closely with over-the-top (OTT) players to the advantage of both itself and partners. Michael Wheeler, executive vice president of the Global IP Network business unit, explains how important collaboration is for NTT Com, as well as how the company is seeking to boost network security

What is NTT Com’s current approach to OTT players?

We’ve always taken a very collaborative approach with them. The usage of OTT services continues to grow, and there’s no indication that this will slow down any time soon. The scale of their traffic requirements means that we feel it’s crucial for us to have mutually beneficial relationships with them. It is actually more important operationally than it is from a customer-relationship and revenue perspective – we want to understand what their needs are from us and what expectations they have going forward. 

What challenges are there in collaborating with such partners?

One is managing the sheer demand for capacity. It sounds like a simple thing, but a lot of work and effort goes into that. The challenge is making sure we’re ahead of the curve in providing the capacity and performance that our customers demand. To help anticipate that, we communicate with customers to see what trends they’re forecasting over the next three to six months, as well as current traffic and historical patterns. 

We also look for known global events, such as this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But there are other events that nobody can predict, so some legwork needs to be put into the network to support those things too. 

How does NTT Com prepare its network for unforeseen events?

It depends on the issue, but the effects of natural disasters can be the hardest to manage. Over the last year, landslides have affected some cable systems – one second capacity is there, but a second later it’s not. To help deal with this, we can shift how the traffic moves across the network from city to city for certain paths. We also closely monitor how traffic traverses the network, as well as customer feedback. 

What does the company do to meet demand for capacity at events such as the football World Cup and the forthcoming Olympic Games?

We look at demand for capacity in advance and work with customers to accommodate their needs. We also look at our historical experience of utilisation and traffic for such events. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was at multiple sites, so the impact was a little different to what we expect to see this summer, when the focal point is Rio. We’re trying to sort out some capacity right now to use when the Olympics take place. We want to put ourselves in the best possible position to handle network needs during the event. 

How is NTT Com gearing its network to meet the needs of OTT players?

We assess our traffic on a market-specific basis – not just by country, but by city and even by PoP. In some cities, for example, we have three or four PoPs. We also look at it from a backbone point of view both within a region and globally. To manage a network like ours, you really have to look at it in multiple ways. We have built-in trigger points, so if we reach a certain threshold of traffic that isn’t just a random spike, we move towards upgrading capacity to that site. 

You’re participating at ITW in a panel about network security – how well would you say global carriers are addressing that issue?

I think it’s going well, but it could always be better. There’s a lot of long-standing interaction between tier-one players that support the broad internet backbone – and security is built into that. This is really important in addressing some threats. For instance, DDoS attacks are distributed in nature, meaning that they’re coming from various parts of the world across different networks and to different points. It’s therefore helpful to work with other network operators to address that. There’s no one-size-fits-all resolution, but there is no question that the industry believes security is a really important topic to address.

Which solutions have proved most effective against threats to the network?

We provide services such as blackholing. We launched a variant of that about a year ago called selective blackholing, which provides more specific information about where traffic is being blocked from a geographic point of view. We have other things such as our DDoS Protection Service, which can turn on technology platforms to scrub out bad traffic. We can minimise, if not remove entirely, the effect on that customer’s network. It takes a number of tools to address threats and attacks.

What would you say are the other main challenges that global wholesale carriers face over the coming years?

Managing a global footprint will not become a smaller challenge. The internet continues to expand into parts of the world that aren’t quite as sophisticated as others from an infrastructure point of view. At the end of the day, the internet still has to utilise physical infrastructure to do what it does: if that isn’t there, it’s very difficult for internet services to be successful in those markets. Ultimately, we want to be as proactive as possible in making sure that we provide services that our customers want, and continue to grow with them as their requirements evolve. I think that’s true for anybody in this space.