Ngena joins the dots between 25 SD-WAN service providers

21 March 2019 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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In three years the global Ngena alliance has expanded from just four carriers to 25, providing SD-WAN access to 200 countries and territories. Its chief, Alessandro Adriani, tells Alan Burkitt-Gray how it is enabling member companies to offer services around the world

More than two dozen carriers have come together into an association to deliver SD-WAN and other solutions to enterprises worldwide.

Deutsche Telekom founded the venture, Ngena, three years ago along with CenturyLink, Reliance Jio and SK Telecom. Today there are 25 members in all, from A1 Telekom Austria and Altice to Veon and Viettel.

Ngena has pretty much global coverage – CenturyLink, Neutrona and Telus cover the Americas; there’s MTN in Africa; Europe is well served; and China Unicom and a host of others cover Asia.

“Companies need to interconnect sites and workforces around the globe with greater flexibility and agility than ever before,” says Alessandro Adriani (pictured), the managing director of Ngena. “New cloud-based applications are driving demand for greater connectivity and higher bandwidths with premium network performance and security.”

We’re sitting in a Starbucks coffee bar next to Barcelona’s university: it’s Mobile World Congress time and the city is inundated with more than 100,000 telecoms executives, most of whom seem to be on their laptops or tablets at once.

“Enterprise connectivity needs are changing at a much faster pace than ever before,” says Adriani. “Increased flexibility and agility in a cost-effective manner are the new name of the game.”

People – like those around us in Starbucks – need “to be effective in a secure manner irrespective of whether they are at the airport, or in a coffee shop – like us today – or on a ski slope. People are always on the move.”

Adriani is a classic example of an executive on the move – not only in his current role, which he’s held since 2016, but in past jobs in TIM, Bouygues Telecom and Vodafone. In 2012 he began three years at the Bridge Alliance, a partnership of 17 mobile operators in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, with a couple of associations in Europe and the Americas.

Adriani clearly likes global alliances in the telecoms industry. “I have lived, studied and worked in eight countries across three continents,” he says. “And my two kids were born in two completely different locations thousands of kilometres apart: one in Oxford and one in Singapore.”

Over the last decade, we’ve seen what he calls “mega-trends like digitalisation, globalisation and new IT solutions” – everything as a service – and they “are creating both new opportunities and new challenges”.

But enterprises “are missing business opportunities because their connectivity does not allow innovative network solutions”, he warns. At the same time those enterprises are “under pressure to optimise their spending, both in terms of opex and also in terms of capex”.

Meanwhile, “bandwidth demand is continually increasing, especially due to the new cloud applications – actually, not so ‘new’ anymore – and to a rising level of digitalisation”, he adds.

One of the biggest challenges, he notes with a wry smile, is those executives who point to their home broadband, for which they pay €50 a month, that allows them to “stream movies with an acceptable quality”.

Why, they ask, do service providers quote several hundred or even a thousand euro a month to connect a coffee shop?

He looks around at the packed-in university students and telecoms executives. “A relatively simple coffee shop like this” needs a range of services, “to allow credit card transactions, to send consumption data to their fulfilment centre, to monitor the performance of the coffee machines, to regulate the level of indoor lighting based on the external daylight”. He continues: “To monitor unwanted presence during night downtime for insurance reasons, to monitor functioning and temperature of the fridges based on the outdoor temperature.” And so on.

“All these connectivity requirements need to be established, monitored and adjusted according to class of services, quality of services and service level agreements.”

A software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) “allows you to perform all of that with flexibility and agility”.

All this has to be delivered quickly when someone sets up a new store, with a virtual private network (VPN) and multiple sub-VPNs, “in order to avoid losing business opportunities – revenues and ultimately cash flow”, says Adriani. “They need it up and running in matter of days – and this is possible with an Ngena SD-WAN solution – and not in months.”

With Ngena and its partners have connectivity between them in more than 200 countries or territories, “in almost every corner of the world”. It works on a platform from Cisco/Viptela, Comarch, Equinix and Zscaler, “and is therefore completely reliable and industry-proven”, he says. “The platform is cloud native and completely scalable.”

Ngena is a wholesale operator that runs the global platform and backbone and the alliance partners deliver it via their local access networks, says Adriani. “Ngena does not sell to end-customers: our carrier partners sell Ngena SD-WAN-as-a-service to their enterprise customers.”

Some will flag the relationship to their enterprise customers, he notes, listing KPN in the Netherlands, StarHub in Singapore, Sunrise in Switzerland and Telus Canada as examples of companies that brand their solution as “Powered by Ngena”.

He adds: “We have developed a seamless process for building a wide area network in an automated manner that delivers every necessary component to the customer, thereby eliminating the burden for the carrier/alliance partner of having to operate a complex network themselves.”

Nearly all steps are fully automated using a zero-touch process via Ngena’s central portal, he adds. “We reduce the complexity to deliver a ready-to-use global network to the enterprise customer. Ngena’s service thus differs significantly from all other solutions on the market. The enterprise customer will enjoy a secure, stable, scalable and easy-to-use global corporate network that comes with a high-quality local customer care.”

As a wholesale carrier, Ngena buys and sells to carriers at the same time, “within a hub-and-spoke framework”, he explains. “The inter-carrier relationship is something I’m very passionate about. In fact, over the last 20 years, I have always been focused on ‘joining the dots’ among different carriers in very diverse geographies.”

And now, he has lots of dots around the world that are being joined up by Ngena.