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Case Study
February 2002

Cbeyond: Delivering Cost-Effective Broadband Capabilities To Small Businesses

[Go to Partnership With Cisco Makes Cbeyond Vision A Reality]


More and more of today�s business customers are utilizing high-speed Internet (broadband) access and IP-enabling employee desktops. This increased use opens the door for a single provider to deliver converged voice and data services. At the same time, there is a growing recognition that the public Internet is ill-equipped to deliver business services with the requisite quality, security, and billing capabilities needed by business customers.

Positioned squarely at the intersection of these trends, a new breed of service providers is emerging to provide premium IP-based local and long-distance telephony services, as well as high-speed data and IP-based applications. Cbeyond Communications (www.cbeyond.net) -- a privately held Atlanta-based company -- is among the first service carriers to build, from the ground up, an integrated, pure IP network focused on telephony and broadband access for small-business customers. While small businesses crave the promise of broadband because of the productivity leaps it allows them to make, the service needs to be affordably priced, and must work effectively.

Cbeyond first implemented a softswitch-based network in March 2001, and thus far has deployed its services in Atlanta, Dallas, and Denver. Atlanta and Dallas have full points of presence (POPs) installed with a softswitch, edge services router, and gateways. The Denver PoP operates remotely off the redundant Dallas softswitch. The company anticipates having approximately 2,000 total customers by March 2002. Currently, Cbeyond is closing deals and acquiring customers faster than expected, and projects profitability with a positive cash flow in a market in less than two years -- a rather impressive time frame indeed.

Leveraging advances in softswitch and IP technology enables Cbeyond to deliver a richer, integrated communications package with significantly less capital expenditures than the solutions for a voice connection offered by traditional circuit-switched carriers. Lower capital costs allow them to serve customers economically with as few as three or four lines of local service -- approximately 40 percent of all business customers or 60,000 small business customers in a typical market. And, the single-network approach readily meets the reliability and affordability needs that are an ongoing fact of life for small businesses.

A strong differentiation for Cbeyond Communications is their IP-based network, which allows them to offer all of the capabilities traditionally associated with telephone carriers, including Class 5 features, 911, and full SS7 connectivity, as well as those services offered by Internet service providers. On par with the incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC), Cbeyond supplies all of the primary-line calling features small businesses expect in a local calling environment, such as call waiting, call forwarding, call hold, 911 emergency calling, in addition to long-distance telephony and high-speed Internet access. Being IP-based enables them to add a whole new dimension to their services, including broadband connections and an expanding platform for the delivery of IP-based applications such as unified messaging, Web hosting, e-mail, voice mail, virtual private networks (VPNs), and data storage/backup.

Cbeyond�s service carrier network is built around an IP-transport model based on softswitch network technology. Unlike the time-division multiplexing (TDM) technology currently used by established telephony carriers, this approach has the versatility to support integrated voice and data applications.

A TDM-based architecture, or circuit switch, is specifically designed to deliver voice traffic. Each call uses a dedicated 64K of bandwidth whether or not it is transmitting information. A softswitch solution, in comparison, enables a dynamic allocation of bandwidth for customers. When end-users are not on the telephone, all network bandwidth is available for high-speed Internet access.

Cbeyond relies on a fully redundant, NEBS-compliant BTS 10200 Softswitch from Cisco Systems, Inc., (www.cisco.com) to deliver a cost-effective voice-packet solution to small business customers (see sidebar). The softswitch supports the Media Gateway Control Protocol, Signaling System 7 (SS7), Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), and PRI standards for connectivity to other circuit and packet telephony systems. It can also scale to accommodate thousands of calls per second.

Beyond voice and Internet connectivity, the softswitch supports remote maintenance and provisioning, plus automated interfaces for service integration. Since the Cisco BTS 10200 Softswitch extracts and centralizes the call-control and service applications from the transport network, services are quickly deployed without time-consuming and costly upgrades to each transport element. Consequently, service carriers like Cbeyond can more easily manage and provision multiple services on a single, integrated IP network minimizing expensive technical support and truck rolls.

Automated provisioning and service integration have enabled Cbeyond to succeed in local VoIP services where others have failed. More than 75 percent of the company�s costs to deliver these services are success-based, meaning they occur only after a customer contract is signed. Unlike other carriers who fully provision their networks with services in advance of sales, Cbeyond only incurs expenses when installing a paying customer. The company�s strategy of �build it when they come� fundamentally reduces their exposure to risk, as opposed to the legacy model of �build it and they will come.�

Cbeyond�s IP network relies on the centralized softswitch resources working in combination with distributed capabilities in the form of customer premises equipment (CPE). An integrated access device (IAD) is installed at the customer�s site to deliver local and long-distance services, high-speed Internet access, Web hosting, and other Internet-based applications within one integrated solution. The IAD connects to the company�s PBX or key system, allowing Cbeyond to deliver an integrated service that provides customers five to 24 ports of analog or digital voice, an Ethernet port connection for data, and other data applications delivered over T1 access to the wide-area network (WAN).

For maximum flexibility, the entire network infrastructure is controlled by software applications that make resources open to additional development through powerful application programming interfaces (APIs). This open architecture means easier access to tap the collective creativity of the software development community in order to bring new applications to the small-business customer.

The service-creation environment delivers benefits on multiple levels, including application development and system management. Developers can create new applications that continually take advantage of, and integrate with, existing applications. As the portfolio of applications expands, the opportunity for future applications grows exponentially. As for maintenance, the dynamics of the software-based architecture allow Cbeyond to seamlessly handle moves, adds, and changes for customers remotely, without an expensive truck roll. In fact, systems are designed to allow customers to add their own lines and make changes online at their convenience. Simplified management provides dramatic savings over the expensive, manually intensive methods that traditional circuit-switch carriers use to meet similar needs.

Over the long term, this open architecture will enable Cbeyond to adapt to emerging customer needs and technology developments. For example, all applications are provided at the IP layer, allowing them to evolve the access strategy as more reliable and economical technologies emerge. In the future, Cbeyond hopes to be able to easily adopt access technologies such as digital subscriber line (DSL), broadband wireless, or metro-Ethernet.

By embracing next-generation, IP-packet technology, Cbeyond is helping to change the rules for communications service offerings for small business. Their single, converged telecommunications network integrates data, voice, and broadband services much more profitably than TDM networks. By offering an entire communications package for roughly the cost of what is paid today for voice services alone, Cbeyond is capable of broadband enabling small business offices and providing value and utility to the underserved and growing small-business market. c

Chris Gatch is vice president, Network Architecture and Design at Cbeyond Communications. Cbeyond is a leader in the emerging local packet telephony and broadband Internet services market and one of the first service providers to build a pure IP, integrated voice and data network. Visit them on the Web at www.cbeyond.net.

[ Return To The February 2002 Table Of Contents ]

Partnership With Cisco Makes Cbeyond Vision A Reality

�From the outset, our goal at Cbeyond was to build an IP- and software-based network architecture that could deliver converged voice and data services dynamically over a single platform with seamless integration and delivery. Additionally, we wanted one company to provide us with a comprehensive solution to make this vision a reality.

�After intensive investigation and validation, we determined that Cisco was the only vendor that could provide us with a high-quality, cost-effective, end-to-end solution for creating a pure IP-transport and softswitch network. Cisco�s BTS 10200 Softswitch solution not only supports broadband Internet access and the platform for IP-based applications, but also gives us the call-control intelligence for establishing, maintaining, routing, and terminating voice calls for both local and long-distance telephony.

�Cisco�s complete solution consists of:

  • Integrated access device (IAD) located at the customer premise;
  • BTS 10200 Softswitch;
  • 10,000 Edge services routers to aggregate voice and data traffic;
  • Media gateways that connect to the local and long-distance public switched telephone network (PSTN) and operator 911 services;
  • An integrated voice-response platform;
  • Core IP switches; and
  • Gateway routers to connect data traffic to the Internet.

�This solution enables both voice-over-IP calling using Signaling System 7 (SS7) and media gateway control protocol (MGCP). All Cisco BTS 10200 Softswitch equipment and paths are fully redundant with an architecture that eliminates single-point failures and is designed for 99.999 percent reliability. The unit delivers the call throughput capabilities required for even very large subscriber bases.�

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