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Mon 7 Jul 2008 04:00 AM

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Crossing borders

PalTel has implemented Nortel soft switches as the first step of a major organisation transformation.

PalTel has implemented Nortel soft switches as the first step of a transformation that will improve its international connectivity and equip the organisation with a next-generation converged network.

Palestine Telecommunication Company (PalTel) is one of a kind. Set up in 1997 to service the needs of Palestine nationals, the government funded telecommunications provider has been striving to improve services and provide more to its customers from the initial stages of its launch.

Information technology has been at the forefront of the company's continuing work to better its service provision.

The Nortel soft switches form the core of the next-generation network. The rest of it should start in late 2008 to early 2009, and we should be on a fully-fledged new network by 2010.

"PalTel deployed a state-of-the-art MPLS (multi protocol label switching) IP network. We are expanding our broadband access footprint by deploying MSANs (multi-service access networks) and DSLAM (digital subscriber line access multiplexer) in order to provide broadband services to our customers.

We are providing more than 1.5Gbytes of internet bandwidth to our customers.

What's more, we have a TDM/frame relay network to serve our corporate accounts," says Mohannad Al-Hijawi, general manager of the company.

The service provider has invested not only in the best of technology to ensure value-provision to its customers but also puts effort into ensuring an efficient IT team internally.

"We have around 35 people in the IT team and they take care of the technology needs across the organisation. We have well-trained engineers and staff as part of this team to install and operate our infrastructure, and we ensure that we give them continuous job training and renew their certifications at regular periods," says Al-Hijawi.

Call of the new

The company, which has grown exponentially since its formation, recently felt the need to provide more inexpensive international call facilities to its customers. It also wanted to meet increasing consumer demand for new and improved communication services in a simple and cost effective manner.

"We wanted to develop and deliver new revenue generating multimedia services as well as maintain the current quality of services.

We wanted to phase out our old TDM switches because they were old technology, they came with a high maintenance cost, and we wanted to launch services to compete with new entrants, which could not have been possible with the TDM switches," says Al-Hijawi.

Additionally, PalTel also wanted to create an international footprint for better hand-off of calls to other telecom providers. A new switching platform was found to be an immediate necessity to enable the company's plan for services and to ensure its future growth.

The hunt for new switches and a developed platform followed the established internal procedure for selecting technology solutions.

"We did due research on several vendors offering switching solutions. We checked out their distribution, their service and support capabilities, and we even got references from other operators. All this was taken into consideration, along with our own product testing and evaluation," says Al-Hijawi.

The provider finally picked Nortel as the vendor of choice for the solution based on the company's reliability, product quality, service assurance and price competitiveness.

"The Nortel solution involved two Communication Server 2000 soft switches, located in London and Ramalah, with six points of presence (PoPs) in the United States and the Middle East," says Al-Hijawi.

Business drivers for the implementation• To reach world-class standards in terms of technology advancements and as part of the company's strategic plans.

• To diversify product offerings and satisfy customer needs.

• The need for inexpensive international calls.

• The need to satisfy increased demand for new communications services in a simple and cost effective way.

• Developing and delivering new revenue generating multimedia services and maintaining quality of services.

• High maintenance cost of the old TDM switches.

• Old TDM switches were being phased out.

• The launch of new services to compete with new entrants

The deployment builds on an existing upgrade to PalTel's SDH network backbone with Nortel's Optical Multiservice Edge 6500 (OME6500) convergence platform, a solution that was used to increase backbone capacity from 2.5Gbits/sec to 10Gbits/sec and enhance network capabilities.

This earlier upgrade enabled PalTel to introduce new features and services such as televoting, video broadcasting and broadband to the home. According to PalTel, these features were used during the 2006 Palestinian elections.

"The soft switch implementation included network maintenance from the Nortel Global Services portfolio. This supplements internal network management, which is channeled through a network operations centre where infrastructure is monitored through the day," states Al-Hijawi.

The soft switch solution took about a year to implement and, according to Al-Hijawi, the process proved to be entirely smooth since it was a greenfield implementation for the company and did not involve any upgrades.

"The implementation has enabled us to provide inexpensive international calls in the West Bank and Gaza strip. We have also introduced SIP-based voice services with IP Centrex, and advanced multimedia services, along with an international calling card," states Al-Hijawi.

The solution has already paid back the business by helping increase the volume of calls that could be handled by the service provider. It has enabled PalTel to compete better and differentiate itself from the new entrants to the market.

The next stage and beyond

"We are working on the second phase of the project, where we aim to penetrate the international market better and connect directly to the top tier carriers around the world.

These direct routes will enable us to exchange traffic back-and-forth and the company will have an opportunity to sell voice traffic for all Arab and non-Arab countries," states Al-Hijawi.

According to him, this is just the start in a complete transformation which will see the organisation deploy a next-generation converged network.

"We are currently working with 53 switches. We want to consolidate that in the future to seven switches. We cannot do that on the current TDM line. We will start transforming the network to the next-generation using soft switches," states Al-Hijawi.

He clarifies that other vendors apart from Nortel - Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson being just two of them - are also being considered for co-ordinating the transformation and announcement on the final vendor can be expected soon.

"The Nortel soft switches that are currently in place form the core of the new network. The rest of it should start in late 2008 to early 2009 and we should be on a fully-fledged new network by 2010," he says.

All IT projects at PalTel are closely linked to business drivers, and are carried out with the bottom line always in mind.

"We do annual budgets and we usually formulate the IT budget for the next year by the second half of the previous year. We start gathering information from all the departments that we need to service in the organisation.

We check the needs of each of these departments and their subsidiaries. After we have compiled this information, and we have a clear picture of the projects that need to be executed, we create the IT budget," says Al-Hijawi.

"We work on projects with the various departments of the company always in mind," assures Al-Hijawi.

For the short term, Al-Hijawi states that the major project on the cards is the one involving the network's transformation. But, he assures, as PalTel continues to stretch its service provision across global borders, so will its IT work continue to set new standards in network implementation and utilisation.

All about PalTelPalTel is the national telecommunications provider in Palestine. The company offers a range of services including local and international telephone services, internet, data communications, mobile, value-added services, payphones,and next-generation services in addition to creating the backbone for other related telecom services.

The company has an exclusive license agreement with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to develop the telecom sector. The company commenced operations on January 1, 1997 with paid capital of JD 45 million, which further increased in 1999 to JD 67.5 million (US$95 million).

PalTel is a public shareholding company listed on the Palestine Securities Exchange. Its shareholders include a range of institutional and individual investors.

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