Broadband buildings the way to go

Commercial buildings, particularly the newer ones, are keen to capitalize on fast-speed bandwidth, fast. We look at this growing trend.

Commercial buildings in Singapore are heading for the fast track.

Hundreds of buildings here--by conservative estimates--have been wired up with state-of-the-art optical fiber and high-performance Ethernet cables for connecting their tenants to the Internet at breakneck speeds.

Both new buildings such as Capital Tower, UE Square, Suntec City, and older ones like International Plaza and Goldhill Plaza, are among those already fitted with blazing networks that typically hit 100Mbps speeds and more.

Suntec City's Silicon Valley
At Suntec City's office towers, tenants have not one - but three - high-speed Internet Service Providers to choose from.
 
Benefits of wiring up with fiber
Recently many companies have moved on to the more superior Symmetric DSL which can offer higher and equal up-and-down speeds.
 
What incumbent SingTel has to say
The liberalization of the telecoms industry has resulted in the proliferation of big and small companies to challenge what was once a SingTel monopoly.
 
Wireless Internet, the next frontier
Another important development in Singapore will be wireless Internet.
 

Oo Gin Lee is a freelancer contributing to CNETAsia.

Suntec City's Silicon Valley

At Suntec City's office towers, tenants have not one--but three--high-speed Internet Service Providers to choose from.

Tridor, StarHub and WorldCom have all wired up Asia's Vertical Silicon Valley with high-speed Internet connectivity using state-of-the-art fiber optics. Tridor and StarHub Internet each has a 100Mbps connection, and they can increase this to Giga-scale if more bandwidth is required.

High-speed, easily available Internet connections are the crux of Suntec City Development's--the operator of Suntec--strategy of departing from the traditional role of landlord to a high-tech facility service provider-cum-partner that enables leading-edge technology and value-added services to its tenants.

"The moment you call yourself a landlord, you will always be on opposing sides with your tenants... because they naturally want lower rent and landlords want the opposite," said Suntec City Development's CEO Wong Ah Long in a recent interview with Intelligent Enterprise Asia.

The company's growing list of value-added services riding on its high-speed networks include:
  • Centrex, an Internet Protocol-based service that lets tenants call each other using four-digit internal extensions for free;
  • Its e-procurement portal that lets tenants buy office products from an online portal that offers over 7,000 items;
  • Video-conferencing facilities at competitive rates. Now, Suntec City is further leveraging on its already-in-place high-speed fiber infrastructure to enable its huge retail-convention-office with wireless Internet access. "Although we are a landlord, we provide more than just space. We provide value to our tenants by helping them leapfrog into the global business world," he added.

    Buildings wired up
    Suntec is just one of many. StarHub already has more than 600 commercial buildings wired up for the fast track. Tridor, which bought over the assets of Davnet Singapore last year, has inherited the networks in 19 buildings. The company wants to do more but is prevented by the ailing economy.

    NEXbroadband has connected six buildings and aims to hit 10 by year end. It doesn't even have a Facilities-based Operator (FBO) license but by mixing and matching its own fiber with leasing copper from incumbent telcos like SingTel, NEXbroadband is in business.

    The similarity here is that most, if not all, of these buildings are located within the Central Business District. The obvious reason for this--it is the corporate customers that need to get on the fast track, fast. Benefits of wiring up with fiber

    Recently many companies have moved on to the more superior Symmetric DSL which can offer higher and equal up-and-down speeds.

    When business broadband started in Singapore a few years ago, there were really two main options for end-users--pay for a dedicated leased line or an ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) connection.

    While leased lines remain a very expensive option to this day, ADSL suffers from limitations of speed. The good thing is both technologies ride on the existing Category 3 copper wire infrastructure that also carries the telephony voice signals, so no major re-cabling needs to be done.

    But ADSL suffers from a very low upstream speed, typically about 256kbps--half its usual downstream speed of 512 kbps.

    This asymmetric or uneven speed makes ADSL great for surfing the Internet (since most of the high traffic is going downstream from Web server to PCs) but inadequate for two-way applications such as video conferencing, peer-to-peer applications and transferring of huge files over the Net.

    Making the shift to SDSL
    Recently many companies have moved on to the more superior Symmetric DSL which can offer higher and equal up-and-down speeds, like Pacific Internet's special Broadband Plan for Law Firms where it offers 1.5Mbps up-and-downstream speeds to cater to the new Electronic Filing System. But DSL technology over copper is still restricted by its maximum speed limitation of 2Mbps.

    Fiber, on the other hand, ranges from as low as 10Mbps to 1Gbps. Most companies wire up the buildings vertically using fiber, then switch to the less costly Category 5 Ethernet cables for the horizontal cabling.

    Tiong Onn Seng, assistant vice president of StarHub's Network Infrastructure and Development, said: "In broadband-enabled buildings, the tenant will certainly benefit from having services that are not constrained by conventional Cat 3 copper cables. For example, a tenant may need disaster recovery services that could require throughputs between 1Mbps and 100Mbps which would not be possible in a non-broadband enabled building."

    Tridor's list price for a 128kbps leased line is S$600 per month. Its 1Mbps In-Building Ethernet (IBE) service costs just a fraction more at S$800, but it has eight times more bandwidth. While other service providers declined to reveal their rates, Tridor's sales and marketing manager Goh Kah Lin added that it's industry practise for discounts to be given on a case-by-case basis.

    Smaller players like Tridor cannot afford to own its end-to-end pipes, so it only wires up the in-building portion and then leases the local loop--the external copper wires that link equipment in the commercial building to its data center elsewhere for onward transmission to the Internet--from incumbent telco SingTel.

    Because IBE technology aggregates data signals from all its customers in one building (and even a few buildings looped together by fiber) before transmitting over a single leased line, it can save many dollars and in turn offer cheaper rates.

    Leased line connections, on the other hand, are point-to-point connections, so every line requires its own local loop, which is very expensive. That is why IBE is cheaper, explained Goh.

    Bandwidth on tap
    Bandwidth on demand is another advantage of broadband buildings.

    "If a customer needs more bandwidth for one or two days, we can increase it within three working days because of our intelligent network management systems," said Tridor's Goh. This is much faster than traditional leased lines, he added, which usually takes weeks because another leased line will have to be run to the office.

    With fiber, it's just a matter of allocating more juice via the same pipe. Because IBE is IP-based, tenants on different floors can be easily connected into one Local Area Network (LAN) and share resources like a firewall.

    Apart from higher speeds and more competitive rates, wiring up broadband buildings also means "that it enables us to reach potential customers much more easily since StarHub has a presence in the building", added Tiong. What incumbent SingTel has to say

    The liberalization of the telecoms industry has resulted in the proliferation of big and small companies to challenge what was once a SingTel monopoly.

    The liberalization of the telecoms industry has resulted in the proliferation of big and small companies to challenge what was once a SingTel monopoly.

    But SingTel remains a force to be reckoned with. It owns most of the copper wires, including the local loops which companies like Tridor need to lease.

    Although SingTel has not extensively wired up the inside of commercial buildings with fiber, it has fiber running underground to almost all buildings in Singapore and, according to its deputy director of IP Services Goh Boon Huat, SingTel can choose to wire up buildings in less than a week.

    Goh Boon Huat, SingTel's deputy director of IP Services, said: "Broadband IP building was a concept started in the US where the geographical distance is large, and in order for tenants to enjoy broadband, new telcos had to wire up selected buildings. This is not necessary in Singapore for SingTel as SingTel has extensive fiber reach and has already started equipping buildings with blown fibers since August 1999."

    Blowing fiber is a technology where the provider lays empty pipes and then later "blows" the fiber optics into the pipe as and when it is required. StarHub also uses the same technology.

    While big players like StarHub and SingTel own their own infrastructure and possibly offer better deals to their subsidiary ISPs, Pacific Internet has had to survive by putting its services on top of SingTel's infrastructure. But being "unlinked" has its advantages, said PacNet's Sui Wee Chong, its senior vice president for Consumer and Corporate. "We have an advantage because we can buy wholesale from anyone and can therefore give more choices to customers," he added.

    And with Singapore Power entering the fray by wholesaling powerline technology, and Singapore Cable Vision forced to open up its cable networks to other companies this year, Pacific Internet has now even more options. Wireless Internet, the next frontier

    Another important development in Singapore will be wireless Internet.

    Its latest adopter is Raffles Marina which in the past has been left behind by technology. "The West-end is underdeveloped in terms of technology. We don't even have cable TV here," said the marina's CEO Michael Lee.

    In the past, its members had to squeeze into a small business center room to surf the Net. "We decided to leapfrog over conventional infrastructure and go wireless," added Lee.

    His savior was wireless ISP Bluengine which set up the wireless hotspot at Raffles Marina with 10 base stations.

    Raffles Marina doesn't pay a cent. Bluengine installs and runs the wireless system. But users will have to be a member, paying S$25 per month for unlimited use at any of its 30 plus hotspots islandwide.

    "But for us, we have a special deal for our members--free for the first year," added Lee.

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