Rated as a top ISP for customer satisfaction, EarthLink recently replaced its existing broadband aggregation equipment with a Cisco Systems® solution that enhances the quality of the company's broadband network equipment and extends delivery of high-performance services into new markets.
STANDING OUT ON A CROWDED PLAYING FIELD
EarthLink has become a leading Internet service provider (ISP)® with a loyal base of more than 5.3 million customers. According to the J.D. Power and Associates 2003 Internet Service Provider Residential Customer Satisfaction StudySM, EarthLink is ranked highest in customer satisfaction among high-speed Internet service providers. The company also receives top ratings in the other categories for performance and reliability, cost, billing, and e-mail. EarthLink has achieved this distinction by consistently delivering high-quality connectivity with minimal drop-offs and ISP-generated intrusions.
As the company's director of network engineering and operations, Greg Collins, explains, "EarthLink is unique. We are one of the largest non-broadband-centric broadband providers. No one has a subscriber base like us." According to Collins, EarthLink runs one of the largest networks and one of the largest broadband networks in the United States. Collins cites the high quality and performance of the EarthLink network as one reason the company is able to attract and retain its customers. But, the company wanted to improve the performance of some of its aggregation equipment. "Our broadband aggregation equipment was not performing to our standards," he says. "Compounding the problem was the fact that EarthLink was not getting the support it needed from its current equipment vendor.
As part of the company's overall commitment to quality, EarthLink set out to upgrade its broadband aggregation solution. The ISP also wanted to improve the equipment's performance to support new services and expand the network footprint to reach new markets.
EarthLink invited vendors to propose solutions based on its broadband aggregation requirements. Cisco Systems was already a provider of EarthLink backbone and core border routers. Based on the performance of those solutions backed by a responsive support team, Cisco® was asked to propose a solution.
A NEW GAME PLAN
Many factors contributed to the final selection of a Cisco solution. Tests showed that the Cisco 10000 Series and Cisco 7200 Series both offered excellent performance, reliability, and feature sets for broadband aggregation. For the locations requiring the highest concentration, the Cisco 10000 Series delivers line-rate performance for more than 60,000 simultaneous sessions. Coupled with industry-proven reliability, the Cisco 10000 Series provides an industry first of more than 400-sessions-per-second setup rate for greatly increased network uptime and availability.
This performance and reliability was complemented with the breadth of the Cisco solutions. Collins explains, "Cisco could offer us a choice of products-not just a single box. Cisco's price point was also better and the choice of platforms meant we could achieve a cost-effective solution."
EarthLink has completed the replacement of the existing aggregation equipment, installing Cisco 7200 Series routers in lower-density locations. For the recently upgraded locations, EarthLink has already noticed an improvement. "The new equipment has been practically flawless in terms of stability and reliability. And the implementation phase itself went very well," says Collins. "Cisco has really come through for us."
During the course of the aggregation upgrade, EarthLink moved ahead with its expansion initiatives. The company signed agreements with SBC and BellSouth to give EarthLink access to more than 8 million additional households, and to bring broadband services to new areas while dramatically expanding availability in existing markets as well. Cisco 10000 Series routers are being deployed as the high-density aggregation DSL platform for these new services. The Cisco 10000 Series has influenced the way EarthLink expands into new markets. Previously, the ISP had to build numerous points of presence (POPs) for its BellSouth customers, for example. With the new agreement and related high-density, high-speed service, EarthLink aggregates more than nine states with a single large POP in Atlanta. The Cisco aggregation solution provides a much more economical model for expanding into new markets while continuing to give customers the most cost-effective services.
THE WIN-WIN DECISION
Along with increased reliability, the Cisco 7200 Series routers give EarthLink higher throughput capabilities. Provisioning customers at the same rates as the previous platform leaves the Cisco 7200 Series under subscribed and gives EarthLink the ability to better manage increased traffic. The Cisco 7200 Series routers also provide more built-in monitoring abilities, and give EarthLink enhanced troubleshooting and performance-monitoring capabilities that enable a deeper understanding of network usage broken down into markets or users.
The expansion of the EarthLink broadband delivery footprint has been equally successful. By reducing the number of required network elements for entering a new market, the Cisco 10000 Series streamlines operations and supports the competitive service costs extended to EarthLink customers. The new aggregation solution offers better scalability, and positions EarthLink to more cost-effectively grow into new markets, including smaller rural areas and low-density markets that previously imposed longer return on investment (ROI) periods.
The ISP's selection of the Cisco 10000 Series has benefited both the company and its user base. Says Collins, "Cisco has helped EarthLink to cost-effectively deliver robust, high-quality services to our subscribers via the Cisco 10000 Series. Utilizing Cisco products is a win-win for EarthLink and our customers," says Collins. "We become more efficient in our service delivery and our end users enjoy the quality of Cisco equipment. We maintain our reputation for top quality, and the Cisco 10000 Series solution contributes to our overall success."
With Cisco already in the core, and now supporting aggregation, Cisco becomes the predominant networking brand in the EarthLink network. This prevalence of Cisco platforms, with consistency of features and capabilities throughout the core and edge, simplifies the role of the IT staff. QoS and security features are more efficiently deployed by using the common hardware and software functionality, and supporting new customer services is similarly streamlined during deployment and throughout the life of the service.
"The Cisco feature sets are allowing us to explore many new service ideas like quality-assured gaming," says Collins. "We are evaluating our plans for new services like voice over IP, and expect that these will drive the demand for even more capabilities in the future." With the new aggregation solution, EarthLink is positioned to effectively address the demands for new services as its user base continues to grow in both residential and enterprise markets.