Frame relay delays create nightmare for two Mass. firms

Imagine being responsible for a global frame relay network that's crucial to your company's sales and support operations. Now imagine your company decides to move to new headquarters, not too far away, within the same state. You call your frame relay provider's sales representative, arrange for a line into the new building and go back to work. Now imagine a few months later, with the move complete, you find out your frame line won't be going in for almost another year.

Ryan Buckley, manager of network services for industrial automation software manufacturer Intellution of Foxborough, Mass., doesn't have to imagine this nightmare scenario -- he's living it, thanks to a shortage of fiber routes between some Verizon central offices in Massachusetts.

And he's not alone. At least one other business in the Boston area is experiencing a months-long wait for frame relay provisioning, and an AT&T spokesman says several AT&T Massachusetts customers have had trouble getting timely service from Verizon.

The problem, according to Verizon, which provisions frame relay circuits in Massachusetts, is a fiber shortage -- specifically intercentral office fiber routes. Although John Johnson, a Verizon spokesman, says the provider does capacity planning to try to prevent lengthy provisioning delays, in at least two cases the company has been caught off-guard. Johnson adds that while the two cases are anomalies, other companies could experience similar delays.

Buckley's nightmare began earlier this year when Intellution decided to move its headquarters from Newton, Mass., to Foxborough. Buckley prepared for the move well in advance. In May he called WorldCom, which handles the frame relay network for Intellution's headquarters and its sales offices in Europe and Asia, and told his sales representative to order a frame relay circuit for the Foxborough building for August.

Buckley says his sales representative waited until the beginning of the summer to place the order with the local frame relay provider, Verizon, because there was so much lead time. While WorldCom manages the frame relay network, it must deal with local providers in locations where it has no last-mile connections itself.

In Massachusetts, the last-mile provider is Verizon.

Then, after the Verizon strike in the summer, Buckley called WorldCom again to delay the frame relay provisioning because Intellution had decided to push its move back 30 days as a result of the strike.

Buckley says he was given an installation date of Sept. 15. This was later set back to Oct. 12. Then on Oct. 7, when he hadn't heard from Verizon about arrangements for the installation, Buckley called WorldCom and was told he would not be able to get a frame relay line until July 2001.

Buckley feels the extended waiting period is unacceptable.

"We feel we've been wronged by Verizon," he says. "To have someone in that section of the industry, which is basically still a monopoly, do something like this -- it's a real shame."

With no frame relay connection back to corporate headquarters, Intellution's overseas offices are suffering. Buckley is now looking at setting up an Internet VPN in the interim, which will require costly Internet bandwidth upgrades, he says.

"These people can't do their jobs because they can't see customer information and case histories," Buckley says. Customer profiles are stored in Foxborough and Intellution needs to have private connections between headquarters and the global branch offices, so all employees can access customer information.

UniFirst's troubles

Doug Hogue, telecommunications project manager for UniFirst, a Wilmington, Mass., uniform supplier, tells a similar story.

UniFirst has more than 130 locations throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe, connected by a frame relay network run by AT&T Global Network Services.

In June 2000, UniFirst signed a contract with AT&T to upgrade the network, which was reaching its capacity. The company was hoping to have the network running by the spring of 2001.

Problems first cropped up during the Verizon strike when UniFirst was told the additional T-1s scheduled to run into Wilmington would be delayed from mid-September until October.

Then on Oct. 11, during a conference call with AT&T, Hogue was told there would be problems getting fiber into Wilmington. AT&T told him that because of Verizon capacity issues, the installation would be delayed until April 2001.

Desperate for a solution, Hogue called Verizon to see if he could order the circuits directly from the service provider. Hogue says he was quoted a higher price than what AT&T was charging and was told Verizon could not commit to an installation date until he signed the contract. Hogue decided not to sign with Verizon.

UniFirst's network is now beginning to experience performance problems, and Hogue is scrambling to minimize the amount of traffic on the network.

Like Buckley, Hogue is not happy with Verizon.

"They're going in front of the state of [Massachusetts] for long-distance approval, and they can't even serve their data customers," he says. "What will adding long-distance do to their capacity?"

According to Verizon's Johnson, capacity wouldn't be impacted because Verizon is already carrying long-distance traffic across its network. The only difference between Verizon having the long-distance approval would be that the traffic could then run into a Verizon point of presence, rather than into the POP of another carrier, he explains.

Johnson attributes Intellution's and UniFirst's problems to a lack of fiber. To connect a site to frame relay, Verizon usually must establish a connection between the site's local central office and the nearest Verizon central office with a frame relay switch. In the cases of UniFirst and Intellution, there's no available fiber to establish the intercentral office connections, Johnson says. Verizon can typically provision a frame relay circuit in 15 days, he adds.

Verizon will be unable to obtain additional fiber until next year, he says.

As for the confusion over the installation dates, Johnson says the original dates would have come from a sales representative reading numbers off a spreadsheet. Verizon would not have known there was a problem until it went to establish the intercentral office connections, he says.

Johnson says the cause of the capacity shortage is demand.

"There is tremendous demand for everything that's high-capacity these days," he explains. "And then there's dial-up, DSL. There's more data traffic than the voice lines were designed for."

Johnson says the Intellution and UniFirst cases are the only problems he knows about.

But AT&T spokesman Gary Morgenstern says AT&T sales representatives in the Massachusetts area have had trouble provisioning other customers because of Verizon delays. He declined to name specific customers.

This story, "Frame relay delays create nightmare for two Mass. firms" was originally published by Network World.

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