Do the maths in Moscow

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The executive heading a major investment in OSS in Moscow's metropolitan gigabit ethernet carrier Comstar is a former professor of mathematics. Alan Burkitt-Gray interviews Vladimir Pelipenko on investment plans to upgrade systems in a highly competitive market

People come into the telecommunications business from a wide variety of careers. There are, of course, lots of bankers and lawyers, though possibly fewer now than during the dotcom boom. There are people who have run office products companies and supermarket chains. There are still many who started by installing phones in customers' premises or checking wiring along poles in the street.

And Vladimir Pelipenko, the chief information officer of Comstar in Moscow? He's a former professor of mathematics.

As Russia has changed over the past decade and a half, so has he. He has moved from the Moscow State University first to one of the incumbent telecoms operators and then, two years ago, to a senior position in a metro ethernet provider with 8,000 customers.

Moscow has a highly competitive market for telecoms, says Pelipenko. "There are a lot of alternative suppliers." Comstar has 2,000 kilometres of optical network around the city, providing services to large and medium businesses. The company also uses ADSL and VDSL services on MGTS, the city-owned telephone company, to connect to some customers, providing internet access and voice over IP.

"But most of our clients have their own optical connection to our network," says Pelipenko. "They include big hotels, banks and so on."

Comstar has connections to other Russian operators as well as international carriers such as BT and Cable & Wireless. In October the international voice-over-IP carrier ITXC announced a bilateral agreement, which gives Comstar access to 175 countries. Calls from customers in Moscow with IP phones or IP office switches will travel in IP format right the way through to the end."

David Lee, deputy general director of Comstar, commented at the time: "As an alternative carrier in the highly competitive telecommunications market in Russia, it is important for us to maintain the highest quality while keeping costs to a minimum and to focus on winning market share,"

The services Comstar provides include fixed digital telephony, internet access, and virtual private networks, adds Pelipenko. "We have a broad range of services and we are creating a new information system for the company."

Pelipenko is heading a major investment — he calls it "a serious upgrade of the system" — in OSS to improve Comstar's efficiency so that it can provide a new range of services, including gigabit metropolitan ethernet. "We felt that gigabit ethernet was needed for our market," says Pelipenko. "Our customers have branches and sites and need to build VPNs. That's why we decided to build our MPLS network."

Current capital expenditure is running at about $15 million a year, "and so we need new information systems". He is spending $2 million to $2.5 million a year on that. "It is our own investment," says Pelipenko. "We have our own funds."

As a result he's been out with a shopping list of OSS products. "We bought new mediation software, new billing systems, fault monitoring, and inventory management." Oh, and a new call centre and helpdesk.

Suppliers include Strom Telecom for the billing. On the hardware side, Riverstone is supplying routers for its ethernet VPN services. The inventory management system is coming from NetCracker: "a very interesting system, with good flexibility and good support in Moscow", says Pelipenko. Comstar needed to customize the solution and programmers in Moscow handled the task.

Pelipenko is a great supporter of the TeleManagement Forum's efforts to standardize OSS, so that software from different suppliers can be integrated. "NetCracker will be part of this integration," he says. "Integration is one of the most important parts of the project."

Comstar is having to integration old and new systems — though old in its sense means about 10 years. "We have Marconi System X switches and GPT/Marconi billing," says Pelipenko. "Of course we now need to upgrade the functionality." There are four System X switches, and a Siemens EWSD has been added more recently, with another due to be added. "We have several softswitches and Riverstone routers, and we expect to buy another softswitch from Siemens."

Integration has been a central concern for Pelipenko since joining Comstar. "I was recruited to this position because the company needed someone to organize these changes," he says.

The NetCracker system will allow Comstar "to manage all of its network assets and to automate the customer end-to-end service delivery process". The company will get up-to-date knowledge and access to its network infrastructure and new functions through an enterprise-wide repository of network data. GTB