Global Telephony / December 1997
By Larry Luxner
With $21 billion in annual revenues, 7.5 billion barrels of reserves and over 46,000 employees, Brazil's state-owned Petróleo Brasileiro (Petrobrás) is the world's 15th largest oil and gas conglomerate, and the third-largest company of any kind in Latin America.
Yet even big corporations like to save money. In the case of Petrobrás -- whose drilling operations range from remote Amazon jungles to oil rigs in the Atlantic Ocean -- executives found they were spending a fortune traveling from one place to another when they could share information electronically and much more cheaply.
Enter General DataComm Inc. In early October, Petrobrás awarded the Connecticut-based company a $3.8 million contract to build one of the largest wide-area Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) networks ever implemented in South America.
The network consists of 27 APEX-NPX switches in 26 sites including Petrobrás headquarters in Rio de Janeiro as well as São Paulo, São Jose dos Campos, Salvador, Belem, Natal, Mossoro and various offshore sites. The network is being installed by São Paulo-based Comunicações Processamento e Mecanismos de Automação Ltda., and should be fully operational by the end of 1999.
"With the installation of this ATM infrastructure, Petrobrás will have a unique platform enabling highly robust traffic capacity, with peak quality of service and performance," says Washington Pimenta of Serinf, the oil company's information technology resources branch. "This network will support new applications, including multimedia, while providing benefits such as single-point management administration and effective provisioning of telecom services for the whole company."
Allan de Souza, GDC's country manager in Brazil, says the Petrobrás application will initially be used for voice (structured circuit emulation), channelized frame relay (data) and connection of TDM nodes; video will be incorporated into the network later. He says that by putting all three applications on one fiberoptic backbone, the Brazilian oil giant will slash costs while boosting productivity.
There are other benefits as well.
"Sometimes people stay on an offshore rig for a month at a time," de Souza said in a phone interview from São Paulo. "Using video makes their life easier. You can have distant learning, monitoring and supervision, and even medical applications."
Roger Krall, GDC's director for international ATM marketing, notes that his company's Voice Service Module is "the first available product in the industry" that supports the new AAL2 bit-rate standard.
"Prior to September 1997, voice traffic was only handled in ATM networks via circuit emulation, which means the bandwidth was assigned permanently to the connected device (PBX, time-division multiplexers, etc.) and you couldn't use that for other applications. So if you had a T-1 or E-1 circuit connected to your other switches, that full T-1 bandwidth couldn't be used by other applications," he said.
However, in September the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union approved a new standard for voice over ATM known as ATM Adaptation Layer 2 (AAL2).
"With the approval of the new AAL2 standard, voice can now be handled much more efficiently across ATM networks, because AAL2 is a variable bit-rate class of service," Krall explained. "When two devices are transmitting voice across the ATM network, with the AAL2 standard, the ATM network can now take advantage of the statistical characteristics of voice traffic and use the bandwidth with much greater efficiency."
Krall says this is one of the reasons Petrobrás -- which also considered Northern Telecom equipment -- decided to go with GDC.
"The fact we had a standards-based solution was a key factor," he told Global Telephony. "When ATM was first implemented by service providers, the first requirement was to provide an alternative to the existing private-line services that were available. For example, carriers were provisioning T-1 and E-1 services. To make ATM viable, they had to be able to support those services and migrate customers. ATM is attractive because of its ability to support multiple applications across a common backbone."
Krall adds that "Petrobrás has installations in many remote areas of Brazil, and videoconferencing will be used extensively. This new network will allow them to improve communications tremendously and cut down on travel."
To date, GDC -- with around $200 million in annual revenues -- has installed over 1,900 ATM switches in 30 countries including Argentina (Telecom), Colombia (Empresas Públicas de Medellín) and Mexico (Impsat).
Besides the Petrobrás project, GDC's Brazilian contracts include TDM networks for Telemig (the state phone monopoly of Minas Gerais) and Telebahia (the phone monopoly of Bahia). It has also built an ATM network for a 10-building government complex in Curitiba, the capital of Paraná state, and -- along with Ericsson -- is now bidding on a $40 million contract to develop a national ATM backbone for Brazilian long-distance monopoly Embratel.