|Latin America 2007
|Telecom in Panama
|José R. Quintero
|Technology Executive Director
|Cable & Wireless Panama, CWP
JosÈ R. Quintero holds the position of Technology Executive Director in Cable & Wireless Panama, CWP. During his years at Cable & Wireless Panama he has been in charge of Network Planning, Products & Services Engineering, Network Services and Fixed Network Development. He is also a member of the Cable & Wireless International Technology Council. Prior to Cable & Wireless Panama, Mr Quintero worked for almost ten years at the Panama Canal Authority under both US and later Panamanian Administration, occupying different engineering and managerial positions in Security, Telecommunications and Information Technology. JosÈ Quintero holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics Engineering and an MBA from the Santa Maria la Antigua University in Panama City, Panama.
Panama has a long history as a crossroads of land traffic and, since the Panama canal, of sea traffic between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Today, continuing the tradition, it is becoming a crossroads of the global information society by providing the shortest path between the fibre networks that lace the Atlantic and Pacific. Panama, more than a mere transit node, is developing ICT capabilities to capitalize on its strategic location and compete globally in the international services market.
Panama has, historically, been a centre for international intermediation services, especially for the banking, financial, commercial and transportation sector. The main focus of information and communications technology was to satisfy local demand. However, since 2001 telecommunications services have evolved to not only provide a wider range of services for local markets, but to capitalize on the potential of Panamaís strategic location and compete globally for international services. Technology is an enabler that accelerates human processes and interactions, and ëeliminates distanceí so these processes and interactions can happen. Telecommunications began as a means for voice communication. Information technology began as a way to store data, automate manual processes and to gather information faster. Currently, any type of information can be coded in digital format (text, voice, audio, images, videos). Telecommunications now allows data packet transport via broadband communications, without regard for the physical location of the entities involved, be they persons, computers, CCTV video cameras, SCADA, supervisory control and data acquisition, and telemetry instrumentation. This reality is now a key factor in the development and economic growth of countries. Panama has evolved and continues evolving in this direction. The telephone networks are 100 per cent digital nationwide, public telephony, using VSAT satellite technology, is available even in the most isolated and remote areas. Broadband Internet and broadband data services are expanding in both coverage and access speed. Currently installed capacity provides more than 1.4 Gigabits per second of direct connectivity to four different ëtier 1í Internet providers. Panama was one of the first countries in Latin America to launch commercial Metro Ethernet services – ranging between 10 and 100 Megabits per second, which more than 500 customers now use. There are several international data centres providing collocation, hosting, and storage/backup services. A cable hub to provide transit and connectivity between and among the international fibre optic cables landing in Panama has been in full operation since 2001. Panama has become an important site for submarine cable restoration, and has restored main traffic routes affected by both natural disasters and service outages, including the damage caused by major storms during the Caribbean hurricane season. GSM mobile services, with international roaming for both voice and data, are available indoor and outdoor nationwide; there is now mobile coverage for approximately 92 per cent of the country. In almost any small town in Panamaís countryside private and public telephony, Internet access, data services and mobile service are all available. Locals and visitors have access to telephony and the Internet; they can find ATM machines for cash and pay with credit and debit cards. This has promoted real-estate expansion and the development of tourist projects has attracted international investors. Telecom and national development International companies select Panama to establish their regional service hubs, call centres and data restoration sites. The expansion of national and international telecommunications services, with telecommunications routing via both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, complements Panamaís extensive offering of transportation services. Telecommunications, the Panama Canal, Panamaís terminal ports in both oceans, its status as an air transportation hub for the Americas, as well as its financial and commercial services all serve to attract global companies, foster foreign investment and draw foreign residents to the country. The ability to communicate, and the wide availability of transportation services, has turned Panama into a virtual neighbour to every country in the Americas. It is also fair to say that Panamaís telecommunications expansion is closing the social gap. Because of telecommunications, more and more Panamanians can remain in their hometowns, find jobs and improve their standard of living, thereby reducing immigration to Panama City. The country is developing and people now live better lives in their hometowns. Technology is enabling social development, economic growth and is turning Panama into an international service hub, competing globally. Transit and opportunity Panama has traditionally, historically, been the crossroads of the new world. Spain built and used the Camino de Cruces, the Path of Crossings, during the 16th century. The Trans-Isthmian Railroad in the 19th century was a preferred route for people travelling between the East and West coasts of the United States during the Gold Rush. The United States built the Panama Canal in the early 19th century, primarily for strategic defence purposes and later as an economic route to transport goods, materials and commodities. By 2001, information had become a commodity that also needed to be transported in an expeditious and secure fashion. Panama is the only country in the Americas that allows passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans over only 50 miles of land. Today, the same advantages that made Panama the preferred route for goods in the past, now make a preferred routing for the fibre-optic cables that interconnect networks that serve the Atlantic and Pacific regions. Regional hub The cable built in 2001 connects three cable stations – two on the Atlantic shore and one on the Pacific – using ring topology. Currently the cable hub provides not only connectivity, but also important restoration services for submarine cable operators and consortiums. The national and Central American microwave radio backbones also connect to the cable hub to allow restoration of the neighbouring countryís systems. Panama not only provides great benefits for transit routes, but also as a point-of-presence, POP. Traditionally, telecommunications involved the exchange of information between two or more persons or between computer terminals and a mainframe. Today, telecommunications quite frequently involves connecting computer users with applications. As a result, the location of the hosting site is less and less important. What is important is that the location offers the security and bandwidth to provide a secure and functional interactive experience for web browsing, email, text-voice-video instant messaging, data file transfers, video streaming services and the like. Currently, IP inter-network traffic uses 80 per cent of the international capacity. Only 20 per cent, the remaining capacity, carries point-to-point circuit switched communications. Since Panama is located in the centre of the Americas, it is ideally situated to become a preferred hosting site for Internet and corporate applications, servers and data. Several international banks use Panama for the redundant data sites established in compliance with Basel II directives. A regional access hub for international data roaming services for GPRS general packet radio services, operates in Panama and provides data roaming services to Latin American and Caribbean GSM Mobile operators Managed services – raising the bar for global competition Global competition depends on accessibility to services and establishing trusted relationships with corporate customers. Telecom services have evolved from just the providing of data links and telephone lines; service providers are now the customerís service partner. This requires understanding of the applications and prioritizing traffic based upon the needs of the customers. Panama has been offering advanced IP-enabled data services since 2003. It started with metro Ethernet to meet the needs of banks and industrial users for WANs, wide area networks, and evolved with the implementation of IP/MPLS, multi-protocol label switching, network. IP/MPLS permits IP – VPN, IP virtual private networks, with prioritization of the traffic depending on the application to guarantee quality of service, QoS. Why prioritize traffic by type? Well, voice and video are sensitive to delays and corporate data is sensitive to loss, but the public Internet is just a best effort service. Quality of service requires enabling the customer to remotely monitor all the nodes connected to the virtual network, follow their traffic from source to destination and to verify the integrity of all transactions. This is especially relevant when the customer also co-locates or hosts applications and data at their telecom service providerís sites. Managed services that include WAN, bandwidth usage and serversí monitoring are now offered in Panama. The Network Operations Centers, NOC, normally used to monitor the network in a horizontal fashion, has now evolved to also provide Service Operations Center, SOC, to monitor the customers in a vertical and individual basis. The ability to provide reliable mobile and fixed-lines services, combined with trusted managed services for LAN-WAN and data hosting, over a resilient network defines the new relationship between telecom operators and corporate customers. Integrated services projects implemented with this approach include private and public remote video surveillance services, automated vehicle location, remote telemetry for the transport industry and electrical utilities and, recently, telemedicine for remote diagnostics in support of government health programme. It is also necessary to enable new, reliable and affordable services for the SMEs, small and medium enterprise. For this important sector, new symmetrical services using IP broadband access and virtual PBX, IP-Centrex, are being developed to give this important sector of our nationís economy the alternatives it needs. Satellite services The INTELSAT satellitesí transponders, formerly using for international long-distance calls and international private lines, now provide capacity for public telephony and prepaid public telephony and Internet service. The local administration in remote and isolated areas of the country uses this capacity as well, to support social, medical and educational programmes. Telecommunications technology is a proven stimulator of Panamaís economic and social development. However, evolving wireless technologies for both fixed and mobile operators, like 3G HSxPA, High Speed Downlink/Uplink Packet Access, and WiMAX, Worldwide Interoperability of Microwave Access, will also play an important role in the expansion of both commercial and social services.