Colgate-Palmolive Goes Wireless for Backup

Fearful of seemingly-constant cable cuts and other service interruptions, Colgate-Palmolive Corp. has gone to the air to back up its existing T1 line, which links it to MCI WorldCom's nationwide network.

The consumer goods manufacturer opted to buy a second 1.544M bit/sec. T1 provided by network operator WinStar Communications Inc. in New York. The new line will enable Palmolive to complete voice calls and eventually data transmission in emergency situations.

"It's an excellent safeguard because you never know when a fiber is going to be cut or a manhole is going to blow up," said John Rosado, communications manager at New York-based Palmolive.

Permission Denied

The company considered having a cable company or bypass carrier provide a backup link but couldn't gain permission to build a second entry into its building, Rosado said.

Instead, Palmolive decided to contract with WinStar, which installed a dish on the roof of the company's building and linked it to the user's private branch exchange.

Although neither Colgate-Palmolive nor WinStar would discuss the agreement's pricing details, providers in the emerging high-speed wireless market typically price their service 25 percent to 30 percent below the price of local carrier-provided lines that are in the ground and have access to a second building entry point, said Eric Rasmussen, an analyst at TeleChoice Inc., a Boston consultancy.

Colgate-Palmolive is among the very first users to turn to a high-speed wireless carrier, Rasmussen said, adding that the market is dominated by WinStar and Teligent Inc., which is based in Seattle.

A backup cable link could cost as much as a couple of hundred thousand dollars if a second entry had to be built and the local carrier had to install new cable.

"You're paying the local carrier to dig up the streets and lay the cable along with manpower costs," said TeleChoice's Christine Heckart. "And in the best case, all this takes at least several months."

Wireless links do have drawbacks, though. For one thing, users who want wireless systems need to get approval to install microwave dishes on the roofs of their buildings. Moreover, they must have a direct line-of-sight to the wireless provider and they may experience temporary service degradation during heavy rain. However, Rasmussen noted, getting approval to put a microwave dish on the roof "is easier and faster than digging up streets."

If Colgate-Palmolive's local T1 line is knocked out, traffic is rerouted over the WinStar microwave link to its network, which carries the calls over fiber and finally over microwave to their destination.

In addition, if work has to be done on the MCI T1, Colgate-Palmolive can use the WinStar link in the interim. If Colgate-Palmolive generates more traffic than the MCI line can handle, overflow traffic can be carried over the WinStar connection, Rosado said.

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