Via Rail Canada moves to MPLS network

Via Rail Canada is putting the finishing touches on a project to migrate its legacy voice and data infrastructure to a multi-protocol label switching environment.

The company is 98 per cent through the transition, with only a few local lines that need to be transferred, according to an executive with Allstream. The division of MTS announced its three-year agreement with Via Rail on Wednesday.

Multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) adds a special label to an IP packet that allows users to keep all IP packets from the same voice or data session associated with each other. Until this year, Via Rail had been using a bridged local area network which was going into an ATM backbone.

“MPLS means we may be able to make change to a more sophisticated network (sometime in the future) more easily,” said Michael Gaudreau, Via Rail’s manager of technical support.

Via Rail had been working primarily with Bell Canada as its telecommunications partner, but as a Crown corporation the company had an obligation to tender a bid to the market once its contract expired, Gaudreau said. Allstream won the business based on its ability to reduce the costs of the transport firm’s network services, and because it is a smaller company with whom it could more easily collaborate, he added.

“You can’t really say it was because they had better technology than another guy, because in the telecom field all the same technology is available,” he said. “There is a difference definitely in cost.” Gaudreau said the cost savings would be in the “seven figure” range.

Allstream vice-president of solutions Howard Bowles said Via Rail worked with Allstream for two months to get a better sense of how the company operated. Allstream won the initial bid last October, but the installation of the MPLS network began around mid-April.

“They went through many, many cuts over the years. Their technology group sums up two or three people,” he said. “They have to rely on their provider to make sure they have the quality of resources to deliver.”

The deal with Allstream includes voice and data services such as long distance, toll-free, local services, data capabilities and primary Internet access. The services are being deployed in Via Rail’s principal train stations, two call centres and administrative offices across the country. Via Rail formed a project team with Allstream to ensure the project didn’t affect the company’s existing services during peak hours. 

“We would do a site at a time. When it came to a major site like Toronto or Vancouver it was all done in coordinated fashion, often after business hours,” he said, adding it was important to maintain a good relationship with Bell. “You have to be respectful of your legacy supplier, because you’re still going to need them through the transition.”

Allstream, which changed its name from AT&T Canada following a restructuring plan in 2003, was acquired by Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS) for $1.7 billion last year. The firm has since become MTS’s national arm, serving large enterprise customers in an attempt to compete with incumbents such as Bell and Telus.

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