Miami – Latin American Net access point to be ready in June

A network access point (NAP) designed to improve Internet traffic between the United States and Latin America will become operational in June in Miami through a project supported by a consortium of more than 100 telecommunications companies including AT&T Corp., Sprint Corp., Global Crossing Ltd., SBC Communications Inc. and Cable & Wireless PLC.

The NAP, known as the NAP of the Americas, will be a high-speed Internet hub where traffic from many access providers can converge and be routed more quickly and efficiently than it is now between the United States and Latin America, according to its supporters.

Specifically, traffic will flow more coherently and directly between the United States and Latin America by having this major switching station devoted specifically to United States/Latin America Internet traffic. This will help address the problem of having this type of traffic hopping unnecessarily to routing points elsewhere in the United States that are more congested and farther away geographically, supporters say.

“The NAP of the Americas meets the needs of a unique community of interests, the Latin America market, without which the Latin American based ISPs (Internet service providers) are forced to route traffic through interconnection points which are not optimized for the Latin American environment,” said Sandra B. Gonzalez-Levy, Terremark WorldWide Inc. senior vice-president of corporate communications, in an e-mail response to questions. Terremark owns and will operate the NAP of the Americas.

This NAP and other similar initiatives are needed because Internet usage and electronic commerce continue to grow at a rapid pace in Latin America, a region that is a major U.S. trading partner.

Miami in particular is a logical location for this type of NAP because of its close social and commercial ties to the region, analysts say. Specifically, South Florida, which includes Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, is a landing site for many of the undersea telecommunications rings being built currently to connect Latin America to the U.S.

“This is a huge initiative, very visionary,” said Grant Smith, an analyst with the Yankee Group Inc.’s Latin America research team in Miami. “The key question is the rate (at) which companies will use the facility being built.”

Terremark is betting that the NAP will be used a lot. It bases its forecast partly on the steady growth in membership experienced by the NAP of the Americas Consortium LLC, the entity overseeing construction of the NAP.

Terremark officials also point to the expected explosion in telecommunications traffic between the United States and Latin America thanks to the several ongoing undersea network projects, which are expected to increase enormously the bandwidth available between the two regions in the coming years. For example, a July 2000 Yankee Group study states that carrier demand in Latin America for undersea cable capacity will top 110G bps (bits per second) by the end of 2001 and increase to at least 1.4T bps in 2006, a compound annual growth rate of about 68 percent.

The existence of the NAP of the Americas and similar access points will not only help with the handling of this growing traffic, but also help deal with additional traffic by improving its flow, according to Terremark.

For example, the Miami NAP makes it more feasible for Latin American companies to obtain services, such as data storage and application hosting, via the Internet from U.S.-based providers, supporters say. One company that hopes to benefit from the improved connectivity the NAP of the Americas should provide is Storage Access Inc., said its President and CEO Jonathan Castleman at a panel discussion held last week by the Miami Internet Alliance about the Miami NAP. The NAP will allow Boca Raton, Florida-based Storage Access to offer its storage services to companies in Latin America, Castleman said. “It lets (companies in) Latin America countries access our infrastructure,” he said.

Although within the United States the Internet bandwidth available is quite large, “overseas … the amount of bandwidth is miniscule” particularly in Latin America, said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst with Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. This needs to change, especially now that political leaders in the Americas seem convinced about doing away with trade barriers, and projects such as the NAP of the Americas will help bring about this change, he said.

NAPs can be compared to airports, in the sense that in a NAP, the role of airplanes is played by carriers and the role of passengers is played by packets of data, said Brian Goodkind, Terremark’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, during last week’s panel discussion. The NAP of the Americas will serve as a hub for routing Internet traffic and exchanging data, much as having an international airport in Miami simplifies the flow of passengers between the United States and Latin America, he said.

Still, the NAP of the Americas shouldn’t be seen as the ultimate solution to the problem of routing Internet traffic to, from and within Latin America, observers say, but rather as a foundation upon which regional initiatives can be built.

Those regional initiatives would include NAPs in specific countries, such as M