Level 3 serves up wireless-based managed backup service, targets retail to start

Wednesday, Oct 21, 2015

Level 3 has introduced a new wireless-based backup service, enabling retail and other security-centric verticals the option to bypass traditional landline-based DSL services to maintain uptime.

Using a mix of cellular and security technologies, Level 3's Secure Access Cellular Service will provide two benefits: redundancy for business continuity capabilities, and enabling enterprise customers to take advantage of on-demand economy opportunities like rapid network connectivity deployment for site expansions and pop-up stores for retailers.

As a cellular carrier-agnostic solution, Level 3 manages the connection with a number of the major wireless providers such as AT&T Verizon Sprint and T-Mobile.

"It is network agnostic, but the general idea is that a lot of retail locations and locations that are forced to be connected to their primary network through a DSL connection or a MPLS connection that has to stay on no matter what," said Chris Richter, senior VP of global security services for Level 3 Communications, in an interview with FierceTelecom. "If retail sales are impacted, their business is impacted so this is a product that can keep them online as a backup offering."  

At the customer premises, Level 3 will install a security appliance with a 3G/4G LTE card in it.

In the event that a customer's network is disrupted by a power outage or an environmental issue like a storm, the solution can automatically switch from a dedicated Level 3 MPLS/IP Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection to cellular backup connectivity through a 4G LTE network. Instead of a traditional wireline T1 or DSL connection, the Secure Access Site product tunnel (IPsec) runs over a cellular 3G or 4G network.

Richter said traffic on the device is encrypted with a built-in firewall that can protect "the box from connecting to an evil twin cellular tower and you can use IPSec and SSL for end-to-end connections to ensure the security."

As a managed service, Level 3 will monitor and manage the device and conduct a site survey to determine the best wireless operator to serve a specific location.

"Verizon may be strong in one place and AT&T Wireless may be stronger in another and others can be a backup," Richter said.

Already, the service is gaining momentum with its customer base. It has installed the service for a retailer serving 7,000 locations in the United States.  

Retail locations are just one element where Level 3's service could be useful. The provider has also gotten requests from hospitals and construction companies that need temporary access, or for unmanaged sites like vending machines.

"Cellular is becoming more reliable so we're seeing some customers use this as their primary network connection," Richter said. "We're starting to see that pop up in temporary sites where it may take a few years to complete building a building, but they need to stay connected"

Additionally, Richter said it is seeing the service applying to "vending machines or situations where humans have to interact with machines where they have to drive up to them, where there's no need to keep the machine online 24x7."

The service is part of a series of managed security services, which includes the network-based DDoS Mitigation product Level 3 launched in February 2015.

Initially available in North America, Level 3 Secure Access Cellular will be extended to Europe beginning in winter 2015 and in Latin America next spring.

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