Q&A: Comcast Business' Lewis cites network transport, access network as key elements of its SD-WAN

Jeff Lewis/Comcast
Comcast Business recently launched its SD-WAN service on its Ethernet Network Services in order to create a Layer 2 network. (Comcast Business)

When it came to deploying an SD-WAN service, Comcast Business took the road less traveled compared to some of its competitors' offerings.

Comcast Business' SD-WAN service, which launched last year, is a fully hosted over-the-top solution that is paired with Comcast's DOCSIS 3.1-based gigabit service. In addition to pairing SD-WAN with DOCSIS 3.1, Comcast Business is able to tap into Comcast's extensive national backbone network to reach its customers. And unlike telcos, Comcast Business didn't have to worry that its SD-WAN service would eat into MPLS revenues because it didn't offer MPLS connections.

In this Q&A, which was edited for clarity and length, Comcast Business'  Jeff Lewis, vice president of connectivity services, talks about his company's choice for using Versa Networks as its SD-WAN vendor, the possibility of offering SD-WAN outside of its footprint, and the reason that Comcast Business went with an over-the-top implementation for SD-WAN.

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FierceTelecom: Thanks to its Level 3 deal, CenturyLink recently announced it had rolled out its SD-WAN service to more than 36 countries across the globe. Does Comcast Business have any plans to offer its SD-WAN service outside of its footprint?

Jeff Lewis: We think about that a lot, but we are not entertaining anything along those lines right now. We've got enough to execute in the United States to get distracted by that. If you let your mind wander about what an OTT implementation means, it's an interesting platform that can allow you to extend to wherever you want to go. However, we're fully concentrated on executing really well in the lower 48.

FierceTelecom: When it comes to being an over-the-top offering, what was thinking behind making the SD-WAN separate from the rest of the network?

Lewis: We believe it is substantially more beneficial to the customers if they ride our SD-WAN product across our transport when and whenever possible. We think we've got a better transport backbone than everybody else.

Having said that, it is ripped apart and separate for two reasons. One, over-the-top allows us to go anywhere in the United States. If we had tied it into the underlay network, it would have been almost impossible to go outside of our footprint, or outside of our footprint easily. So that's the one thing.

The second thing was, technically speaking, we built it over-the-top because if we ever found the need or wanted to look at another SD-WAN provider, you just bring that other provider in and they'll come right over the top as well. It's a seamless evolution, and it's our architecture.

FierceTelecom: Are you looking at working with another SD-WAN vendor aside of Versa Networks?

Lewis: When we did our analysis originally for SD-WAN, we talked to all of the players. At that time, we felt that there were only two providers that could even remotely scale in a carrier-class environment. We chose what we thought and felt was the preeminent provider. We still feel that way today. That doesn't mean that if something went sideways, or if there was some other reason, that we couldn't look at another provider, but we have no reason to do that right now.

FierceTelecom: Where is Comcast Business in terms of delivering edge services?

Lewis: What I'll tell you is that hands down—from an access network point of view between our fiber assets and our HFC-based assets—nobody can come near us in terms of our reach. Yeah, there are lots of people who can deliver fiber, but they can't deliver it across the footprint or the network that we can. So we feel really good about that.

What we have done is very recently we launched SD-WAN over what we call ENS, Ethernet Network Services, which means we can build a Layer 2 network. We can overlay SD-WAN on top of that Layer 2 network. It's for the customers who think they need to maintain some type of a network that might look like MPLS at the Layer 2 perspective. But with ENS, we can give substantially more capacity at a much more affordable rate than anything that you can come close to on MPLS.

Whether it's a fiber-fed solution like ENS or our broadband assets, those are distributed. That's just how we route across our network. We are exceedingly bullish in terms of the way that our internet network is built.