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Bross: More to Come on 21CN

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News Analysis
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BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) announced its key 21CN vendor partners today, and there was plenty of celebration and heartache (see BT Unveils 21CN Suppliers and Marconi in Turmoil). But does that mean it's over?

Not necessarily, says the carrier's CTO, Matt Bross. In an interview with Light Reading, Bross pointed out that it's an immense project that will take many years and that there may still be opportunities for suppliers to bid for business in the £10 billion ($19 billion) project.

Bross says the new access network infrastructure will be built out in geographic stages that the carrier hasn't made public yet, "and the migration of customers onto the new network will begin in 2006."

While that's happening, Bross says there are "other areas in which we will need to issue tenders, but I can't give a timeframe for those now. The companies we have announced today are supplying the infrastructure that will support many other systems and services," such as those that will enable video services, for example. Bross says video and IPTV systems weren't included in the initial tenders.

Bross says there "are network elements that have not been addressed in the procurement process." That process resulted in eight vendors being named as BT's strategic suppliers this morning.

It's clear, though, that the eight vendors named today are the main suppliers for the 21CN project, and that list isn't set to get bigger. That means there's no room for Marconi Corp. plc (Nasdaq: MRCIY; London: MONI), historically a key supplier to BT, to become a primary infrastructure provider in the future (see Marconi in Turmoil).

So, why did Marconi lose out? What did it do wrong? Bross says each winning vendor had to fulfill three criteria: technical, operational (support and business), and commercial. "The successful companies provided all we needed. It would simplify things too much to say that Marconi didn't make it because of one particular area. I'll leave Marconi to comment on how they could have done things differently," says Bross.

He adds, though, that Marconi is "still a major supplier to BT, and at any one time there are 1,000 people from both sides working together on our network. I expect Marconi will bid for some of the contracts we still have to put out to tender," say the CTO.

Bross says it's time to start the next stage in the telecom Goliath's plans to move off the PSTN by 2010, a timetable some have questioned (see BT's 21CN Meets Its Skeptics). Bross says BT has been laying the groundwork for its single IP network with the required support infrastructure, such as power supplies, heating, and ventilation at its key network points of presence, and now it's ready to move to the next stage with its hardware partners.

"We have a team that's ready to move into execution mode, and today's announcement is important for them. The foundation work has been done across the U.K., and now we'll start working on the 100 metro nodes."

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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