BT Aims to Finish 21CN in Late 2011

BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) is on course to complete its 21CN next-generation network (NGN) migration process in the final few weeks of 2011, according to a presentation given by BT executives at a media briefing in London this morning.

That's a full year on from the initial deadline given when BT began the £10 billion (US$19.8 billion) 21CN process in earnest in the summer of 2004. And it's important because of the impact that could have on the business case that underpins the transition process. (See BT Moves Ahead With Mega Project.)

It's also a matter of great interest to other carriers, which are watching BT closely to see how it handles the process of gradually switching off 16 legacy networks and migrating, eventually, to a single IP-based network infrastructure. BT is the first Tier 1 telco to embark on a program that involves switching off its standing voice and data network infrastructure.

Matt Beal, 21CN's program director and the CTO of BT Wholesale, and Neil Rogers, managing director of the 21CN program, provided a progress update and a timeline chart for the various rollout stages of the new network. That showed the "National Migration" process, which involves transferring all of BT's voice, broadband, and ISDN connections in the U.K. to the new, all-IP network that's currently under construction, ending in the closing stages of BT's 2011/12 financial year, which closes at the end of March 2012.

A 21CN spokesman says the carrier expects to complete the process in December 2011, so meeting a timetable "that has existed for a year -- it hasn't just slipped in the past few weeks."

Whenever the new deadline was set, it differs from the original timetable that, it was often mentioned, was critical to the business case upon which BT has based the NGN transition project. By migrating to its NGN, a process that was originally due to be completed by the end of 2010, BT hopes to save £1 billion ($1.98 billion) per year in operating costs by having just one network to run.

The carrier says it will also benefit from being able to create and activate new services more efficiently and much more quickly, and cut down the time between service being ordered and the resulting revenues being banked.

Beal says the overall business case underpinning the 21CN program is largely unchanged. "There has been a modest impact on the business case," he states. "The main escalator [of costs] is how much time you spend with old and new networks running at the same time. The biggest threat to the business case is the amount of crossover time," and having networks operational but idle, he notes, adding that the plans in terms of concurrent legacy and 21CN network uptime haven't changed.

New service creation capabilities
As for being able to add new services and applications more quickly and more easily, Rogers says BT is already using common applications components, such as authentication and Applications Driven Quality of Service (ADQ), a traffic and bandwidth management tool that BT has developed in conjunction with a number of unnamed vendor partners.

Such vendor cooperation and internal input was needed, says Beal, because "there is no session-based bandwidth management tool [available commercially] that scales at the moment." Beal says the carrier's IPTV service, BT Vision, is using ADQ to deliver video services.

Rogers says being able to build services using such reusable components will cut the development and delivery time of new services to "one third of what they are now." So a service that takes 12 months from inception to launch currently should take only four months once enough reusable items have been developed and the service creation and delivery capabilities are in place. That should be "in a few years," he says.

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mrblobby 12/5/2012 | 3:10:29 PM
re: BT Aims to Finish 21CN in Late 2011 21CN (or at least the PSTN replacement part of it) was never about the business case; it is about BT's survival.

After many years of non-decision (the last instalment of which was called Project Mauritius) BT was finally forced to take action by Ericsson's threats to withdraw support for the AXE10. Up to that point BT knew they would have to act to replace the PSTN at some point, but they could still choose when to do it.

When they lost that choice they went for a project whose aim was to replicate the PSTN as precisely as possible, but using technology that didn't yet exist. If I were a BT shareholder, I'd have been more than dismayed.

They then continued their string of errors by selecting way too many vendors, (over) confident that they could also act as the system integrator. They didn't stop tinkering with the network design, so that the OSS development folks couldn't get on with their (immensely challenging and huge) job until late in the game.

Moreover, the project was very much a Wholesale initiative, which was seen by Retail as a waste of time and money (i.e. replicate an existing and declining capability using new and risky technology).

21CN really is a shining example of how not to transform a network. I pity the 21CN Global Venture customers...
Mark Sebastyn 12/5/2012 | 3:10:28 PM
re: BT Aims to Finish 21CN in Late 2011 There is a very good article that outlines the competitive advantages of 21CN...


I took a long look at it and liked what I saw. It's interesting to see what results when a carrier embraces the dumb pipes model.

OSXman 12/5/2012 | 3:10:28 PM
re: BT Aims to Finish 21CN in Late 2011 Well, for sure it's a lot easier to sit in the peanut gallery than actually trying to transform a 30 million line network.
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