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Ethernet equipment

BT Reconsiders PBT Plans

BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), to date the most committed supporter of Provider Backbone Transport (PBT), is having second thoughts about how widely deployed the controversial Ethernet technology might be in its 21CN next-generation network.

Only a year ago, BT was presenting 21CN network diagrams at the Ethernet Expo: Europe 2007 event that showed PBT as the dominant Layer 2 transport technology in its £10 billion (US$19.9 billion) 21CN. (See PBT Stars at Ethernet Expo .)

That presentation followed BT's announcement that it had awarded PBT equipment deals to Nortel Networks Ltd. and Siemens Communications, now Nokia Networks , and that it was looking for greater support for the technology from all its key infrastructure suppliers. (See Nortel, Siemens Win PBT Deals at BT, Nortel on PBT: Today BT, Tomorrow the World!, and BT Pressures Vendors Over PBT.)

BT subsequently sold a PBT-based mobile backhaul service to T-Mobile (UK) , announced it had deployed PBT-based Ethernet gear, and leaped to the technology's defense when the economics surrounding its deployment and operation were questioned. (See BT Sells PBT-Based Backhaul Service, BT Goes Live With PBT, and BT Counters PBT Claims.)

But a lot has changed at BT in the past year. The company reorganized itself, began an overhaul of its 21CN processes, and saw the departure of a number of key executives. (See BT Revamps, Creates New Units , Upheaval at BT's 21CN?, Green Leaves BT, Verwaayen Set to Leave BT, and Reynolds Leaving BT to Run TNZ.)

Now there's a new team making key network and technology decisions, and that's prompted a rethink about a number of issues, including the role of PBT in the 21CN, according to sources.

Those re-evaluations prompted BT to issue a new ITT (invitation to tender) for Ethernet technology about a month ago, which, according to industry sources, has a much greater emphasis on MPLS as the underlying network technology for the delivery of Ethernet services, and a decreased emphasis on PBT compared to previous ITTs.

BT says it can't comment on whether PBT's role in 21CN is being re-evaluated, or provide any further details on the new Ethernet technology tender at the moment, because that ITT and a number of others related to 21CN are still in progress. The carrier has also put a cap on how much information is being divulged to the media about technology decisions -- hence the reluctance of the carrier's director of IP and data platforms, Karl Penaluna, to discuss PBT at this week's Ethernet Expo: Europe event in London. (See BT Touts 21CN Progress, New Service.)

Our sources say the new ITT was prompted by the growing influence within BT of technology decision-makers who have Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) backgrounds, particularly those who joined BT when the carrier acquired global enterprise services specialist Infonet.

Those sources, who requested anonymity, also said there was a growing level of tension within BT between the pro-PBT camp, including BT CTO Matt Bross, and those who had doubts about the technology's capabilities, considering PBT is a pre-standards technology that is still in its infancy.

But there is no suggestion that BT is going to abandon PBT -- just that it might not play as widespread a role as envisaged, say, a year ago. The carrier is still convinced that, in certain situations, such as backhaul, PBT is likely to be the most cost-effective packet transport technology to use and one that provides the appropriate connection-oriented management capabilities.

The likely outcome, according to industry contacts with knowledge of BT's plans, is that PBT will be used for a specific number of services and applications, but that it likely won't dominate the carrier's packet transport plans as much as previously envisaged.

If that is the outcome, it would be disappointing news for Nortel, PBT's chief tub-thumper, and a relief for the trio of MPLS equipment vendors involved in 21CN -- Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) -- which, to varying degrees, have been campaigning against PBT for the past two years. (See AlcaLu's Alwan: PBT Will Lose Its Shine , AlcaLu: PBT Is Peripheral, and Vendors Clash Over PBT.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

abashford 12/5/2012 | 3:43:00 PM
re: BT Reconsiders PBT Plans "Why we still need PBT? we need PBT is because some vendor want to show off the technology. the senior management team want to show themself, how clever they are! "

douaibei, that is just inflammatory garbage.

PBB/PBB-TE was created because there are serious challenges scaling MPLS (originally an Enterprise technology) to the carrier environment, otherwise why was there an effort to create a T-MPLS standard that recent got sunk?

Yes, PBB/PBB-TE isn't as long in the tooth as MPLS, but there is a fundamental benefit to simply carrying IP over Ethernet instead of IP-over-Ethernet-over-IP-over-Ethernet (PWE over MPLS). Many carriers are asking for it after their MPLS networks ran into scaling challenges.

douaibei 12/5/2012 | 3:43:00 PM
re: BT Reconsiders PBT Plans BT has been a hugh research organization seeking the latest technology and aggressive plan did attract the spotlight from the world.

However the PBT still not mature and the standards pending to closure. Compare MPLS there is much work to do regarding the provisioning and management. and The PBT system can be very complicated if it want to achieve the claimed benefits: operation, provisioning. MPLS has been "quite mature" and there is evolving path to support more service and simplify the architecture.

Why we still need PBT? we need PBT is because some vendor want to show off the technology. the senior management team want to show themself, how clever they are!

We do need a technology to simplify the operation and prepare the coming challenge, but should we optimize the old MPLs technology and try to find a way out? or should we develop something else?

We will not have clear answer, but "Old technology" can probobaly fix the challenge of the future and its cost less.

We live in a world of making money with proper technology not best technology.

SolitonWave 12/5/2012 | 3:42:59 PM
re: BT Reconsiders PBT Plans Well, there is always a limit to what even the Marketing campaign can do for you. Nortel was very good on promoting PBT. Looking closer into the technical details it has been evident for quite some time that it does not offer any significant advantage over MPLS. At the end of the day PBT will have to prove in the field. Reality check.
litereading 12/5/2012 | 3:42:59 PM
re: BT Reconsiders PBT Plans "...but "Old technology" can probobaly (sp) fix the challenge of the future and its cost less."

Good point - like, why did we need IP when we had good o'l TDM. You would think this whole industry of telecom is all about technology. And we need to protect those MPLS vendor's margins, don't we?

Got to go, my neighbor needs to use the party line. Bye.
fiber_r_us 12/5/2012 | 3:42:45 PM
re: BT Reconsiders PBT Plans ... sound of crickets ...
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