BT wants its 21CN vendors to support its Provider Backbone Transport strategy for Ethernet – a move that would boost margins, says BT

April 13, 2007

3 Min Read
BT Pressures Vendors Over PBT

BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) wants its key 21CN vendor partners to support PBT (Provider Backbone Transport), the controversial Ethernet technology it's deploying in its next-generation network, and is prepared to offer its most reluctant suppliers a better financial deal to do so. (See PBT: New Kid on the Metro Block and PBT Gathers Support.)

That's one of the messages that came from a 21CN briefing this week when senior BT executives gave an update on its NGN progress. (See BT Aims to Finish 21CN in Late 2011.)

"We have a contractual requirement for our suppliers to support [PBT]," Matt Beal, 21CN's program director and the CTO of BT Wholesale, told journalists at a briefing in London.

And there's a view among some 21CN suppliers that supporting PBT is a no-brainer. Tom Mock, senior VP of strategic planning at 21CN optical transport equipment supplier Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), put it nicely when he met Light Reading in London this week. When asked if PBT is on Ciena's technology roadmap, he said: "Absolutely! It has to be if you're a BT supplier."

BT's position is likely to be causing some soul-searching amongst the three 21CN vendors that are supplying multiservice platforms for BT's metro nodes, the regional centers of the carrier's NGN. Two of those vendors, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), have already made it clear they're not too keen on PBT. The third, Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), has yet to state its position on PBT, and had not responded to requests for a PBT positioning statement as this article was published.

Why are they not so keen? Because PBT, rightly or wrongly, is being pitched against an alternative technology from the MPLS world, called Transport MPLS, or T-MPLS. And all three 21CN metro vendors are major MPLS supporters.

In September 2006 at the Carrier Ethernet World Congress in Madrid, just when BT was making it clear PBT was going to be part of its 21CN strategy, Alcatel took the opportunity in a keynote address to pitch the benefits of T-MPLS as the best technology to support managed Ethernet transport. (See BT Rethinks 21CN Core Strategy.)

Cisco, meanwhile, says it's technology agnostic, yet has developed a marketing pitch that highlights multiple scenarios where PBT cannot be used, and claims that carriers aren't interested in the technology. (See Huawei Joins PBT Fan Club.)

But none of PBT's supporters are claiming the approach is the answer to a multitude of Ethernet service challenges that carriers face: "It only solves a small domain. It's not a silver bullet," says Matt Beal, 21CN's program director and the CTO of BT Wholesale.

That small domain is enough, though, for BT to have already awarded deals to Nortel Networks Ltd. and Nokia Networks (formerly Siemens Communications) to supply PBT equipment for 21CN, even though the technology is only at the beginning of the standards process. (See Nortel, Siemens Win PBT Deals at BT and Nortel on PBT: Today BT, Tomorrow the World!)

But Beal is confident he can get the metro node vendors to support BT's needs. When asked about the current position of the 21CN metro node equipment suppliers and their support for PBT, Beal noted that it "would be better if they do, though there are ways around the situation if they don't." But if they do support PBT, "it would give them a better profit margin -- that's the sort of conversation we're having with them at the moment," added the BT man.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to Ethernet Expo: Europe 2007, a conference and exhibition that will explore major carrier Ethernet networking and service trends. To be staged in London, on May 2 & 3, admission is free for attendees meeting our prequalification criteria. For more information, or to register, click here.

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