Optical/IP Networks

BT Gets Testy Over Next-Gen Services

BT Exact Technologies, the R&D arm of U.K. incumbent operator BT Group plc (BT) (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA), has created what it believes is a unique test facility for its service creation teams (see BT Exact Creates Service Testbed).

The "Broadband Hotbed," as BT Exact calls it, allows anyone with access to the BT intranet to test a broadband service and simulate its impact on a live access network, without having to leave their desk. BT Exact broadband researcher Jonathan Clark believes BT is the only carrier to have such a service test capability at present.

Clark says the facility started as a pet project to save himself running up and down the stairs from his office to the test lab. "Once I got it working I realized it could be used by anyone on the intranet," says the researcher.

Clark has deployed a broadband remote access server (B-RAS) from Network Equipment Technologies Inc. (net.com) (NYSE: NWK) at the center of his Hotbed. He says it's the B-RAS that best suits the needs of the services teams as it simulates a "smart DSLAM network" in the way it reacts to changing bandwidth requirements and handling multiple services.

Understandably, the net.com team is thrilled at being chosen, given the vendor's penchant for service creation (see Vendors Hold Service Creation Love-In and Service Creation Club Plans Pilots). And net.com's director of industry relations, Steve Shaw, says the company is also involved in RFP processes with two un-named RBOCs to supply equipment for similar service testbeds.

So what exactly is it that BT Exact is doing? As noted, anyone with authorized access to BT's intranet can access the Hotbed, to set up services such as tiered broadband, video on demand, and VOIP, on internal networks that replicate BT's live networks. The platform allows them to choose from a range of bandwidth options between 128 kbit/s to 2 Mbit/s.

They can then invite other people on the intranet (of which there are thousands) to test the services and report back with a full "user experience" about ease of use, bandwidth availability, and general customer interface and quality issues.

"It really does give you an idea of full service functionality as if it was on a live network, and see how the service behaves when being used by a customer," says the BT Exact man. "Lab-only testing is much more limited."

Clark says it's early days at present, with fewer than 20 people registered to set up services at present, and that he is in the process now of configuring the Hotbed to offer full level 3 quality-of-service capabilities. While it's possible to set this up manually at the moment, it is not yet an automated function.

Although BT Exact has picked net.com's B-RAS for the Hotbed, "I could be tempted to try out some others [in the future]," says Clark.

Net.com's Shaw adds that his company's platform not only allows BT to measure the impact on the network of a particular service, but also evaluate what is needed in terms of OSS (operations support systems), particularly for the provisioning and activation of the services. "It means BT can see what they need to invest in to meet customer needs" in terms of functionality such as self-service bandwidth allocation, says Shaw.

So has BT Exact chosen the right piece of kit for the job at hand? Graham Beniston, Principal at Beniston Broadband Consulting, and Analyst at Large at Heavy Reading, says the net.com B-RAS fits the bill for this sort of setup. He says of all the B-RASs he evaluated for a recent broadband equipment report, Next-Generation DSL Equipment: The Path To Profitability, the net.com product topped the access integration scorecard. "It has the widest range of legacy interfaces and high density support," says Beniston, and provides suitable bandwidth allocation functionality.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Editor, Boardwatch

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