BT Gets Tough With Suppliers
U.K. incumbent British Telecommunications plc (BT) (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA) is demanding better performance from its suppliers' systems as it plans and builds its next-generation converged architecture, dubbed the 21C Network (21CN).
BT executives, including CTO Matt Bross, laid out the operator's plan -- and laid down the law -- at a "Next Generation Networks Symposium" earlier this month. Equipment vendors were told they must provide equipment that can guarantee 99.999 percent uptime, or about five minutes of downtime per year, according to an executive from one of the companies present at the meeting.
That executive also told Light Reading that such demands will place a greater strain on the suppliers, as many have not been asked to provide such high levels of reliability to date.
BT confirms that the 200 suppliers that attended the meeting were set that target, and that it is important with a converged IP-based network that "we know the resilience is built in," says a spokeswoman from BT Wholesale, which organized the symposium.
BT's 21CN will handle a full range of IP services, including VOIP. The plan is that the new network, once built, will help BT reduce its annual capex and opex outlays, as well as enable much quicker service creation and delivery.
So what does the five-nines target mean for BT's suppliers? The key to meeting such stringent demands will be for the equipment vendors to put a greater emphasis on software engineering, says Heavy Reading chief technologist Geoff Bennett, who is currently writing an in-depth report about resilience in converged networks.
"The equipment vendors have the hardware problems solved or at least identified, but have a lot of work to do on their OAM [operations and maintenance] software," says Bennett. "Carriers are crying out for OAM that can meet their needs, but it is a very difficult thing to get right, and the vendors put off dealing with it."
Bennett says that BT, along with all other operators planning their strategies around a converged IP network that will deliver all their services, want more stable software systems and the ability to properly perform regression testing, which is the testing of new software upgrades or patches to ensure it works well with incumbent software.
"Vendors are always releasing new software upgrades, and they do this too frequently to allow adequate time for regression testing. There is definitely a disconnect between what the carriers need and what vendors are delivering, and this will probably result in higher than envisaged costs for the carriers to deliver the new premium services they have planned," says the Heavy Reading man.
"Basically, the carriers want the vendors to write better software," but there are no standards for the operators to specify and the vendors to follow, adds Bennett.
So which companies are under pressure to deliver the better network that BT needs? The carrier says the 200 vendors that attended the symposium included "the big suppliers" that have traditionally provided systems, plus "many new and smaller vendors that we feel might be the right companies to do business with in the future," though their identities are not at present being revealed.
The spokeswoman says not all the suppliers have been chosen, and the meeting was designed to bring potential suppliers up to date and "engage them in debate" about 21CN. Some hardware contracts have been awarded, however (see Marconi Set for BT Project and Ciena's BT Coup: How Big?), and more deals are expected to be finalized and announced early in 2004.
Some OSS suppliers have also been signed up, including Cramer Systems Ltd., BEA Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BEAS), Convergys Corp. (NYSE: CVG) (for its Geneva billing system), and Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX) (for its Clarify customer relationship management system).
And there are strict rules of engagement for BT's suppliers, including a plea from the carrier that its employees should not be whisked away to Temptation Island. A Website designed especially for BT's suppliers gives a very stark message: "BT is proud of its reputation as an ethical company in both world wide business and local markets. Its contact with suppliers is underpinned by a fair procurement process. In order to maintain these high standards BT employees will not offer or accept gifts, hospitality or other inducements which encourage or reward a decision, or engage in bribery."
So remember folks, we don't want to see any of the behavior that has sullied this fine industry's name in the past (see Why Did BT Bring In Bross?).
— Ray Le Maistre, International Editor, Boardwatch