Sources close to the process say only a handful of principal suppliers are now under consideration, including Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Fujitsu Telecommunications Europe Ltd., Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), Marconi Corp. plc (Nasdaq: MRCIY; London: MONI), and Siemens Communications Group.
But there's still a long way to go. BT is currently engaged in 21CN service and equipment trials and has already awarded a number of OSS contracts (see 21CN on Track, Says BT , BT Pins Down OSS Deals, BT Awards Monster OSS Deal, and Vendors Detail Gear in BT VOIP Trials).
The in-field testing, including the monitoring of voice traffic between IP and circuit-switched networks, is "going according to plan," but has not yet yielded any "scientific data" that can be publicly analyzed, says a BT spokesman (see BT Picks Radcom for VOIP Test).
Now the carrier says, from an original group of 300 vendors, it has created shortlists for its five 21CN hardware categories: core, transmission, metro, I-node (service creation and management technologies), and access.
BT says no equipment deals have yet been awarded, but it expects to choose most, if not all, of its hardware suppliers by March 31, the end of its financial year.
Then BT faces a major networking challenge -- to build a new network (based on ten core routers, 100 metro routers, and 30,000 multiservice access devices), and switch off its PSTN by the end of this decade.
That current network includes about 170 core switches, more than 1,000 voice switches and crossconnects, and about 100,000 remote concentrators, DSLAMs, and data multiplexers.
So who's in line to get a piece of the action? BT isn't saying at this point, but sources close to the 21CN process suggest that, across all five shortlists, fewer than ten principal suppliers are named, including those above, with some appearing on multiple shortlists.
That's not only good news for those companies, but also for their partners, as BT has stressed it wants to source multivendor systems from single suppliers.
That creates a multitude of possibilities, so here's a rundown of the companies (in alphabetical order) with a real chance of some shiny 21CN contracts, and some of the intervendor relationships that could tip the balance.
According to our sources, Alcatel is on BT's access equipment shortlist.
Success for Alcatel could spell good news for partner Redback Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RBAK), and, if the IPTV relationship comes to fruition, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT). (See Alcatel, Microsoft Tuning IPTV Deal.)
ECI's fortunes could reflect on partner Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), which could bring a gamut of legacy and NGN experience in both wireline and wireless technologies to the party (see Nortel Gets Back Into Broadband).
Experience with mobile systems could play a crucial role given that the 21CN will be one of the first converged networks that will manage and transport multimedia traffic generated by fixed and wireless devices.
And again, Redback is a partner that could benefit, depending on the breadth of ECI's ultimate involvement (see Redback and ECI Buddy Up). Is there anyone Redback doesn't go out with?
Fujitsu unveiled its multiservice node, the GeoStream Access Gateway Hub 1000, at the Broadband World Forum last September, and has since forged a router partnership with Cisco, though it's uncertain whether that relationship is playing a role in any negotiations with BT (see Vendors Claim DSLAM Breakthrough and Cisco, Fujitsu Form Router Alliance).
Huawei has an increasingly close relationship with another of the shortlisted firms, Siemens, as well as other high-profile vendors (see Siemens and Huawei Edge Closer, Huawei Partnership Boosts Avici , Huawei Teams With Microsoft , and Huawei, Redback Get Tunisia Deal).
As its trial involvement shows, its relationship with Siemens looks critical, though it also has other strong allies, in the shape of Ericsson and Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), that could pull it through (see Siemens Jumps for Juniper).
According to our sources, Marconi is on BT's access equipment shortlist.
All of which spells good news for Marconi's growing base of NGN partners, especially softswitch vendor Sonus Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SONS) and Ethernet equipment firm Riverstone Networks Inc. (OTC: RSTN.PK). (See Marconi & Sonus Team for Next-Gen, HR Unties Sonus/Marconi Tie-Up, Marconi Resells Newport Session Controller, Riverstone Hitches a Ride With Marconi, and Laurel & Marconi Make It Official.)
It is already involved in the 21CN (and other) trials, and is supplying the technology underpinning an already commercial "flexible bandwidth" service (see Siemens, Juniper Join 21C Trial, BT Does VOIP – With Strings Attached, and Siemens, BT Demo Fast Optical Switch).
The German vendor has experience in mobile as well as next-gen fixed technologies, has a number of key partnerships, particularly with Juniper, and has forged an impressive IPTV solution that others in the video-over-broadband market admire (see Siemens Gears Up for IPTV, Siemens to Resell Kagoor Controllers, and ADVA, Siemens Extend Contract).
Many of these companies were involved in the Multiservice Switching Forum's recent global SIP services test, which included BT and three other major carriers. BT said the results of that test gave it confidence in its 21CN plans, but added at the time that the MSF project's findings wouldn't influence its contract award process. But it can't have harmed the vendors' chances (see SIP Ready for Prime Time, Says BT).
Not surprisingly, none of the vendors we contacted for this article are commenting.
— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading
Need to know more about the ways in which service providers are looking to extend multiservice convergence all the way into the access network? Check out the coming Light Reading Live! conference:
at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston, on Thursday, February 24, 2005
This one-day event, hosted by Scott Clavenna, Heavy Reading Chief Analyst, will feature keynotes from some of the current leaders in multiservice access, informative presentations, product demonstrations, and lively panel discussions about all aspects of this new market.