Optical/IP Networks

BT Still Locked in 21CN Talks

BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) will not be announcing any infrastructure vendor deals for its £10 billion (US$18.8 billion) 21st Century Network (21CN) project today, as the carrier is still locked in negotiations with its 12 potential suppliers (see BT Moves Ahead With Mega Project).

The carrier had previously stated that it would identify at least some key vendor partners for its planned all-IP network by the end of its financial year, which closes today (see BT Has 21CN Shortlists). But a spokeswoman confirmed that nothing would be revealed today, though announcements are due to made "soon, though we haven't got a timeframe for that."

The spokeswoman claims that BT's 21CN program is "still on track," that no deadlines have been missed, and that the contract award deadline was always "the end of the financial year or shortly thereafter." So having raised expectations within the vendor and analyst community, the carrier is effectively now giving itself an open-ended deadline, which may confirm the doubts of those who question whether BT can achieve its aggressive target to switch off its PSTN in 2010 (see BT's 21CN Meets Its Skeptics).

"Discussions are still ongoing," adds the spokeswoman. "We can't force the procurement team to make a decision until they're ready. These decisions take time."

It does appear, though, that some decisions are close to being made. One source close to the negotiations, who requested anonymity, says BT's Operating Committee is due to meet on April 11, and that if any decisions are rubber stamped at that meeting then announcements can be expected before the end of April. (That's April 2005, for the cynics among you.)

So the nailbiting continues at the dozen firms, from an initial list of 300, that have made the final selection process. While BT has declined to name any of those companies, and the vendors are under strict non disclosure agreements (NDAs) that prevent them from commenting on any issues related to the 21CN project, Light Reading's sources say that 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 are among the 12.

The vendors chosen as the lead suppliers in BT's five 21CN hardware categories -- core, transmission, metro, I-node (service creation and management), and access -- will then deliver systems using their own and their partners' technologies.

And it seems as if the 21CN process has been responsible for brokering particular relationships that will help some of the shortlisted firms meet BT's very particular 21CN demands (see Marconi & Sonus Team for Next-Gen and Lucent Wins in Cayman Islands). See BT Has 21CN Shortlists for more partnership details.

But even when the initial deals are announced, there may be a halt in the proceedings as BT waits for the U.K. regulator, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), to rule on whether BT is providing fair and equal network access to its competitors. If the regulator decides BT must be broken up in order to create a truly competitive environment, then the 21CN project will likely be scrapped (see BT Escapes Breakup – for Now).

BT recently proposed a solution it believes meets all of Ofcom's demands, but a decision from the regulator is not due until June, when BT CEO Ben Verwaayen will decide whether the current 21CN plan can be implemented (see BT Proposes Stimulants ).

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:20:50 AM
re: BT Still Locked in 21CN Talks Perhaps 21CN is just a ruse to tempt regulators with talk of a modern network, in exchange for a continuation of their monopoly.
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