BT Takes 21CN 'Baby Step'
Matt Beal, head of 21CN implementation at BT, says the carrier's latest achievement -- running live customer voice traffic over an IP network -- is not a big deal in itself, as other operators, such as Telecom Italia SpA (NYSE: TI), have been doing this for years.
"It's a humble beginning, but it shows we are making the baby steps we need to make to get to the end goal, and it also gives our customers confidence that we are making progress," says Beal.
What is significant, though, is that in this trial BT has used technology only from the main vendor partners chosen earlier this year, whereas previous trials had involved companies such as Marconi Corp. plc (Nasdaq: MRCIY; London: MONI), that are not among BT's 21CN key suppliers. (See BT Unveils 21CN Suppliers and Marconi Softswitches With BT.)
Beal says the trial was underpinned by softswitch technology from Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERICY), BT's sole partner for its "Intelligent Nodes," or I-nodes. (See Ericsson to Bring Partners to 21CN Party.)
But while the BT man says Ericsson's call server was deployed, "I can't say whose media gateway technology was involved," though it was provided by a metro node partner. BT has three partners for this part of its 21CN rollout -- Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Siemens Communications Group. (See Siemens Picked for BT's 21CN, Alcatel Picked for BT's 21CN, and Cisco Picked for BT's 21CN.)
Beal says BT has very few concerns about the trial's operational aspects. "We've been monitoring the quality of the VOIP traffic and have very few concerns. We haven't been generating many trouble tickets." He admits, though, that BT "encountered and had to work through different operational and technical challenges to those you get in a lab environment."
While Beal wouldn't elaborate on the details of those challenges, he says the results of the trial "means we know what sort of results we should be seeing when we implement in Cardiff," the first region of the U.K. where the 21CN will be implemented and the PSTN infrastructure switched off. (See Wales to Get 21CN First.)
There are "other baby steps to take between now and when we do a full trial in Cardiff, and the next step is to trial an end-to-end service with the MSANs [multi-service access nodes] doing the packet conversion and maintaining the sort of features that customers are used to having with their regular POTS telephones, such as call waiting and missed call information recall," says Beal.
Those steps will put Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. through their paces. (See Fujitsu Shares Its 21CN Success and Huawei Picked for BT's 21CN.)
Despite the seemingly very early stages in which BT finds itself -- final contracts have yet to be signed with the eight key vendors, according to sources -- Paul Reynolds, CEO of the carrier's Wholesale division, which is building and will operate the next-generation network, says BT is still on track to meet its deadline of switching off its PSTN in 2010.
Talking at the FT World Telecommunications conference in London today, Reynolds reminded the audience that BT's future business plan is dependent on the switch to an all-IP network in five years' time. And the timeframe, which has raised some eyebrows, is keeping Reynolds focused. (See BT's 21CN Meets Its Skeptics.)
"What keeps me awake at night is whether I can get the job done by 2010. Some people ask me why we're doing it so fast when our PSTN network can last longer than that. The simple answer is that I need the services that 21CN will deliver and I can't afford the business-case implications of not making the deadline," says Reynolds.
— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading