BT, Huawei Look Alive at C5

MILAN,Italy -- C5 World Forum -- The cream of European telecom is gathered here in Milan for the C5 event this week, where Telecom Italia (TIM) is acting as the carrier host.

On British soil last year, C5 was called "21st Century Communications World Forum." But that sounded like it had a lot to do with the 21st Century Network (21CN) that BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) is building, so wouldn't go down too well with a nice Chianti and some peppery salami here in Milan.

So, C5 is -- deep breath -- Customer-Centric Converged Communication and Content. Now exhale, and try not to faint.

The exhibition opens here Tuesday, but there are already some news nuggets worth noting:

Huawei claims optical first
Chinese vendor Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. is in town, as are all good Telecom Italia suppliers. It's taking the chance to boast about its latest optical platforms, the OSN, or optical switched network, family. (See Huawei Supplies Telecom Italia and Huawei Racks Up Euro Wins.)

While the vendor announced here that it was launching the platform, the actual unveiling of the gear was three months ago at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecom World 2006 event in Hong Kong. (See Big Guns Crash ITU Party.)

So now Huawei is giving the platform a European launch, but with the added bonus of some carrier references to talk about, namely at China Netcom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CN; Hong Kong: 0906) and China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA).

The OSN products, which range from a single-rack access product to a humdinger of a core platform, combine standards-based OTN (optical transport network) switching and WDM transmission with a host of automated OA&M (operations, administration, and maintenance) capabilities, such as provisioning and troubleshooting.

Huawei's senior VP of network marketing, Jeffrey Gao, says this is the first time a "major equipment vendor" has combined OTN and WDM in the same platform. That combination enables carriers to create a meshed WDM architecture, rather than a network based on point-to-point WDM connections, note the Huawei team.

Add in the operational features, plus integrated sub-wavelength switching at 1-GigE that maximizes the use of wavelength capacity, and Huawei believes it has a platform that will appeal to carriers' demands for new gear that will help keep capex and opex numbers down.

The vendor's consultant, former BT chief technologist Mick Reeve, added that such equipment is increasingly in demand from carriers because SDH isn't up to the task of handling the growing volumes of Ethernet-based broadband and enterprise service traffic, while traditional WDM architectures are increasingly inefficient, as often single GigE connections can hog a whole wavelength. (See Huawei Signs Up Former BT Guru.)

"Carriers want to couple Layer 2 Ethernet and Layer 1 transport capabilities," and benefit from the reliability and control plane management associated with SDH, says Reeve, which is what the OSN products deliver.

Huawei is bigging up this development here at C5, so we'll keep a close eye on whether there's any European interest in the platform.

Another Huawei snippet that caught our eye: The company says it now has 67,000 staff. Not so long ago it had 50,000. How long before Huawei is the biggest vendor in the world, in terms of headcount, as the likes of Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Nokia Networks cut back their teams?

BT bigs up Ethernet
BT's 21CN program director, Matt Beal, is here reaffirming the British incumbent's commitment to carrier Ethernet technologies, which is to be expected as the carrier leads the way in deploying the controversial new Ethernet flavor, PBT (Provider Backbone Transport), or PBB-TE, as the standards folk will insist on calling it. (See PBT: New Kid on the Metro Block, Nortel, Siemens Win PBT Deals at BT, PBT Gathers Support, and 21CN: It's an Ethernet Thing.)

Beal addressed a plenary session with a breakneck runthrough of the 21CN architecture, with the PBT acronym now added in many instances. Beal says that, in a basic sense, the 21CN architecture has xDSL, SDH, and WDM at Layer 1, Ethernet at Layer 2, and IP/MPLS at Layer 3. "That plays to the strength of each technology," says Beal.

Beal also managed to mention broadband access technologies that BT has yet to commit to, in noting that the deployment of MSANs (multiservice access nodes) as the 21CN's edge gives BT the chance to deploy PON (passive optical networking) and WiMax technology in the future.

Some WiMax spectrum is due to come up for auction in the U.K. in 2007, yet only last month a BT executive was sitting on the fence at the 3GSM event in Barcelona about whether the British carrier would bid at any cost to land some of that spectrum. Could today's throwaway mention by Beal suggest that BT's interest in WiMax is firming up?

Beal's nod to WiMax also comes as British press reports name BT among the companies bidding to buy British ISP Pipex Communications plc , which has already conducted WiMax trials in the U.K. Whoever wins the bidding war for Pipex, which announced recently it is examining "a number of strategic options, which could include a sale of the Company," will get a headstart over its competitors in terms of WiMax know-how -- and 570,000 DSL customers into the bargain. (See Pipex Trials WiMax.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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