NTL's NGN Hell

LONDON -- Migrating from a legacy SDH-based network to a next-generation IP infrastructure "has been hell," a senior executive from U.K. cable operator ntl group ltd. (Nasdaq: NTLI) told the audience at the Future of Telecom – Europe 2005 event today.

Speaking at the "Ethernet Services: What's Next" session at the event, NTL's strategy director Michael I'Anson said that moving to a next-gen network had been "bloody hard work," but that deploying new IP, transport, and Ethernet equipment hadn't been the biggest headache.

NTL provides enterprise and residential services in the U.K. and is best known as a provider of triple play -- voice, TV, and broadband -- to U.K. homes (see NTL Outlines Broadband Strategy and NTL Launches VOD Service).

"It's all about systems and processes, and we underestimated what it would take to migrate. If any operator out there thinks their current systems and processes can scale as they move to IP services, they're probably wrong. We had to reexamine everything. We had incompatible [OSS and BSS] systems, and we had to rip them out and start again."

He added that most service providers were underestimating the pain, cost, and cultural impact that the shift from multiple networks and operational systems to a more unified infrastructure and back office would entail.

So what has caused NTL's pain? I'Anson said that, like many other operators, it had built multiple networks using numerous vendors' kit and numerous operational and business support systems (OSSs and BSSs). "There was hardly a vendor whose kit we didn't have," he noted.

Now, after two years of grafting, NTL has a 266-node data network based on routers from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), and multiservice provisioning platforms from Laurel Networks Inc. (now part of ECI Telecom Ltd.) in 30 core nodes around the U.K.

It has also deployed WDM transport equipment from Sweden's Transmode, and metro Ethernet switches from Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA). (Transmode and Alcatel are previously unannounced contracts.)

Next on the list is the access network, and NTL is about to start the process of replacing its legacy gear with IP DSLAMs, which it will source from multiple vendors (see NTL Trials ADSL2+ With Ericsson).

I'Anson says NTL is now starting to see the benefits of moving to a more homogenous infrastructure, which it can use to deliver multiple Ethernet-based services, but that there's still 18 months of process restructuring and reengineering to go. "We have a very capable network, but it's still a struggle to deliver services efficiently."

On the plus side, I'Anson said it has already resulted in more efficient network maintenance, generates fewer faults, and requires fewer test points.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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