BT Nears 21CN Vendor Lockdown

BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) will announce within the next two weeks that it has signed contracts with all of the eight preferred hardware suppliers for its £10 billion (US$17.6 billion) next-generation network (NGN), the 21CN, a spokeswoman confirmed today. (See BT Unveils 21CN Suppliers.)

BT has already inked deals with four of the eight firms -- Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), and Siemens Communications Group . (See Vendors Sign BT 21CN Contracts.)

But definitive contracts with Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), and Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY) have not yet been announced. The carrier says news of completed deals with the four remaining vendors will be unveiled within the next few weeks. (See Vendors Sign BT 21CN Contracts.)

But the absence of final contracts has not stopped the vendors from providing BT with the technology needed for the initial stages of its NGN rollout. The carrier, though, is finding its progress hindered by the inefficient practices of some of its suppliers -- practices the operator says are sadly commonplace. (See BT Takes 21CN 'Baby Step'.)

At a recent event in London organized by OSS firm MetaSolv Software Inc. (Nasdaq: MSLV), two BT executives responsible for getting the carrier's 21CN systems up and running outlined the challenges they face in meeting their aggressive deadlines. BT aims to switch off its PSTN and have all its voice and data traffic running across a single IP network by 2010.

The executives, Alan Johnson and Brian Lodwick, both have key roles in ensuring the successful implementation of new OSS systems for 21CN, and have been working on metro node implementation in South Wales, the first region of the U.K. that will be switched over to an all IP network. (See Wales to Get 21CN First.) They told an audience of carriers and vendors that all three metro node equipment suppliers -- Alcatel, Cisco, and Siemens, which is supplying routers from partner Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) -- will be "supplying a lot of kit, and this will lead to a great deal of OSS complexity," as multiple element management systems (EMSs) will have to be integrated and made interoperable.

That complexity, though, is being exacerbated by some "common delivery problems" generated by the equipment vendors. The BT executives said that, while the vendors were delivering the expected hardware, "alarm descriptions and interface specifications are incomplete or inaccurate," and that's "a big problem." The BT men said that because they were dealing with the latest versions of the vendors' equipment, "we're effectively debugging their new versions on behalf of the industry."

They also said that accompanying EMSs were often not updated to match the hardware versions delivered, and that accompanying documentation was also often out of date. This, they said, is not specific to the 21CN process. Both BT men said such shortcomings would be familiar to any carrier executive involved in the deployment of vendor equipment.

To overcome these and other issues, BT has implemented what it calls "hot-house" sessions, where representatives from BT, the equipment vendors, the 21CN OSS suppliers (chosen in a separate process from the hardware vendor selection), and integrators get together for three-day meetings to iron out problems and sign off on developments. "A lot of us were skeptical about his approach, but it's been effective," noted Johnson.

These hot-house sessions are just one part of 90-day cycles of vendor equipment deliveries, with each cycle ending with an integrated hardware and software setup. "We're doing in 90 days what would normally take up to a year or longer," said Johnson. "We know there are going to be failures, but we aim to fail early in the process and then fix the problems. We're sticking very clearly to industry standards and testing everything from day one."

And while Johnson and Lodwick are currently focused on metro node developments, they say they're also focused on agreeing on the "documentation of interfaces, data descriptions, alarms, performance data, and so on, so that it's standardized, and then rolling out this model across all the 21CN domains." Putting the new network together is "not just about delivering new equipment," they stressed.

In addition to MetaSolv, BT's OSS partners for 21CN include Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX), BEA Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BEAS), Convergys Corp. (NYSE: CVG), Cramer Systems Ltd. , IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL), Siebel Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: SEBL), Tibco Software Inc. (Nasdaq: TIBX), and Telcordia Technologies Inc. (See BT Awards Monster OSS Deal, BT Pins Down OSS Deals, and BT Group Selects MetaSolv.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

MP_UK 12/5/2012 | 4:07:13 AM
re: BT Nears 21CN Vendor Lockdown
dljvjbsl, couldn't agree more. Like any intensely political arena actual results mean little, it's far more important to be *seen* to be doing something. Hence it's full of very busy management types who achieve nothing.

Just goes to show how rich a company it is that they can get away with operating like that.
MP_UK 12/5/2012 | 4:07:14 AM
re: BT Nears 21CN Vendor Lockdown
To quote the article: "The carrier, though, is finding its progress hindered by the inefficient practices of some of its suppliers..."


Being called inefficient by BT - what a slap in the face! Considering most of it's employees spend their time trying to out-manoeuver each other politically rather than get anything useful done, I'd say BT are in no position to comment on efficiency.

And as for: "We're doing in 90 days what would normally take up to a year or longer," Yeah, what would normally take BT a year, for anyone else it'd be about a week!

Brilliant stuff, LMAO!
dljvjbsl 12/5/2012 | 4:07:14 AM
re: BT Nears 21CN Vendor Lockdown "We're doing in 90 days what would normally take up to a year or longer," Yeah, what would normally take BT a year, for anyone else it'd be about a week!

It was my experience with BT that nothing ever gets done.

The only exceptions to thisrule were decisions to do nothing. These would be long delayed and often retracted for reconsideration but eventually a decision to do nothing was sometimes taken. However in most cases, this risky behaviour could be avoided since the long delays for reconsideration would make any decision moot.

Mark Sebastyn 12/5/2012 | 4:07:23 AM
re: BT Nears 21CN Vendor Lockdown Great article. The insight from the OSS side was fresh. I wonder if there is still a chance of a few vendors getting booted- BT did multi-source the contract.

Maybe they don't formally announce it, but keep a #2 in place for pricing purposes.
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