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Test & Measurement

BT Builds Monster 21CN Test Bed

BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) says it has spent "tens of millions" of pounds on a new testing and training facility to help with the implementation of its 21CN next-generation network.

The facility, known as "On The Night" within BT (because service migration to the 21CN will take place overnight), has been designed to provide BT with "dry run" capabilities that can simulate the migration of services from existing voice and data networks to the new infrastructure, and help determine whether the migration will encounter any problems. Based in Swansea, South Wales -- and just along the coast from where the first customers have been migrated to the first 21CN local exchange -- the facility will also act as a training facility during the daytime for other service providers that need to hook up to the 21CN. (See BT Turns On 21CN, IPTV.)

Matt Beal, 21CN's program director and the CTO of BT Wholesale, says it's a "multi-DLE [Digital Local Exchange] testbed that will test the scale of [our] transfer engineering," when BT is trying to migrate "30,000 lines per night," a level that's several months down the line just yet. (See BT Aims to Finish 21CN in Late 2011.)

So far, BT has had a "functional test environment" for vendors to test their CPE (customer premises equipment) with 21CN systems, says Beal. Now, though, the test scenario is moving up a gear to involve a full 21CN local exchange setup to simulate the impact on services and CPE of shifting thousands of lines to the new network overnight. "This will give us the scale to test switchovers, and gives us the extra level of confidence before the live transfer of lines," says Beal.

The new testbed, along with an automated line migration process developed recently with 21CN vendor partners, should help BT make up some ground in its bid to get 350,000 customers in South Wales ported across to the new network, a task that's now due to be completed by the end of this year.

The On The Night facility, which is due to become operational in the next few weeks, is being managed by BT integration partner Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. (TCS) as part of a broader program, called the 21CN Test Factory, that the Indian company is managing for the carrier. (See BT Tests With TCS and Who Does What: Outsourcing to India.)

TCS has created test programs and automation procedures at BT's labs in Ipswich (Adastral Park) and in South Wales using systems from a number of suppliers, including HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), Ixia (Nasdaq: XXIA), JDSU (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU), QuikCycle , and Spirent Communications plc .

According to TCS, Spirent is the "key test supplier" for both broadband and voice test tools, and QuikCycle (formerly Lumenaré Networks) is supplying its LabMagic lab management system. HP's involvement comes courtesy of its recent acquisition of Mercury Interactive, as TCS is using its Mercury Quality Center solution and hosting services from Mercury Managed Services. (See HP Purchases Mercury.)

Ixia's involvement is limited to Adastral Park at present but has generated a significant level of business. The vendor has been involved in the pre-deployment multi-vendor conformance testing program that has been underway for some time now in BT's labs, where, according to Mike McHale, the test vendor's VP for Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Ixia still has four engineers in situ. McHale says Ixia has supplied $3 million worth of test platforms, plus professional services, for the conformance testing process, and is now "collaborating with the 21CN vendors to produce the resulting scripts."

And there may be even more BT business to come for Ixia, as the carrier, though a new business unit called 21C Global Venture, looks to cash in on its NGN experience by selling consultancy and outsourcing services, including test and validation services, to other operators. (See BT Flogs Its NGN Smarts.)

"We're hoping to ride that wave," notes McHale.

Separate from the 21CN Test Factory program, niche test vendor Valid8.com Inc. has also landed a piece of the action, working with JDSU and BT's 21CN access equipment vendors, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Fujitsu Telecommunications Europe Ltd. , to develop a VOIP test function using its software-based call server test tool. (See Valid8.com Tests BT.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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