Interesting isn't it that since regime change at BT (when Ben Verwaayen left, Ian Livingston took over as CEO, CTO Matt Bross voted with his feet and made the Long March to China and Huawei and Paul Reynolds became CEO of Telecom New Zealand) we don't hear much anymore from the incumbent UK telco about the 21st Century Network? Martyn Warwick wonders why.
If you go on to the BT website and hunt around a bit you will still find reference to the "21CN" but it's subdued stuff these days. After BT missed several "key milestones" in the deployment of the all-IP technology the hype machine was scaled back to basic "chugalong" mode and now the emphasis is all on NGA, aka Next Generation Access.
In essence BT's NGA is all about next generation broadband Internet access via fibre optic technology rather over copper cabling and is central to the telco's strategy to transform itself into "a global, software-driven communications business".
It was back on April 28, 2005 that BT first announced its list of preferred suppliers to provide equipment for the deployment of the 21CN. That followed two long years of procurement discussions, negotiations, testing and equipment appraisals with more than 300 potential technology suppliers from all over the world. In the end, BT whittled the list down to just eight "strategic suppliers" Alcatel, Ciena, Cisco, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Huawei, Lucent and Siemens. In November 2006 Alcatel and Lucent Technologies merged to become Alcatel Lucent where Ben Verwaayen is now the CEO.
He must be absolutely delighted then that BT has announced a five-year contract that will task Alcatel-Lucent with the responsibility for the "evolution" of the 21st Century Network and NGA. Like they say, "what goes around comes around".
The British national carrier is to use Alcatel-Lucent's High Leverage Network (HLN) architecture "further to evolve BT’s infrastructure, enabling the company to speed-up network convergence, increase capacity and deliver content cost effectively as BT prepares to introduce new "video-rich" services to an expanded base of wholesale and retail subscribers".
George Nazi, the Managing Director of BT 21CN Core Convergence, says, "The 21CN is a huge transformational programme. It's about providing a network for the future which requires a game-changing approach.
Alcatel-Lucent came up with an innovative solution that will help us keep 21CN at the forefront of innovation and radical change."
BT adds that its erstwhile highly-centralised Broadband Network Gateways (BNGs) that are transmuting into a major network speedbump as traffic increases will, henceforth, be placed much closer to subscribers, hopefully resulting in higher capacity and better performance.
The Alcatel-Lucent solution provides end-to-end transport integrating IP and fibre-optics and the deal also includes the provision of project management, design, installation and commissioning, repair and software updates.
BT mentions "video-rich" services but fails to indicate exactly what these might be. Presumably this is a reference to its IPTV service, BT Vision, which has so far failed to make much impression on the consumer market, or could it be "Project Canvas" the mooted open broadband TV standard? Your guess is a good as mine.
But the fact is that suddenly, after a period of quiet almost as profound and purdah-like as the one presently in force at BT before the announcement of its annual financial results a week today, the 21CN is back on the agenda. However, it is perhaps indicative of the underlying a state of affairs that the 21CN Key Milestones section on the BT website is a great big blank page that doesn't link to anything. Take a look and see - or, in fact, don't see.
Oh, and bye-the-bye, today is the day of the UK's General Election. Whatever the result and whoever comes to power the future doesn't look particularly rosy for Broadband Britain.
All the main political parties claim that they want to see the country in the vanguard of the information revolution and the general consensus is that a minimum of £5 billion needs to be invested in infrastructure over the next five years or so if we are to raise our ratings in the global broadband rankings and rise above the 25th place we now occupy (which is truly pathetic for the first world industrial society we claim to be).
It's unlikely to happen though. The major parties say they will invest between £130 million and £175 million a year in next generation access technologies and infrastructure between now and 2017. At £130 million per annum that's £910 million over the next seven years while £175 million a year totals £1.225 billion.
It's not enough by at least £4 billion and highlights the paucity of imagination of our would-be political leaders and their collective inability to understand that communications technology will be a prime force in determining the rate of economic growth and levels of social well-being and cohesion in the years to come.
But, hey, we need lots more new roards and airports. That's money well spent.
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