BT Group plc (NYSE: BT - message board; London: BTA)'s decision earlier this year to rethink its £10 billion ($16.9 billion) 21CN next-generation network strategy has strengthened the incumbent's hand in the Ethernet services sector, where it has made significant progress in an increasingly competitive market.
BT initiated a significant review of its 21CN plans about a year ago, resulting in some major changes in its technology choices, its network and service rollout strategy, and its approach to broadband access. (See BT Unveils $3B FTTx Plan, PBT Sidelined at BT, BT Inches Toward Telco 2.0, and Upheaval at BT's 21CN?)
The revamp was very necessary. As one executive involved in the 21CN process told Light Reading earlier this year, "We were all collectively naive about how tough 21CN was going to be. We all had a naive view on how voice services would migrate, including BT. But the process is industrialized properly now, and the vendors are collaborating better -- there was a lot of finger-pointing before."
He continued: "There's been a wholesale rethink about how to execute. Getting the processes right is the focus now."
The result is that BT has all but thrown out its original plan in favor of a new approach.
At the recent Carrier Ethernet World Congress in Berlin, Tim Hubbard, BT's Head of 21CN Technology and Platform Introduction [Ed note: Does he introduce platforms to each other?], noted that the 21CN project had "shifted focus... Now we are deploying services that our customers want more quickly instead of replicating old [PSTN] services on the new platform."
So instead of focusing on voice service replication and switching off its TDM switches, BT is starting with the rollout of new broadband capabilities, with widespread ADSL2+ deployments (40 percent U.K. household coverage by April 2009), and the delivery of new carrier Ethernet capabilities for enterprise and wholesale services. (See BT Launches Etherflow, Entanet Hops on 21CN, BT Intros WBC ADSL2+, and BT Unveils Ethernet Services.)
Hubbard notes that BT had installed new Ethernet gear –- Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU - message board)'s 7750 Service Router –- in 106 points of presence (POPs) around the U.K. by the end of May this year, and was due to have 600 POPs installed by the end of May 2009. In addition, he says BT is offering Ethernet services in 174 countries worldwide. (See AlcaLu Expands at BT.)
In the domestic enterprise market, where BT is pushing Etherflow, its newly launched 500 Mbit/s MPLS-based private line WAN connectivity offering, the national operator faces stiff competition. Cable & Wireless plc (NYSE: CWP - message board) will be a much stronger rival once it can reap the benefits of THUS plc (London: THUS - message board)'s Ethernet heritage, and plenty of other players are vying to win corporate and government business with new services and support functions. (See THUS Launches Managed Ethernet, THUS Recommends C&W Offer, and C&W Offers £329M for THUS.)
At the Berlin tradeshow, Exponential-e Ltd. attracted unsolicited admiring comments about its service capabilities, while ntl:Telewest Business unveiled its upgraded customer portal that integrates customer service requests to the service provider's workflow management systems, and enables customers to log faults and check on order progress. (See ntl:Telewest Touts Portal, Exponential-e Touts VPLS Success, and Exponential-e Serves Up Ethernet.)
And then there's COLT Telecom Group plc (Nasdaq: COLT - message board; London: CTM.L), which is building out a new pan-European Ethernet network. (See Colt Unveils NGN Vendors and COLT Bolts to NSN Ethernet Switch.)
Wireless backhaul gains BT is already making significant strides with its new Ethernet capabilities in building up its wholesale Ethernet backhaul business for mobile operators, something the U.K.'s wireless operators have been quick to sign up to. (See MBNL Backhauls With BT, BT Uses Tellabs for Ethernet Backhaul, and BT Wins New O2 Deal.)
Such mobile backhaul services were originally going to be based on the PBT technology that was in favor at BT until earlier this year. Now the services are very much MPLS-based. (See BT Sells PBT-Based Backhaul Service.)
Hubbard explains that BT had requirements to deliver the services quickly to the mobile operators, and "the only way to deliver the service on time was to use Ethernet over pseudowire."
With BT now heavily reliant on AlcaLu for its Ethernet capabilities (and other services), the presumption among many is that the British operator will eventually deploy MPLS-based, connection-oriented technology for easy-to-manage, low-cost packet transport. Currently that technology is T-MPLS, but it is being revamped under a new standards process into MPLS-TP (Transport Profile), a technology AlcaLu is already pushing hard. (See BT Outsources Ops to AlcaLu and Transport MPLS Gets a Makeover.)
But Hubbard says BT isn't committed to any new technology, and, when asked specifically about how BT might deploy PBT or MPLS-TP in the future, he said BT is "still evaluating technologies to see how best they might be used to meet customer needs. What we are not doing is building a platform and then trying to figure out how we might be able to use it."