Assessing the Program
BT claimed that 21CN will deliver both enormous cost-savings and the most
advanced network in the world for new services. h ey point to the consolidation
of equipment, the simplifi cation resulting from the removal of numerous legacy
networks, and the fl exibility and degree of automation enabled by 21CN.
Critics have pointed out that 21CN is pushing the state-of-the-art in a num-
ber of key areas. In some key layers, such as legacy service adaptation to MPLS,
only IETF Internet drafts have been available and BT's requirements have been
a signifi cant driver. Might it not have been better to wait a couple of years, they
ask, for standards to mature?
I was interested in Bob Partridge's view. Bob was a colleague of mine at the
Mentor consultancy, and had previously worked for BT as Director, Network
Policy, Planning & Performance. Back in 2001, when BT were fi rst considering
a fundamental network transformation, they had turned to Mentor and Bob to
produce the initial concept and plan. I asked him what he thought of the way
BT were going about their NGN transition program.
“h e last really big replacement program BT did was the analogue-to-digital
switch conversion. h is was when they threw out their old Strowger, Crossbar,
and Reed Electronic analogue switches and put in the new digital System-X and
AXE10 switches. h e last Strowger was replaced in June 1995 and the analogue
replacement program completed in March 1998.
“Once a factory-like process was going, BT was able to modernize four ex-
changes per day, achieving a peak of around 3m lines of replacement per annum.
However, establishing such a factory process took considerable time as techniques
and tools were streamlined and improved to increase the cutover rate.
“A key feature of the analogue-to-digital conversion was that all customers
saw massive immediate improvement in their service with touch tone signaling,
reduced line noise, shorter post-dialing delay and the availability of supplemen-
tary services. All these are now taken for granted but 21CN does not appear to
oﬀ er any similar direct customer improvements, merely a promise of new, as yet
undefi ned, services.
“h e new digital exchanges were complemented by a completely new opera-
tions support system which has subsequently been developed over the years with
links to the CRM and other systems to provide a high degree of automation of
basic functions like number allocation, service initiation and line test.
“h e operational and changeover challenges faced by 21CN are therefore
very diﬀ erent to those faced in the analogue to digital conversion, with many
more internal system interfaces and processes to be accommodated. Additionally,
much more complex and larger scale interconnection with other carriers has to be
handled and this presents a commercial as well as technical minefi eld for BT. “
“Are you saying that 21CN is too forced?” I asked.
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