21CN: Channel Goes to Back of Queue

BT has announced details of the first steps it will take to transition customers in the UK to its 21st century network (21CN) but early indications are that channel supplied CPE equipment, particularly PBX systems, is either at the back of the queue or not even in the line when it comes to compatibility testing.

Starting in late November this year, BT will begin the planned upgrade of customers and their voice and broadband services, in Cardiff and the surrounding area. BT say customers will not have to do anything for their lines to be upgraded. Telephone numbers will not change and, as all work will be carried out in BT’s telephone exchanges, no roads will have to be dug up to deliver the upgrade.

The first stage of the new network will be delivered in three phases, increasing in scale with each phase. Phase one, to run from November this year until March 2007, will see the upgrade of voice services to some 10 percent of customer lines in Cardiff and the surrounding area. Phase two, from April to mid May 2007, will deliver a further 10 percent of upgraded lines.

By the end of Phase 3 in the summer of 2007, BT will have upgraded all 350,000 customer lines. 90,000 of these lines also support broadband and ISDN2 and ISDN30 services. Private circuit-based services, which typically support business-critical corporate applications, will not be migrated on to the new network until much later in the programme.

The channel will be concerned to hear that corporate customers will receive more detailed communications directly from their communications providers, including the ‘comprehensive testing regime for customer equipment which is already well underway’.

Vendors and resellers Comms Business Magazine has spoken to are not aware of these arrangements and were disappointed to read that the products they sell are not yet even on the list of equipment to be tested for compatibility with the new 21CN.

One vendor we spoke to who did not want to be identified said, “How typical of BT is this? The list of kit to be tested contains just about every bit of customer premises equipment ever sold by BT but virtually no channel products other than those that BT also sell themselves. 21CN is a big issue for the channel but the channel appears to be way down the agenda for BT. This move will unsettle many users as they struggle to come to terms with what 21CN is all about. Many will fear another Y2K debacle and frankly I share their concerns.”

Mike Ballantine, Business Development Manager at Aastra commented, “Aastra has built up considerable experience over the last 18 months with SIP trunks on IntelliGate and has been briefing its dealers from information gleaned from the BT web site.

This is the first concrete information we have seen with respect to testing.It is no surprise to see the list is a who’s who of equipment sold by BT over many years all clearly destined to work with existing analogue and ISDN based network services.

These services must continue to be provided to existing users as no one from a SOHO to a large enterprise is going to ditch their perfectly good PBX in the next six to nine months.

However we, and many others in time, will want to connect directly to the BT21CN over Broadband using SIP technology. Our experience tells us this is no plug and play exercise and the sooner BT invites those with expertise and experience in the CPE market to take part the better.”

Meanwhile BT’s Paul Reynolds, chief executive of BT Wholesale and BT Board sponsor for the 21CN programme commented, “Years of planning, testing and development will culminate in South Wales in three months when we start the exciting process of bringing the world’s most advanced national communications infrastructure to everyone the UK.

This is a world leading programme that will provide customers with a radically improved experience and new products and services faster.” said e. “21st Century Network is an unprecedented programme of cooperation right across the communications industry and a world’s first for the UK.”

Huw Saunders, of Kingston Communications, speaking as Industry co-chair of the Consult21 Steering Board, said: “Next generation networks will play a fundamental role in how we will all communicate and do business in the future. As an industry, we’ve participated in the development and design of BT’s programme to ensure that it takes into account the needs of everyone, regardless of which communications provider they choose to take services from. What happens in Cardiff in a few short months is only the beginning of the journey.”

At the end of the final stage of the Cardiff upgrade, BT and other communications providers will begin an in-depth review before moving to the planned national upgrade of all remaining customers across the UK, some 30 million lines supported from over 5,500 telephone exchanges, from January 2008.

BT has however said it has agreed with industry to implement a single communications programme designed to inform all consumers and single site small and medium enterprises (SMEs) of the upgrade programme, regardless of who their service provider or providers are. This programme will let them know when the migration to 21CN will happen in their area, how it will be done and what it means for them. Further details of this programme will be announced in October.

Corporate customers will receive more detailed communications directly from their communications providers, including the comprehensive testing regime for customer equipment which is already well underway.

A list of all customer equipment scheduled for test, and details of how to request that a particular piece of equipment not on the list is tested, can be downloaded from www.btplc.com/21cn/CPEtests