Oftel proposals threaten BT's network roadmap

BT today warned that Oftel's proposals for opening up the local loop to rivals could threaten to derail its next-generation data network project.

Unveiled earlier today, the telecoms watchdog's two-pronged plan will allow both BT and its competitors to upgrade the UK's age-old local, copper technology by July 2001.

But the telecoms giant claimed the proposal "raises significant operational, technical and security issues" and that the industry was wading into "untested water".

"There's a risk that the twin-track approach will divert investment away from the Option 4 (BT upgrades/leases/sells high-speed lines) environment. All our engineers will be absorbed in working on the other stage," said a BT spokesman.

BT warned that bandwidth traffic clashes could result in cross talk or interference while security, from both BT and the customer's perspective, may be compromised. " With 5 or 6 operators sharing information across one exchange, there's room for error. It's no trivial matter. Customer confidentiality could be compromised," he stressed.

Other problems BT foresees include the issue of co-location or management of various operators' kit at one exchange and the quality of customer support.

Oftel's director of technology Peter Walker admitted there were grey patches in the watchdog's latest Access to Bandwidth plan of action. "We have spent quite some time working out what is a very difficult policy decision. There are some pretty strong feelings in the industry. It reflects the need to get it right," he said.

The company insists it's proposition: upgrading to faster network technology, including Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology; offering "good, wholesale prices; handling network control and management and investing heavily" meets the industry's and customer needs. BT said it will announce pricing details for its upcoming ADSL service "imminently".

But Oftel is not convinced. "If an SME (small to medium enterprise) wants to run a Net server, asynchronous data path may not be suitable. SMEs may want to offer different services," warned Walker.

Cable companies also expressed reservations about the proposals. Many are worried that if leaner operators jump into the local loop, their investment in cable networks will be undermined.

Although Oftel's proposals are still open to changes, BT has agreed to co-operate and stick to the 2001 timeframe.

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