BT to offer 21CN experience overseas

Telecommunications giant says it can tap into a €38bn market with knowledge gained by implementing its next-generation network

BT says it will use its experience of setting up a next-generation IP network in the UK to act as a consultant to telecommunications providers in other countries.

The incumbent announced on Wednesday that it was launching a new business unit — dubbed 21C Global Venture — to target a market which it believes to be worth €38bn over the next five years.

BT's next-generation network (NGN), 21CN, has just connected its first customers in South Wales, and supposedly will be fully rolled out across the UK by 2011, thus spelling the end of the traditional PSTN phone network. NGNs are entirely IP-based networks, designed to carry voice and data but also to provide a framework upon which new services can be easily rolled out.

"We have made traction where other people were having difficulty," BT Group's chief technology officer, Matt Bross, said on Wednesday. He added that 21C Global Venture was a matter of "tying up the innovation machine in BT with the channel we've got in BT Global Services" and could call upon the skills of around 8,000 BT employees.

Bross stressed that the division would have to avoid hubris in its approach, pointing out that "you have to assume you're talking to highly competent people who are simply at a different stage [in the development of their NGN]".

However, some critics of the telco may see the formation of 21C Global Venture as slightly ambitious given that BT has admitted that its own 21CN project will overrun by at least a year.

Asked if 21C Global Venture would face competition from the suppliers that helped create 21CN itself — such as Nortel and Alcatel — Bross acknowledged that BT might face "co-opetition" but suggested that those companies' credibility had been enhanced by their involvement in 21CN.

Michael Heuer, vice president of business development for BT Global Telecom Markets (BT's carrier services division), pointed out that BT was the only player with experience in organising such a multi-vendor operation from the top.

Heuer also suggested that the venture would find its biggest market outside of Western Europe, perhaps even in North America. The first customer for the service will be Turk Telecom, in which BT helped investor Oger Telecom buy a majority stake in 2005.

BT already has a global IP-based network, connecting more than 1,200 points of presence in 100 countries and with a target of reaching 160 countries by the end of next year.