BT's 21CN 'a threat to next-gen broadband'

TalkTalk sings the IP blues

TalkTalk sings the IP blues

The pace of progress on BT's 21CN and Ofcom's leisurely attitude to ironing out regulatory issues could put future broadband networks at risk, according to a senior TalkTalk executive.

Speaking at the CMA annual conference in London yesterday, Neil McArthur, chairman of the broadband and home phone company, said: "If BT 21CN doesn't arrive in a reasonable timeframe - I'm sorry to talk about a fellow carrier here - but seriously, it's so important to the interconnect of every other carrier in the country, it's a real threat to the deployment of other NGNs [next-generation networks]."

21CN is the overhaul of BT's core network from traditional PSTN lines, to a single, all-IP network for voice and data.

BT's original plan was for the rollout of 21CN to be completed at the end of 2010 but the timeframe has since slipped and the telco's 21CN website describes the task as "a gargantuan technical, logistical and operational programme".

McArthur said while next-generation access (NGA) gets plenty of media and government attention - communications minister Lord Carter's Digital Britain interim report includes a provision for universal broadband access by 2012, for instance - there's less focus on smoothing the way for next-generation networks.

"NGA is a very political thing - it's a big headline government thing - but until we actually get the NGNs working having NGAs without NGNs is really pointless and really we do need both," he said.

However a BT spokeswoman rejected McArthur's criticism of 21CN progress.

"I'm not too sure of how he's claiming that the rollout of 21CN threatens the deployment of other next-generation networks when we have next-generation products up and running on our network that we're selling to other communications providers right now," she said.

"There's been lots of progress with 21CN over the last year or so. We've already completed the build of our core network so the core infrastructure in the UK is now 100 per cent complete and that's massive progress. More importantly, we've also got products live on 21CN at the moment," she added.

21CN customer migration will now be completed by around 2011/2012, according to the spokeswoman, and the timeline for the rollout has been agreed with UK communications providers.

The spokeswoman attributed the completion date move to the demand from communications providers and end users. Asked whether this "demand-led" approach could lead to further schedule slippage, the spokeswoman said: "I don't think we envisage that, no."

TalkTalk's McArthur also hit out at telecoms watchdog Ofcom for "slowing us down" by not resolving regulatory issues faster.

"There's still a lot to do on the regulatory space. It really is going at 21CN pace - which is completely unacceptable and has to stop… Ofcom appears to be embracing NGNs at BT Wholesale's pace," he said.

"There's billions of [bits] flying round this country now on NGNs and we should really already have IP interconnect and charging regimes and all that in place and obviously we're pressing very very hard to get on with this," McArthur added.