KPNQwest's Ebone operators are ready to go it alone

Ebone, a major part of KPNQwest's network, will continue beyond the liquidator's deadline if no buyer is found, say staff. The network came 'within 60 seconds' of shutoff last week

The operators at KPNQwest's Ebone operations centre in Hoeilaart, Belgium are ready to carry on working independently again if, at the end of June, administrators have not found a buyer for their network. Workers on Ebone, which was only purchased in March, are stressing the independence of their network from the rest of KPNQwest. "At the end of the month, we will be fresh enough to carry on independently," said Graham Kinsey, a spokesman for the Ebone workers. Friday's threat by the workers to turn off the network if they did not get paid was a result of "exhaustion", he said. No details have emerged about the two consortia reportedly bidding for the network, although workers at the Belgian network centre have spoken to them. "I don't know much about them," said Graham Kinsey, a spokesman for the Ebone workers. The people he has spoken to are acting for one or more service providers, he said. "If they have convinced venture capitalists to put up money for a telecoms investment at this point, they must be good," Kinsey said. "Perhaps it is time for telecoms management to move aside." More financially oriented management might be better: "If we cut costs, we may become a more efficient business." Today, the dust is settling from a nail-biting week which saw KPNQwest's liquidators threatening to shut down its transmission business on Tuesday if customers did not pay up front, and the Ebone staff threatening to shut down their network on Friday if their employment was not clarified. But Kinsey stressed that these deadlines were actually separate, and the workers are the ones with the real power to turn the network off. "We were within 60 seconds of starting the scripts which would shut down the network on Friday," he said. Earlier in the week, if the liquidators had carried out their threat to pull the plug on the network, some parts of KPNQwest would have gone, but Ebone would have continued, said Kinsey. "We were prepared," he said. "If KPNQwest had shut down its transmission backbone, ours had no plans to shut down." Likewise, if Ebone staff had shut down the Ebone network on Friday, parts of KPNQwest's transmission network would have continued. When KPNQwest bought Ebone, it laid off many staff from the KPNQWest network centre in the Hague and moved its main operations to Ebone's Belgian centre, said Kinsey. The staff started to cross-train, and the two networks began to share traffic. "We had IP backbone integration at the transmission level," Kinsey said. However, the networks could be easily separated: "Ebone could be sold as a separate entity, and I would expect that to happen," he said. While the rest of KPNQwest has lost customers, most of Ebone's original customer base is still there, he said: "We are very lucky to have the customers we have." The rest of KPNQwest included several single-country networks, which are expected to be sold off separately. "They will go independent or go to other providers," said Kinsey. The operations centre now has 40 Ebone staff working for the liquidator until the end of the month. However, many of the original complement of 350, who were made redundant on 4 June, are still there said Kinsey. "Forty of us are fighting to secure jobs for as many as possible of the others," he said. A Webcam shows the staff at work in the network operations centre. One key message for end-users is that their disaster recovery plans should cover financial disasters at service providers. "Even if it is a DSL line, you should have something anyway," Kinsey said. Other service providers may also go, he warned. And moving to another service provider will not always get you away from KPNQwest: "Some are just becoming customers of our customers," said Kinsey. One customer said goodbye to Kinsey, only to learn that the provider he was moving to was itself a customer of KPNQwest. KPNQwest, including Ebone, carries between a quarter and a third of European IP traffic, said Kinsey. Although other networks, such as that of BT Ignite, may claim to have more fibre miles, KPNQwest carries more traffic, he said.

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