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Nice network, BT. Where's the data?

BT is in danger of enforcing obsolescence on Britain. If it has bright ideas, it should share them — fast
Written by Leader , Contributor

BT has always been fond of self-congratulation. From its days as an organ of the State, it has inherited an almost propagandistic drive to present itself as the recipient of the same divine providence that made Great Britain the natural ruler of the world. Such bombast does not hold up well in the 21st Century.

Take the 21CN network, which the company describes as radical, groundbreaking, ambitious and exciting. It's also a year late and holding back other services.

When it's finished, the best domestic customers can expect is ADSL2+ at 24Mbps, a speed consumers in other countries already consider second-tier. In Sweden, for example, "broadband" already means 100Mbps — and even in the UK, NTL has announced a 50Mbps trial in Kent. BT's own promotional material skips lightly over any talk of speed, preferring to concentrate on the flexibility, adaptability, efficiency and resilience that you get when you use established standard networking technologies such as Ethernet and IP.

Outside BT, this isn't news. News would be that BT is planning to go beyond what others already enjoy. News would be that we have a timetable for 100Mbps and beyond. News would be that we can start to plan for the sort of high-speed delivery systems that will match the high-definition, low-latency services that are already taking shape elsewhere.

Instead, we're not going to get much and we're not even going to get that any time soon. It's gratifying that the company is going to adopt cost-saving, modern network configuration and management techniques: such things are essential if it wants to be in with a chance of competing beyond the turn of the decade. It's also almost inconceivable that BT hasn't got an idea of how it will use all that to create new and competitive services — but it's doing a very bad job of communicating that, if it doesn't.

Without clear guidance for its future services, BT runs the risk of drifting into obsolescence before its internal reforms have a chance to take effect. If it can't see what's coming, its investors and customers will be forced to look elsewhere.

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