April 28, 2005 8:38 AM PDT

BT picks partners for network upgrade

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BT Group has chosen its preferred suppliers for a multibillion-dollar upgrade of its U.K. infrastructure.

Among those selected are Alcatel, Ciena, Cisco Systems, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Huawei, Lucent Technologies and Siemens. All have been picked to supply equipment and services that will allow BT to replace existing circuit-switched networks with a single IP-based network. The project is known as the 21st Century Network project, or 21CN.

"21CN is a key infrastructure that will fuel the U.K. economy and provide a flexible way for consumers to use new services. The selection of the preferred suppliers is an incredibly important building block towards that vision," Paul Reynolds, BT Wholesale's chief executive, said in a statement.

However, some big names have missed out, most notably Marconi, whose share price plunged more than 40 percent following BT's announcement.

Marconi said Thursday that its product had "performed extremely well technically" but that it had been unable to meet BT's "commercial requirements."

The project is expected to cost BT about $19.1 billion (10 billion pounds) during the next few years. BT is the first incumbent telecom to embark on such an ambitious upgrade. While this means BT must address the challenges inherent with being first up to bat, the upside is that the company is in a strong position when negotiating contracts with suppliers. That's because involvement in 21CN will be valuable to BT's partners when other telecoms start upgrading their networks.

Fujitsu and Huawei will supply the technology to link BT's existing voice and data networks with the new IP-based infrastructure. Alcatel, Cisco and Siemens will supply hardware for the "metro nodes," which will handle the routing and signaling functions for the unified 21CN network for voice, data and video traffic.

Cisco and Lucent will provide the core nodes--high-capacity, large-scale routers providing connections between metro nodes. Cisco will deploy its CRS-1 router, which typically costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ericsson will supply control systems for 21CN, while Ciena and Huawei will supply the optical electronics that will convert signals carried at high capacity over the cables connecting the metro and core nodes.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.

 

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