BT names suppliers for 21st Century Network

Telco picks 8 network infrastructure providers from seven countries

SAN FRANCISCO - BT Group has picked eight network infrastructure vendors from seven countries as preferred suppliers for its 21st Century Network, a voice, video and data network that the U.K.'s incumbent national carrier plans to build over the next five years at a cost as high as £10 billion (US$19 billion).

The choice of vendors was announced after a two-year process in which BT talked with more than 300 potential suppliers, according to a BT statement issued Thursday. The eight vendors are expected to choose many more subcontractors in order to carry out their portions of the project.

The network, known as 21CN, will be built to carry multiple services over an IP (Internet Protocol) backbone. It will consist of metropolitan nodes linked via optical fiber to larger core routing systems.

At the core of the network, BT chose dominant router vendor Cisco Systems Inc. and also Lucent Technologies Inc., which will deliver Juniper Networks Inc. routing systems and Lucent's own element management systems. Cisco's proposal to BT was based on its Carrier Routing System-1, a massive platform announced last year that can route as much as 92T bps (bits per second) using multiple interconnected racks of interfaces. Lucent, a Juniper partner, will supply Juniper's M320 and T640 routers as well as the TX Matrix system announced last year that can interconnect multiple T640s. Those will be managed using the Lucent technology.

Metropolitan nodes, which will provide routing and signalling for services provided on the network, will be supplied by France's Alcatel SA and Germany's Siemens AG as well as Cisco, BT said.

At the edges of the network, 21CN will hook up with BT's existing access network through multiservice access nodes that initially will carry data and voice services. Japan's Fujitsu Ltd. and China's Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. are the preferred suppliers of that gear.

Huawei also was named a preferred supplier in the transmission portion of the project, supplying optical electronics that will convert electronic signals into light waves for transmission between metro and core nodes. Ciena Corp., in Lithicum, Maryland, also is a preferred supplier in this category. The optical fiber to be used in the network is already largely in place, BT said.

Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson of Sweden was the only preferred supplier chosen for what BT calls the "i-node" portion of the network, which includes softswitches, network intelligence and bandwidth management capabilities for controlling the services that run over the network, according to BT.

Much was at stake for the vendors in this project, Ovum Ltd. analyst Julian Hewett said in an e-mail commentary Thursday. The biggest surprise was the absence of London-based Marconi Corp. PLC, currently a major supplier to BT, Hewett said. Marconi said in a statement that it was "unable to meet BT's commercial requirements," which Hewett said indicated that the carrier took a hard line on prices in choosing among vendor proposals.

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