BT Victim of Revisionist “All-IP” History

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With neighboring service providers, Deutsche Telekom (DT) and Orange recently announcing aggressive schedules to migrate their networks completely to the Internet Protocol (IP), British Telecom has become the poster child of supposed laggards regarding moving away from the (Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Indeed, the current characterization of BT was self-inflicted as no other service provider last decade came close to the promotional effort of its CN21. Yet, despite presently being described in the press as a leader in the transition to a network that aims to be 100% IP by the end of 2018, DT back in 2006 talked about its NGN plan to eliminate all of its circuit switches no later than 2012.

Five other examples of off-the-mark predictions made by operators include: 1) It took until 2008 before NTT decided to correct the record on a widespread misunderstanding started four years earlier that the carrier would be making dramatic alterations to its PSTN by 2010; 2) KPN came out with an all-IP game plan in 2005, in which there became the hope of a migration from its older infrastructure as early as 2010; 3) In 2006, Swisscom believed it was quite possible that there would be a change-out of a large number of its local exchanges by 2010; 4) In 2008, KT anticipated shifting to all-IP by 2012; and 5) In 2009, Telecom New Zealand aimed for 60% IP switching by 2015.

Ostensibly forgotten in the current Eurocentric discussion was the statement by AT&T in 2012 that it planned to convert its infrastructure totally to IP by 2020. Elimination of the giant carrier’s huge TDM installed base seemed unmanageable back then and is even more incredible to contemplate nearer to the timeframe. Also, the OTN-centric folks on the transport side of the business at AT&T will not be shy about expressing their strong arguments concerning greater flexibility in accommodating a wide array of services as well as a flatter and cheaper approach.

It is usually close to impossible to forecast the complete elimination of a technology in public networks because of the propensity of older solutions to remain in existence for what seems like forever. Although they are scarce, party lines still continue to be around in rural areas of the US. Despite the SONET/SDH revolution, there is still apparently an active market for asynchronous M13 multiplexers.

So, it is probably advisable not to provide firm dates on the completion of such massive alterations of networks. In addition to the telecom space tending to change at a snail’s pace in general, there will always be all kinds of unanticipated developments that can further slow down the process including regulatory decisions, CAPEX pressures, as well as shifting market conditions. At most, if a company is truly serious about making a major overhaul, it is best to project out in smaller increments over a shorter period of time to ensure more reliable prognostications, as was accomplished during the replacement of analog central offices with digital systems.

[written by Mark Lutkowitz]