Spreading the NGN word

BT set up 21 Century Global Venture to share its unique NGN experience with service providers around the world. Steve Johnson, head of the venture, shares with group editor Joseph Waring how BT is using insight gained through 21CN in the UK to help others accelerate and lower the risk of NGN programs

Telecom Asia: What was the main reason for starting up the venture‾

Steve Johnson: As I'm sure you're aware, BT's 21 Century Network program, particularly the transformation we're undergoing in the UK, given the scale of it and the fact that we're completely replacing all of our legacy networks, is pretty much more radical than anyone else is doing on that scale, and therefore is attracting a great deal of interest from other network operators around the world.

The rationale behind the 21 Century Global Venture is to take the learning from the UK and package it up in a way we can actually work with other operators to help them analyze their own situations and look at NGN transformation and see how it could work for them. We work with them to implement the transformation, effectively learning from the mistakes we made in the UK to help the operators transform more quickly and at lower risk then they could probably do themselves.  Ultimately we think there is money in it.

Is this essentially a branching of your managed services business‾

Part of this is around a broader transformation of what we do in the wholesale business outside of the UK. Within our global services division, we have an organization called Global Telecoms Markets, which is a global wholesale channel and undergoing a more general transformation into the provision of managed services to other operators. 21C Global Ventures has been set up with Global Telecom Markets as the sales channel if you will as part of that transformation.

After your experience with 21CN, it would appear fairly logical to market that expertise to others.
Absolutely. What we're finding in practice is that service providers are coming at this from a number of different directions. Some are in a similar situation to BT and wondering how they would go about effecting such a transformation, what sort of investment would be needed and managing the risk of that, and what it means in terms of customer impact. Others are coming at this from various new opportunities, perhaps from investment in new infrastructure, growing the footprint of the network and increasing its penetration. Essentially here we're looking at a more greenfield build of an NGN.

We're seeing both of those extremes - major transformational opportunities but also significant greenfield opportunities as well.

How receptive have operators been to being approached by another service provider instead of by an equipment vendor‾

They are pretty receptive. Our value is that because we are going this for ourselves and because we are a service provider we understand all the dimensions of this. The vendors obviously can advise on the technical aspects and will tend to steer the solution toward one that they can deliver. BT has deliberately gone for a multi-vendor solution in the UK, with essentially two vendors for each of the technology domains, which gives us better security against any problem with any individual vendor and also lower overall cost than if we had gone for a single-vendor solution.


But the key point for us is that the transformation is not just a network transformation, it actually impacts all aspects of the company, so to gain the benefit of it you transform not just the network technology but also the systems infrastructure. Certainly within BT we're doing a massive rationalization of all the different systems we have in place. You re-engineer the processes to be simpler and more consistent between different products. You review and change your product portfolio, which impacts the overall organization. Essentially it's a complete business transformation, not just a technology change.

As a service provider we understand that because it's impacting us in that way. A vendor doing this wouldn't have that level of understanding.

What surprises have you encountered since starting up last December‾

When we first started, we thought everything would start with the consulting phase, then move to build, operate and so on. What we're seeing is customers are coming at this from a number of different directions, so we don't always start with the consulting phase. We may, for example, start with responding to an RFP for a network build. Things have evolved slightly differently than perhaps we had originally anticipated.

What regions are you targeting‾

It's a global play, but we're tending to see most the opportunities in emerging markets - parts of Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe. However, there are some interesting opportunities in Western Europe and North America as well.

What's your resourcing model to ensure you have the right people when these project start up and expand‾

There are three elements to our resourcing model. There's the global venture itself, which has a hand-picked team of people with a range of skills, some of which have come directly from the UK 21CN program. Some have skills on the consultancy side, some are network design experts, others have expertise on techno-economic modeling - financial modeling of revenues and costs and  business modeling. The first tier is the Global Venture, and we provide the leadership to provide these projects.

The second tier is to draw on subject matter expertise  from across BT. We've got our research and development division, global professional services, which has a lot of business consulting skills, and the 21CN program itself. We have agreements from across BT Group to get access to the people we need to deliver these projects.

The third tier, particular in terms of getting on-the-ground support, is to work with local partners, which could be some of the vendors as well as other country-specific partners.

We have a flexible resourcing model where we can pull in the expertise from across BT and externally.

How many people does the Global Venture have now‾

Understanding we're still in the start-up phase, the venture has about 20 people. But we can draw on a much wider pool of people, so the size of project teams we have working on some of the opportunities is much bigger than you'd expect from a team of 20 people, who are providing the leadership.


Can you give us an update on the status of 21CN‾

We cut over the first customers last November, and we're continuing with the migration of customers in one region, which in the next few months will reach about 350,000 customers. What we'll then do is pause the migration to review how the initial phase went, look at what was learned, then carefully plan how we'll do the mass migration across the country, which will start in 2008.

Effectively not a lot has changed over the past couple of months, but we're on course to complete that initial migration over the next few months‾

What are some of the lessons learned so far‾

There has been an enormous amount of learning already in terms of understanding vendor capabilities, technologies and all the financial modeling around how you make a business case to do this. We went through a massive vendor selection exercise, which was probably the single biggest exercise of its type. We've also gone through an enormous amount of testing both in the labs and sending test calls across the network.

Because we're migrating everything, we have a customer experience champion who looks at all possible impacts on the customer and makes sure there's no changes in the services from today to when they make the migration. This include things like does the dial tone sound exactly the same, because if it doesn't we'll probably get lots of calls to our call centers saying there something wrong.