Eric Krapf
Eric Krapf is General Manager and Program Co-Chair for Enterprise Connect, the leading conference/exhibition and online events brand in the...
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Eric Krapf | September 29, 2008 |


Europe's Telcos Reinvent Themselves

Europe's Telcos Reinvent Themselves British Telecom (BT) led the charge into all-IP, next-gen networks. A £10 billion (US$18 billion at the time of writing) investment in its 21st Century Network (21CN) was announced back in 2004, and while there have been some glitches, changes of technology direction and delays along the way, the main objectives have been realized.

British Telecom (BT) led the charge into all-IP, next-gen networks. A £10 billion (US$18 billion at the time of writing) investment in its 21st Century Network (21CN) was announced back in 2004, and while there have been some glitches, changes of technology direction and delays along the way, the main objectives have been realized.

This post was written by Bob Emmerson, No Jitter Contributing Editor for Europe. British Telecom (BT) led the charge into all-IP, next-gen networks. A £10 billion (US$18 billion at the time of writing) investment in its 21st Century Network (21CN) was announced back in 2004, and while there have been some glitches, changes of technology direction and delays along the way, the main objectives have been realized. IP infrastructures have significantly lower operating costs; annual savings will be £1 billion (U$1.8 billion) when the transition is complete and of course it's the optimum way to deliver broadband services and applications. But more - much more -- is needed to recoup that investment.One way - a very interesting way - was to market their 21CN knowledge and expertise to other telcos, but that doesn't represent a long-term revenue stream. Another is through BT Global Services, which currently offers a broad range of IT services, including voice and data, in more than 170 countries. This business unit targets large, multi-national enterprises. One acid test of these global objectives and the ability to leverage that network can be seen in the U.S., which was a hard market for a UK carrier to crack. BT owns 28 MPLS nodes across the US and Canada, making up one of the larger MPLS networks in the region, and that footprint enables BT to partner with other heavyweight players who want to offer global communication services. For example, BT has agreements with other carriers that provide extended POP access in more than 500 locations.

Thomson Reuters employs this network to deliver services and information to 330,000 financial services professionals. Procter & Gamble is another global customer that has around 135,000 employees at 1,100 sites in more than 80 countries. "Procter & Gamble looked to BT to transform its IT-based network infrastructure," explained Michael Boustridge, president, BT Americas. "BT will provide and manage the services that support the company's IT requirements over their local and wide area network infrastructure, which comprises more than 1,100 locations in more than 82 countries. BT will also migrate these services to a high-speed, global MPLS infrastructure and provide additional services such as perimeter security."

In addition, BT is strong on the high-definition video front, e.g. BT One Source for Cisco TelePresence. This allows BT to offer a global videoconference service to multinational customers, one of whom - somewhat surprisingly - is Google. Another interesting development is use of the global network to host the services of SAP and Oracle--services that target small- and medium-sized enterprises. Conclusion: build a better network and 800-pound gorillas will beat a path to your door.

Web-based Telephony While all-IP networks like 21CN have lower operating costs than the traditional TDM infrastructures, they also break the stovepipe, service-creation model. Services can be created in much shorter time frames because the wheel doesn't need to be reinvented each time. Instead, components can be shared: that is one of the big promises of the Internet Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), the framework upon which 21CN was built.

BT has been opening its network to the development community via an SDK, but in July this year they unzipped a pair of seven-league boots and paid US$105 million for Ribbit. This is a Silicon Valley start-up that has been in stealth mode. Ribbit's platform is currently used by more than 2,500 developers to integrate voice features into Web applications such as Saleforce and Facebook. (Incidentally, BT is a big internal user of Facebook: 10K at the time of writing and a rollout to 25K additional users is planned.)

More on Ribbit and Amphibian Ribbit was created to bridge the gap between telephony (mainly mobile) and the Internet. Amphibian is the code name for the first consumer application, so called because it links these two distinct environments. That's the spin, and of course we've been here before, but visit the site and you'll see some impressive functionality. It's clear that BT was impressed.

The way Ribbit works is deceptively simple. Voice is turned into a "data object" and after that, anything that makes sense is possible. You forward your mobile phone number to the system and that creates a seamless merger with the Internet. That's it, but of course the developers can use that merger and Ribbit's API to create voiceware applications. No downloads or software installs are needed and the applications run on all mobile devices.

Amphibian lets you make and receive mobile calls via the browser, manage voice mail as if it was email, and so on. There's a long list of features. The screen shot above illustrates Web-based call and message management, and it should dispel any "we've been here before" impression. This application takes calls when you're busy - no big deal - but it also transcribes them to text, so they can be searched by keywords. Messages can be listened to in any order, they can be sorted and, if necessary, they can be forwarded. You can call back from the message or the virtual phone and you can call out using the mobile, Skype, MSN or Googletalk. And a "shout" feature allows return calls to be made to voice mail without ringing the other party's phone.

Ribbit's core telecom product is an open, Web-based platform known as the Ribbit SmartSwitch, a multi-protocol carrier-grade, Lucent certified, Class 5 soft switch. This is the hardware that allows calls to be initiated and answered on multiple devices and run across multiple communication protocols, networks, and device types. However, as shown in the figure below, the company is built like a software company rather than a phone company. Access to the switch is enabled via the API.

British Telecom (BT) led the charge into all-IP, next-gen networks. A £10 billion (US$18 billion at the time of writing) investment in its 21st Century Network (21CN) was announced back in 2004, and while there have been some glitches, changes of technology direction and delays along the way, the main objectives have been realized.


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