The network has gone soft
Evolutionary theory tells us that those that adapt best to changing environments are the ones most likely to survive. In the 21st Century telecommunications is facing an evolution from a world of hard switching and physical engineering to one dominated by software driven systems that can match the demand from communications providers and end-users for flexibility, cost-effectiveness and convergence in future communication services.
The 21st Century Network (21CN) is BT's ambitious and far reaching next-generation network transformation programme. By utilising soft-switching it can provide a highly flexible, open standards-based network architecture, with the capability to quickly create and deploy new services in contrast to the limitations of the traditional circuit-switched telecom network.
Matt Beal, director of Strategy, BT Design, says: "Today the software is as critical as the physical fibres and network components that make up the tangible network. This software focused approach in BT's 21CN will enhance innovation, by providing a foundation for new software-driven products and services."
With today's consumers driving change at a rapid pace, services need to be launched, upgraded and potentially retired more quickly than ever before. Consumers are increasingly dependent on communication services in their personal and working lives, and in turn they have become more demanding. To be truly compelling, these services need to be simple, seamless, intuitive and customisable.
These characteristics are just as relevant for communications providers, which seek flexible wholesale solutions that provide greater control.
Feature -rich services
For example, next year BT is due to launch Wholesale Broadband Connect, offering speeds of up to 24Mbit/s. It will enable cost-effective delivery of feature rich services and applications, together with simpler ordering and fault reporting and greater flexibility of billing.
Longer term BT's 21CN will allow communications providers to interact with the network to alter certain elements to meet their own customers' needs and thereby increase their ability to offer differentiated services.
Beal is aware of the need for wholesale providers to offer a broader portfolio and at the same time tailor the packages so communications providers can meet the rapidly evolving demands of their end-user customers by developing innovative and reliable new services.
He says: "In parallel to the deployment of the 21CN network infrastructure, we are simplifying our wholesale product portfolio into a mix and match of reusable common components such as presence, security and user profile."
"This is revolutionising the way BT's wholesale customers can package and sell their services. By building services in this way it will mean the time required to take a concept from idea to launch will be cut from an average of 18 months to less than six and in some cases to just a few days."
One of the first examples of next-generation self-service solutions is a new carrier Ethernet service based solely on 21CN components. It enables communication providers to offer connectivity speeds up to 500Mbps to customers who want to connect multiple sites and flex their bandwidth requirements up or down as required. With an intuitive, self-service capability the Ethernet service can be managed through a single graphical user interface.
Central to BT's approach with 21CN solutions is ensuring communications providers can realise the benefits of delivering software driven services over BT's broadband network. To this end, BT has created Web21c, which in simple terms is web 2.0 running on the 21CN global network, bringing together BT's nascent on-demand computing infrastructure, with 21CN capabilities and reusable platforms.
BT is also creating software development kits (SDKs) to open up the network capability to third party developers. This allows them to innovate and create new services without having to be an expert in telecoms protocols and infrastructure. More than 3,000 developers worldwide have already registered to be part of BT's Web21C community.
Beal believes software-driven networks are going to be a massive driver of innovation in the next generation of broadband enabled services. He says: "The 21CN is designed to empower end-users, businesses and communications providers with control, choice and flexibility as never before. The strength of the proposition lies in the capabilities delivered by software development to enhance what we can offer to our customers."