BT pulls itself together and enters the all-IP marathon
UK operator BT has announced its intention to combine its business and public sector, wholesale and ventures businesses into a single entity called BT Enterprise. This seems like a very logical move but there could be more to it than first meets the eye, writes independent telecoms journalist Peter Dykes.
Until recently, one might have been forgiven for thinking operators were ignoring the dire warnings to operators from analysts and particularly vendors with SDN and NFV products in their portfolios, that virtualisation without corporate restructuring is a non-starter. However, things appear to be changing.
In a press statement, Gavin Patterson, BT chief executive, said, “Having brought together our Consumer and EE businesses, this is the next step in the simplification of BT’s operating model. Combining our enterprise businesses will allow us to strengthen the services and products we offer to businesses and sharpen our focus on customer service through clear accountabilities and by introducing efficiencies.” He adds, “Together, our senior management team will ensure that BT realises its full potential, connecting customers in the UK and beyond to next-generation digital communications services, content and networks.”
So, this being the ‘next step’, what could be the one after that? Recent press reports suggest that it could be more radical than merely combining business units. It appears that BT is planning, not for the first time, to turn off the good old PSTN and migrate all its customers to VoIP with a target date for completion of 2025.
BT is however slightly behind the curve with this roadmap, only talking about beginning consultations in May 2018. Elsewhere, Orange is aiming to go all IP by 2020 and Deutsche Telekom is talking of completing mass migration to digital in Europe by the end of 2018.
The last time the UK’s former incumbent tried to pull off this stunt it punted an initiative dubbed the 21st Century Network (21CN). While this was not exactly an unmitigated disaster (it did indeed leave the operator with a perfectly viable IP core network) the original ambition of an all-IP PSTN replacement remained unfulfilled.
Bad billing experiences?
At the time, various rumours were circulating about the reasons for the downfall including difficulties with billing and failures of technology, none of which were ever really confirmed by BT. The real problem however was most likely the failure to realise that technological change has to go hand in hand with organisational restructuring something which was hardly discussed at the time of 21CN.
The point is however, that switching from one technology to a new and radically different means of supporting and delivering services is much like turning a super tanker at sea – it takes a long time and success is wholly dependent on preparation.
The difficulty is all the greater when the new technology, in this case network virtualisation and VoIP, not only fundamentally changes the workings of the network and support infrastructure, but also opens up new possibilities for revenue streams that require completely different business models to those which have served in the past.
It definitely helps, however, if there is one common platform and one division of the organisation dedicated serving its customers. Now it’s just a case of getting the cut-over from circuit-switched to all-IP done without any hitches. Better luck this time BT.
The author of this blog is freelance telecoms writer, Peter Dykes