BT lays out its next-gen network roadmap, with convergence and 5G at its heart, 5G

While the enhanced 5G coverage will grab a lot of headlines, perhaps the most important developments in terms of BT’s favorable network architecture are the introduction of 5G standalone (SA) systems, the deployment of a single intelligent core platform of BT Network Cloud and the deployment of a transport ( IP / optical) infrastructure.

The advantages and efficiencies that BT must gain from these moves will be crucial for its ability to compete at a given service and economic level with its competitors and to provide the services that each type of consumer (consumer, enterprise, government, trade) wholesale) will require.

The operator has long worked for a unified, convergent transport infrastructure, instead of a mish-mash of multiple optical and packet networks, with Ciena and Nokia playing important roles in the technology partnership. It is not there yet and “it will take some time”, but this unified supporting transport network is under way in the next few years, says Tom Bennett, BT’s Partnerships and Innovation Director.

And now it is about to have a converged core platform for subscriber data management, policy control, API management, service monitoring and more for all its customers, fixed and mobile. This technology comes from Ericsson, which closed the plum deal to provide its core in a dual-mode core (2G / 3G / 4G and 5G management) in April last year: This core will run on the BT Network Cloud platform , which is already heavily distributed (more than 100 nodes), as BT’s chief architect Neil McRae explained recently in an exclusive interview, in which he also revealed that Nokia and Oracle also provide some of the key features of BT’s next-generation platform. . (Look Neil McRae on 5G and BT’s Network Cloud.)

But it will be some time before full convergence becomes a reality: BT’s presentation quotes “mid-2020s” for that purpose, but that could mean anything until 2027: Bennett says BT is absolutely committed to the convergence of transport and intelligent core systems, but there are still many steps to be taken and it may be towards the end of that period before the full benefits are reaped.

This puts BT somehow behind its previous goal, according to Pescatore, which (with a memory bank that many of us would be proud of) notes that “during the consumer update in May 2018, Allera presented a vision for a ‘smart’ converged network will be completed by 2022. This has already been shifted to mid-2020.

Meanwhile, BT is working on full self-deployment of 5G (access to new radio and core), with commercial trials with customers, along with finite computing trials starting this year, with commercial deployment over the next few years, when special services will be activated network slicks and unmanned highways and services such as cloud games, live AR / VR and standalone private network applications enhanced by lower latency (less than 20 ms).

And while other operators, especially BT’s older European peers, have expressed enthusiasm for Open RAN as part of short-term 5G plans, the UK’s national operator is holding the proposal on fire as it focuses on other priorities, Watson said. (Look BT Technical Director: First replacement of Huawei, later Open RAN.)

What will this mean for flexibility / time to market, operating costs and BT’s sustainable development goals, indicators that are becoming increasingly important?

BT says its goal is to maintain its opex operating system while consolidating the network and expanding coverage, and to “increase its energy efficiency over time” (a more vague answer is hard to imagine). As for improving its ability to be available on board and offer new services faster, with a next-generation core, the operator says that “the cloud’s own stand-alone network with a special test segment for new services can be created in days and migrated to a commercial service in weeks, with IT integrations being the long results. ”

Overall, the plan is “evidence of unified thinking in its business,” said Richard Webb, CCS Insight’s director of network infrastructure. “It sets some aggressive targets as a basis, such as network coverage in both mobile and fixed networks, as well as a roadmap to still-defined service areas. The proliferation of 5G Standalone is also exciting, as it extends to the network’s advanced capabilities from which new user experiences can be created – potentially being a platform for things like virtual reality / augmented reality services as just one example. ”

He also highlighted the important role of “3 As” in automation, artificial intelligence and analysis, plus machine learning and finite computing and software-defined cloud networks to secure BT’s future portfolio of services.

For the Web, in the end, this “shows something of BT’s strategy to transform itself into an improved connectivity, IT and digital services provider in the 2020s.”

And in six or seven years we will know if it is enough.

– Ray Le Mestre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV