The biggest ever shake-up in British Telecommunications Plc’s business, services and relationship with its customers was outlined in a low-key manner by BT staff at the ISDN show in Wembley last week. The company’s Vision of the Future describes a Britain where everyone – residential and business subscriber alike – is equipped with Integrated Services […]
The biggest ever shake-up in British Telecommunications Plc’s business, services and relationship with its customers was outlined in a low-key manner by BT staff at the ISDN show in Wembley last week. The company’s Vision of the Future describes a Britain where everyone – residential and business subscriber alike – is equipped with Integrated Services Digital Network lines. These will range seamlessly from a single 64Kbps B channel (no supplementary services) or 1B+D (for those that want them) for residential users, to multiples of the current primary rate 30B+D offering.
This essential merging of primary rate and basic rate services will be achieved using the ‘fractional Megastream’ technology that the company’s Martlesham Laboratory on Martlesham Heath, Suffolk has developed for squeezing multiple ISDN channels over ordinary copper circuits. The even more radical bit, though is the uses to which these ISDN lines will be put. Anthony Corris, the company’s marketing manager in the business communications division, mapped a vision of a British Telecom’s operations as they will be recognisable in 10 years time. The company will have unbundled its services to such an extent that it will almost be operating on an ‘everything-on-demand’ basis. In practice, this means that users will be able, on a call-by-call basis, to choose their bandwidth, the supplementary services and management requirements they have, and then pick-and-mix from the facilities provided by both British Telecom and third party operators on the network – all through their familiar ISDN interface. The ghastly term that BT has stolen from IBM Corp for this is ‘granular’ billing. To make the vision a reality requires that BT open up the interfaces between the separate parts of its operation: the different parts of the physical network, its billing, management and services systems. Indeed Corris sketches out diagrams that show these subsystems as separate, giving the possibility that third parties will be able to slot their offerings in there somewhere. The longing and impatience to be privatised, so as to be able to invest freely to keep up in a rapidly evolving public telecommunications world, is evident in every pronouncement from Deutsche Bundespost Telecom. The latest outpouring of new ideas for the shape of its services in the latter part of the decade from its erstwhile state-owned sibling British Telecommunications Plc, described here by Chris Rose, must leave Telekom green with envy. British Telecom is now exploiting its freedom as a commercial company to the full, where Telekom has to hand over all its hard-earned profits to prop up a grossly overmanned and inefficient postal and post-bank service. At the moment, users perceive the BT operation as a monolithic network and services, but this is set to change under the new vision. Indeed the way that things are going can already be seen in the way that the company is letting its largest customers muck about with the internals of its operation with its Concert network management system. The importance of ISDN is as the foundation for the entire model; the single, standard interface through which all the rest will be provided: Our model says that this guy needs one interface, says Corris, then he can decide when making a call that he wants to use certain intelligent aspects of the network, he can say I need another channel… I need another two channels. He acknowledges that to make it fly, we have to get the next generation of telephones sorted out and says that the European Telecommunications Standards Institution is working on the standard telephonic layouts, displays and icon conventions needed to ensure that users won’t be too bewildered by the options offered by their neighbour’s phone. It is a radical plan which will present significant challenges to BT as a business. Corris says that once the ISDN lines are there, the company will be able to use them to nail up permanent and semi-permanent virtual circuits, potential competition for the company’s leased line business. It is p
otentially tricky, he agrees, with the possibility that ISDN cannibalises every other business.
Nonetheless, he says, it is the way the the world will be forced to go: the European Commission’s Open Network Provision directive requires that public telecommunications operators unbundle their charges for individual services. Most operators see this as an accounting nicety, but it would seem that BT is taking the directive much further, using it as the basis for building its business strategy for the next millennium. British Telecom is also currently running trials to enable users to access its packet-switched Global network services through the ISDN. The company has yet to decide whether to offer access via the 64Kbps bearer B-channel or the lower speed 16Kbps packet switched D-channel. The company initially looked at the latter approach but the gateway is proving trickier than had been evisaged. It says it still has no plans to offer the D-channel for everyday ISDN use.