At the Next Generation Fixed Networks conference yesterday, the keynote speaker was Chris Bilton, BT Group CTO, and his topic of course was BT's NGN, 21CN. The service has been launched now, initially covering 3 areas in the Cardiff area, chosen for demographic reasons, and covering wholesale and domestic customers.

The technical challenge is still enormous (his words): they use a multi-vendor approach with eight strategic suppliers. Many new technologies need to be embraced: he talked about the key importance of blade servers and ATCA, and how this contributes to virtualisation of network processing. Presence technologies are an important component of future services. Co-creation of services with 3rd parties are an essential part of what they are trying to do, so technologies like web services and Parlay need to be understood. If that were not enough, then many access technologies need to be integrated into the NGN, like WiMax, 802.11n, satellite, DSL.

Interestingly, he also said that when they started this project (5 years ago), it was quite a radical vision for for traditional telco, but today a lot of telcos have realized that this is the future, and have started doing the same. Certainly one example is France Telecom, who also spoke at the conference about their NGN goals.

The more I see of BT talking about 21CN, the more I like it. Of course an important goal is to save money (consolidating 14 separate networks into one will save £1 Billion per year in operating cost), but they really seem to understand the importance of "Web 2.0" and how that will drive the need for applications that connect the Internet to telephony services. Companies like YouTube and Google are not just the competition for BT, but also the people they need to partner with.