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UK Telecoms Industry Entering A Pivotal Period

Fresh from his win in the CTO of the Year category at the 2018 World Communication Awards, we met up with BT’s chief technology and information officer, Howard Watson, to discuss his plans for the UK’s biggest telco in 2019.

With the launch of 5G on the mobile side and ambitious targets on the fixed line side of its operations, 2019 promises to be a busy year for the UK’s former incumbent telecoms provider.

Watson is excited about the challenges that lie ahead for BT in 2019 and believes that the telecoms industry as a whole is reaching a crucial point in its evolution.

“It’s a great time to be involved in telecoms and we are entering a really pivotal period for our industry,” he said.

Launching 5G in 2019

Top of BT’s agenda in 2019 will be the rollout of 5G, with the company committing to a preliminary launch date in the second half of 2019.

“We are looking to launch 5G in the second half of 2019. That will see us rolling out 5G services in 16 cities and 1,500 locations planned for that period.

“We are in the final stages of planning for that now and we are acquiring sites as we speak. That is the critical part – agreeing with landlords and getting sites acquired,” he said.

The end of the copper

Exactly when BT will switch off its copper telecoms network and switch over to exclusively fiber-based lines has been a subject of some speculation for a while now. Last year, the UK government called for copper switch off to occur no later than 2025. Whilst Watson concedes that full copper switch-off is unlikely to happen in 2019, the preparations for the switchover will form a crucial part of BT’s strategy over the next 12 months.

“The second thing on our list is PSTN switch off – that won’t happen in 2019 but as you know we’ve said that by the end of 2025, it is essential to have migrated off copper voice lines onto IP voice lines on top of a broadband bearer. So, finishing off the technological side of that will be very important in 2019,” Watson explained.

SD-Wan and NFVI

As BT looks to evolve its enterprise and consumer-based network services, it will become increasingly important to deliver fully virtualized, automated networks. To this end, SD-Wan and NFVI solutions will play an increasingly prominent role in BT’s strategy in 2019.

“The next thing on our list is bringing programmable networks to life through, initially, software-defined WAN (SD-Wan) and NFVI solutions and using that to transform the enterprise businesses. This will start out in our global businesses but also in our UK B2B and medium-sized businesses. There is going to be quite a big transformation happening there,” Watson said.

Transforming IT services 

As BT looks to transform itself into a leaner, more agile company, the UK’s biggest telecoms operator is planning a major overhaul of its own IT systems.

“The final area of focus for 2019 will be transforming the way in which we do IT at BT. We have a programme that we call Da Vinci, which is focussed on the end-to-end transformation of the ‘how’ of our IT development process,” he explains.

“The programme is about becoming more agile, having more partnerships with third-party suppliers, using more process automation and boosting productivity. ―Total Telecom

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