BT lets outsiders in network

British Telecommunications PLC (BT) will this week demonstrate a technology it hopes will spur the creation of many new services and features for the public phone network.

"The world of telecommunications is about to be radically transformed by its integration with the frenetic world of the computing and software industry," Alfred Mockett, BT's president and chief executive officer, said. Speaking at a conference hosted by the Yankee Group in New York, Mockett described a new technology, dubbed "Parlay", which he said will be the "operating system for future public networks".

Parlay's API (application programming interface) will allow outside programmers access to BT's switched network in order to develop new IP (Internet protocol)-based telephony services that will run over the public phone network. The Parlay API will facilitate the interworking of IP-based networks with switched voice networks, while at the same time maintaining their integrity, performance and security, according to BT.

"It's a very bold move by BT," said Bob Pike, director of business development for Microsoft's Internet Customer Unit. "The key thing is that it is going to drive down costs for developers, and the time to market for people bringing new solutions will shorten significantly."

Parlay has been developed by an industry consortium including Microsoft, Nortel Networks, Siemens AG and DGM&S Telecom, a Philadelphia-based telecom software programmer. The consortium will demonstrate the technology Friday, in a closed meeting at its labs in Martelsham, England, and it expects to launch a commercial version within the year. The consortium plans to create an open standard that any telco or vendor can use.

The aim is to encourage hardware and software vendors to create many devices, features and services aimed at business users for use with their telephone systems, especially as IP and public-switched networks converge.

Currently developers of corporate telephone systems, such as call centers, can easily add features such as forward numbering and links to mail systems, Pike said. "But the minute you need to integrate that with the public telephone network, you then have to take the expertise of the telephone company, or get a specialist agency involved in making that last bit work," Pike said. Once the Parlay API specification is completed and adopted by telcos, developers will be able to integrate their systems directly into the public switched network.

"For the first time, every part of the global communications network -- from the computers and telephones on your desktop to the deepest heart of the public switched network -- will be put to direct use for unique customer applications for things like customer relationship management, sales, marketing, supply-chain management and finance," Mockett added.

The specification is designed to prevent problems, such as bad programming, that bring down the public telephone network, Pike said. BT, like other telcos, had avoided opening its networks to third parties because of security fears.

If the Parlay API is adopted by BT and other telcos, networks would become more intelligent and businesses would have many more features available to them, BT said.

The consortium was formed in May in order to develop the standard and to encourage the development of applications by software and systems providers that could be used by business users.

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