A look at Lucent Technology's product readiness statements

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Telecommunications has been described as one of the legs of the "Iron Triangle" of industries upholding our current style of life, the other two being banking and electricity. Without going into the relevance of telecommunications to the electrical industry it may be noted that the two recent tests of Y2K readiness of the electrical industry were primarily test of the communications back-up systems of the electrical industry as has been described on this forum and elsewhere. With that in mind, I have reviewed from their public website a portion of the compliance statements of Lucent technologies product line. Lucent technologies is a major force in the telecommunications industry. After being spun off from AT+T in the early 1990s they have grown rapidly becoming a market leader and leader in innovation and technology. Net revenues for 1998 were 30.15 billion dollars while revenue was 2 Billion 287 million dollars as reported in their annual report. Double digit growth in revenue and earnings have continued into 1999.

Examining Lucent's product compliance statements proved challenging. Having looked into the issue less deeply previously I have watched their posted information change over time until in its current incarnation it resembles a crows nest. Lucent is, though, surprisingly forthcoming and the pages contain a truly awesome wealth of information. To narrow the task I have attempted to look primarily at larger impact product lines. The website is set up however with compliance statements on consumer and small business products being both easier to find and displayed in a more polished format. The meat of Lucent's high end product offering is found on the Year 2000 page under the heading nsp 2000 or Network Service Provider 2000 (from their home page the year 2000 page is found in a drop box nested under Solutions/Products)


The product compliance status of the various product lines are grouped into three categories: Ready, Upgrade, or Retire. These terms are defined under the frequently asked questions section (note, not under the FAQs section) http://www.lucent.com/y2k/nsp.html#faq. Without commenting on "ready" it can be noted that "retired" products are not always tested and there is not always an available migration path to a known compatible and ready product. The definition of upgrade is worded interestingly, "date-sensitive products for which Lucent plans to provide Year 2000 capability". If they are planning to provide year 2000 capability one must assume these products do not currently have year 2000 capability, I would like to be misinterpreting this. Finally, within a given product line Lucent lists both ready, retired and upgrade versions. This implies to me, though this may be a source of error, that there do not exist a significant number of ready product offerings which are simply not listed in the compliance statements.

The first product portfolio, 5ESS.-1AESS, http://www.lucent.com/y2k/nspproducts/5ess.htm is very important. On Lucent's homepage, within the solutions heading, under either the a-z product listing or the product overview one finds product descriptions. Looking at the product overview page under switching systems one finds a description of the 5ESS switch, "With an embedded base of more than 104 million lines and 48 million trunks served by four thousand host switches in more than 50 countries worldwide ... " Looking at those product offerings which do not appear to be add ons to the switch, it appears that the majority, 7 out of 9, of the 5ESS type switches require upgrade. The second to last release, in fact, of these switches requires upgrade. Anyone else concerned? Here is my read and tell me where I am mistaken. The majority of 4000 5ESS switchs each of which can route 1/4 million lines and with an installed base of 108 million lines will not work in 2000 if not remediated. Now of course, they have all been remediated. Well, I know there are plenty of smart people in telecommunications but how difficult is this to fix. Is it a software patch? If not how do you replace 10-20 years of established infrastructure in one year. Can Lucent gear up for that sort of production. Where is the revenue spike now that Lucent is selling ten years of product in a year or two? I sure hope its a software patch. This evidence says nothing about remediation it does, though produce verifiable, hard evidence (almost iron clad to my simple mind) that if this problem is not fixed properly it will produce devastating consequences.

But wait, there's more. Let's take for argument's sake the unlikely case that 99% of the 5ESS switches are of the ready, New Generic variety. What else does not have year 2000 functionality? Under the data networking portfolio the AC (access concentrator) product line needs upgrade for year 2000 functionality (I think they're saying it won't work). The AC 120 "is Lucent's flagship ATM WAN access product designed for large corporate end users or service provider central offices". The majority of the DACS II product line is not ready, DACS II "is a product line of world-class Narrowband Digital Cross-connect Systems". Under the 5ESS portfolio a portion of the OSPS product line should be retired though there is no available migration path. "The Operator Service Positioning System (OSPS) is built on the powerful base of the 5ESS Switch, and provides flexible solutions for handling customers' directory inquiries; call traffic assistance such as calling card, collect or person to person calls; and other personal assistance requests via either automated or assisted operator services". Well, this is shaping up to be a non-event, some sort of walk in the park.

But wait, there's still more. Maybe they can fix everything in three days. Under the communications software product portfolio. The majority of the listed ActiveW product line is not ready. "ACTIVIEW. Service Management Software enables service providers to respond to customers' requests more quickly, reliably, and at less cost by checking, synthesizing, and processing thousands of customer requests simultaneously". BILLDATS. Billing Data Management Software is not ready. CONNECTVU Line and Trunk Configuration Software is not ready. This" is a comprehensive system for managing and provisioning switch resources for telephony services in telecommunication networks". Integrated Transport Management Software Solution is not ready. This, "is an operations system consisting of modules that work together to provide functionality to support the multi-vendor transport network. Network Fault Management (NFM) is not compliant. It, "employs alerting capabilities, network status displays, and remote access of network elements and operations systems to allow telecommunication service providers to centralize the surveillance and control of their networks." NetMinder. System Network Performance Software is not ready. It is, "among the world's best real-time decision support systems. It can collect more than 50,000 measurements per minute and track 20,000 simultaneous active controls to manage traffic in public switched networks." Who's minding the net?

Maybe to some all of this isn't worth a can of beans. I see at least three possible sources of bias and would very, much like to hear of more or more on these. 1) Being ignorant of the telecommunications industry I have read a bad scenario into an obscure web page where such a scenario doesn't exist, and all this really reveals is job dissatisfaction. I can only go with what I have found and assume that it is reasonably accurate. 2) Upgrade means it still works but the lawyers will never say this. The definition looks pretty clear you don't plan to provide a functinality that is already present. 3) They are only listing problem products, This may be true, though I doubt it, the glossary section does reference some products not listed on the compliance sheets (DACS III), I suspect these are future product offerings. Or similarly, the not ready products percentage wise make up only a small portion of the installed base even though the percentage of not ready releases might make up a high percentage of a product line i.e., for some reason the not ready products were not the big sellers. Who knows, maybe. Two other points bear brief mentioning. First from the frequently asked questions

"Product interfaces are being assessed in preparation for integration and interoperability testing. Lucent plans to develop interoperability test plans for each Lucent networking product group and between each Lucent networking product group. Lucent intends to test interoperability between Lucent networking products that are intended to interoperate, including embedded third party vendor products included in the generic releases of such products."

Second, I don't think there is any way to manually place a long distance phone call if the phone switch doesn't work. Well, I better end there and wish everyone a very safe and Happy New Year.

-- PD (PaulDMaher@worldnet.att.com), October 15, 1999


Thank you for your excellent efforts. Good analysis!

-- bill (bburke@rocketmail.com), October 16, 1999.

I used to work at Lucent - previously Western Electric. The 5ESS switching system is made at the Oklahoma City Works, among other places. Lucent has over 80% of the domestic switching market. The demand has been so great for the last five years - Internet growth, etc. - that Lucent can barely keep up with demand for new switching systems to keep up with ever increasing domestic demand. ( They are 24 x 7 ). I would only guess if I said we are discussing software upgrades. I will ask two relatives who still work at Lucent. I am not an engineer, but Paul is very correct - no switch, no phone.

-- SPARKY (ECOKC@HOME.COM), October 16, 1999.

I worked in the telecommunications industry until a few years ago. One of my responsibilities was planning software upgrades for switching equipment which was manufactured by Lucent, Nortel, and Siemens. Telephone operating companies are very focused on software and major upgrades occur to 5ESS switches and equivalento switches about every two years. Patches are also applied to correct any bugs that are discovered in the major upgrades. I don't think getting the 5ESS swithces upgraded will be a problem, but don't know about the other products.

-- Dave (dannco@hotmail.com), October 16, 1999.

I think the PBX's that Lucent sells to businesses, hospitals, etc. may be a much larger problem. Many small and medium sized businesses don't have people assigned to evaluate and schdule software upgrades that are offered by Lucent and other vendors. Also, some of the older equipment probably cannot be upgraded and needs to be replaced.

-- Dave (dannco@hotmail.com), October 16, 1999.

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