Intent of Bell test centre questioned

What was once a private network simulation laboratory for BCE Inc. is now the publicly opened Bell Canada iTechCentre.

According to Bell, the Ottawa-based iTechCentre will allow companies to thoroughly test hardware and software in a real-world environment. The iTechCentre provides a multi-vendor test environment that is managed by specialized Bell Canada telecommunications and computing experts.

The company also said that an organization’s network can be easily replicated to allow for fast, cost-effective and low-risk testing of different products such as Internet-based applications, calling cards, payphones and toll-free services.

“We provide the network connection for them to test hardware and software,” said Ted Gruszecki, general manager of the iTechCentre. “It is less costly for [businesses] to use our centre as opposed to going out and purchasing all the equipment and deploying it in their offices.”

Gruszecki said testing can be done in various ways, depending on what the customer wants. He said that customers typically will bring their equipment in for testing, and conduct the testing itself or tests can be done by an iTechCentre expert.

Bell said the centre consists of emerging optical technologies, broadband, ATM, frame relay and IP services that provide a wide spectrum of telecommunications testing capabilities.

However promising the iTechCentre seems, one analyst questioned what motives Bell might have had for opening it. Joe Greene, vice-president of Internet solutions at Toronto-based IDC Canada, said that Bell Canada’s competitors should be suspicious of the iTechCentre.

“I don’t think Bell would ever do this, but they can learn all about what a competitor might be doing,” he said. “I don’t think they would do that, but to alleviate any kind of suspicion, they are going to have to go the n-th degree to assure their potential customers that they will not be doing that sort of thing.”

Greene added that Bell is unlikely to be providing the facility out of the goodness of its heart. He said the main and obvious reason Bell has chosen to share its $50 million iTechCentre with fellow service providers is to generate additional revenue.

“If they can make it work, I think it is probably a good thing for Bell,” Greene said.

Greene said that many companies are looking to figure out whether or not their networks and the services and applications that they are putting on those networks are actually going to work. He said companies could be testing trends from virtual private networks (VPNs) to voice over IP.

Bell’s Gruszecki said that although he could not yet reveal pricing rates for usage of the centre, he said they are reflective of the Canadian market. He said Bell offers hourly rates, daily rates as well as weekly rates, depending on the nature of the work.

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