KPNQwest's Ebone ready to go it alone

A major part of KPNQwest's network, Ebone, will continue beyond the liquidator's deadline if no buyer is found, staff says.

Peter Judge Special to CNET News
3 min read
The operators at KPNQwest's Ebone operations center in Hoeilaart, Belgium, are ready to continue working independently if administrators have not found a buyer for their network by the end of June.

Those working on the Ebone network, which was purchased in March, are stressing the independence of their network from the rest of KPNQwest. "At the end of the month, we will be fresh enough to carry on independently," said Graham Kinsey, a spokesman for the Ebone workers.

Friday's threat by workers to turn off the network if they did not get paid was a result of "exhaustion," he said.

No details have emerged about the two consortia reportedly bidding for the network, although workers at the Belgian network center have spoken to them. "I don't know much about them," said Kinsey.

The people he has spoken to are acting for one or more service providers, he said. "If they have convinced venture capitalists to put up money for a telecom investment at this point, they must be good," Kinsey said. "Perhaps it is time for telecom management to move aside." More financially oriented management might be better, he suggested: "If we cut costs, we may become a more efficient business."

Today, the dust is settling from a nail-biting week that saw KPNQwest's liquidators threatening to shut down its transmission business on Tuesday if customers did not pay upfront, and the Ebone staff threatening to shut down their network on Friday if their employment was not clarified. The staff had been working without pay since the layoffs; the liquidators agreed to pay 70 of the 350 workers through the end of June if they would keep the networking running.

But Kinsey stressed that these deadlines were actually separate, and the workers are the ones with the real power to turn the network off. "We were within 60 seconds of starting the scripts which would shut down the network on Friday," he said.

Earlier in the week, if the liquidators had carried out their threat to pull the plug on the network, some parts of KPNQwest would have gone, but Ebone would have continued, said Kinsey. "We were prepared," he said. "If KPNQwest had shut down its transmission backbone, ours had no plans to shut down." Likewise, if Ebone staff had shut down the Ebone network on Friday, parts of KPNQwest's transmission network would have continued.

When KPNQwest bought Ebone, it laid off many staff from the KPNQwest network center in The Hague and moved its main operations to Ebone's Belgian center, Kinsey said. The staff started to cross-train, and the two networks began to share traffic.

"We had IP (Internet protocol) backbone integration at the transmission level," Kinsey said. However, the networks could be easily separated. "Ebone could be sold as a separate entity, and I would expect that to happen," he said.

While the rest of KPNQwest has lost customers, most of Ebone's original customer base is still there, he said. "We are very lucky to have the customers we have."

The rest of KPNQwest included several single-country networks, which are expected to be sold off separately. "They will go independent or go to other providers," said Kinsey.

The operations center now has 40 Ebone staff working for the liquidator until the end of the month. However, many of the original complement of 350, who were made redundant on June 4, are still there, said Kinsey. "Forty of us are fighting to secure jobs for as many as possible of the others," he said.

A Webcam shows the staff at work in the network operations center.

One key message for end users is that their disaster recovery plans should cover financial disasters at service providers. "Even if it is a DSL line, you should have something anyway," Kinsey said. Other service providers may also go, he warned.

And moving to another service provider will not always get you away from KPNQwest: "Some are just becoming customers of our customers," Kinsey said. One customer said goodbye to Kinsey, only to learn that the provider he was moving to was itself a customer of KPNQwest.

KPNQwest, including Ebone, carries between a quarter and a third of European IP traffic, Kinsey said. Although other networks, such as that of BT Ignite, may claim to have more fiber miles, KPNQwest carries more traffic, he said.

ZDNet U.K.'s Peter Judge reported from London.