BT next-gen network to roll out from November

Telecoms giant says trials of its IP-based 21st Century Network have gone well, with rollout due to start before the end of the year

Rollout of BT's 21st Century Network (21CN) will start in November following successful trials, the telecoms giant said on Wednesday.

In a test situation using multi-service access nodes (MSANs) at Cambridge and Woolwich, the system — which will replace the country's ageing circuit-switching PSTN network with one based on Internet protocol (IP) — successfully transmitted 23 million calls, at a rate of 625,000 calls a day.

"This is what 21CN will be when we roll it out," a BT spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Wednesday. "We've got the vendor kit in there… this is a working trial."

BT, the UK's largest telecommunications supplier, is thought to be spending £10bn over the next five years to build 21CN, which will mark a country-wide migration towards IP-based communications. The move should help BT provide Internet telephony (VoIP) and high-speed broadband services throughout the UK.

According to BT Wholesale Networks' managing director, Deb Covey, the company is "working with the rest of the industry to finalise the UK rollout plan".

"It's full steam ahead as we prepare sites across the country for equipment to be installed this summer," she said on Wednesday.

The next stage of 21CN's development — known as Pathfinder — is now scheduled to start in November, when 350,000 customers in the Cardiff area will start transferring over to 21CN. This will effectively be the start of the network's national rollout, which is supposedly due to end in 2009.

The incumbent also said on Wednesday that Cisco and Ericsson supplied key components for the trials.

Ericsson provided call servers, and Cisco supplied media gateways (which form a link between the IP-based network and the older circuit-switching PSTN system) and its Catalyst network switches.

BT's adoption of Cisco's MGX series gateways even resulted in the introduction of "new features" into the product, to accommodate the Internet Protocol Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) standards used in 21CN, according to Geraint Anderson, Cisco's vice president of European service provision.

Cisco's Transport Manager platform will be used for the gateways and to provide an "interface to the BT 21CN Operations Support System". Other key suppliers for this and previous trials include Alcatel (LAN switches) and Siemens/Juniper (routers).

Similar nodes to those being used in the Cambridge-Woolwich trial, as supplied by Huawei and Fujitsu, are already being installed at 18 BT exchanges in South-East London, Kent and East Anglia.