WiMax will be key to BT's 21st Century Network project

BT's radical plan to upgrade its telecommunications network to cope with the demands of a converged world will rely on the latest wireless technologies

WiMax is set to play a major role in BT's 21st Century Network project -- the company's programme to upgrade the UK's telecoms infrastructure into a pure IP-based network.

Matt Beal, director of 21st Century Network implementation and strategy, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that fibre and wireless will play an increased role in delivering broadband over the new network.

WiMax, also known as 802.16, is a high-speed wireless metropolitan area network (Wireless MAN) technology that provides broadband wireless connectivity to fixed, portable and nomadic users. It comes in two flavours -- 802.16d, which is used for fixed point-to-point networks, and 802.16e, which will support mobility.

BT is a member of the WiMax forum and is already testing 802.16d in four rural locations across Britain as a way of reaching people who cannot access its high-speed copper-based ADSL network.

ADSL coverage is expected to reach more than 99 percent by next year, leaving just a few hundred thousand homes and businesses who aren't connected to a broadband-enabled exchange.

Beal said that WiMax wouldn't just be used to fill these rural gaps, but could also have a role in metropolitan areas. He declined to elaborate further on plans for 802.11d, but his comments could be seen as referring to those people who live in an ADSL-enabled are but who can't get the technology because their phone line is too long or of too poor quality.

Beal also indicated that BT is investigating 802.16e. Under the 21st Century Network, BT will turn its existing telecommunications infrastructure into an IP-based network, and ditch its existing ATM and PSTN voice network. Earlier in the day Paul Reynolds, chief executive of BT Wholesale, explained that the 21st Century Network project was aiming to provide broadband anywhere in the UK. As BT no longer operates its own mobile network, building an 802.16e network is one way of plugging this gap.