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Race for next-generation networks heats up

As Carphone Warehouse's fixed-line subsidiary announces the supplier for its next-generation network, the system's architect claims it will be up and running before BT's offering
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Carphone Warehouse’s fixed-line business will beat BT to the punch on implementing a next-generation telephone network (NGN) across the UK, the system’s chief architect has claimed.

Opal Telecom, the Carphone Warehouse subsidiary responsible for administering its TalkTalk voice offering, announced on Tuesday that Sonus Networks is supplying the foundation for its forthcoming IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS)-based network.

Clive Dorsman, Opal’s technical director and chief NGN architect, told journalists at an event to mark the occasion: "We’ll be ahead of [BT] by a long way".

Claiming that Opal’s network was "deployed, live and carrying customer traffic today," he said his company’s equipment was being installed in between 10 and 15 BT exchanges daily.

"Our objective is to become the clear first alternative to BT in the residential and small-business markets," said Dorsman.

"We’re targeting exchanges where a high concentration of customers currently are," Dorsman continued. He stated that Opal’s target was 1,000 IMS-enabled exchanges by the first quarter of 2007 and predicted that half of TalkTalk’s customers would be migrated into the new network within a year.

Dorsman also claimed TalkTalk would give customers "all those services customers enjoy on BT now".

But a spokesperson for BT played down Dorsman’s claims, telling ZDNet UK that the proposition was "entirely" different from BT’s 21st Century Network (21CN), which the incumbent plans to have in place across the UK by the end of the decade.

"It’s impossible to compare the two networks. We’re the first incumbent in the world to switch off the PSTN on a nationwide scale — it’s hard to see how [Opal’s] next-generation proposition could compare with ours," she said on Tuesday.

Its next, IMS-based incarnation will mean customers will be using voice over IP (VoIP) rather than the traditional phone network, although from an end-user perspective there should be no noticeable difference.

From the provider’s perspective, IMS-based systems promise a huge reduction in operating costs, as well as a unified system that can handle anything from voice to instant messaging to streaming video.

It has also become apparent that Carphone Warehouse’s eventual offering will include services such as support for dual-mode phones, or fixed-mobile convergence (FMC).

Dorsman hinted that "you will see things in the next six to nine months on the mobile front", as a result of Opal’s £155,000 purchase of some low-powered GSM spectrum in May.

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