Wales gets a taste of BT's network of future

BT's five-year 21st Century Network project launches in Cardiff: total IT and telecommunications convergence featuring VoIP, wireless broadband in 'super exchanges'


BT's five-year 21st Century Network project launches in Cardiff: total IT and telecommunications convergence featuring VoIP, wireless broadband in 'super exchanges'

Next year Cardiff will be among the first cities to trial BT's £10bn 21st Century Network (21CN). The network is being designed to support faster and much more interactive communications services to businesses and consumers. 21CN is based on the IP format, which means it can deliver converged voice/data traffic across the network.

The five-year project will enable businesses and consumers to adopt more easily new technologies like voice over IP and wireless fixed broadband, as well as emerging services such as video on demand and broadband TV.

The building of the network is scheduled to be completed by 2010 and BT has already announced trials on the new architecture in Cardiff and other parts of south Wales for next year.

The first 21CN trial will see around 350,000 customer lines in the Cardiff area being migrated to the 21CN infrastructure, including many served by other telephone and internet service providers and mobile operators.

BT said the experience and customer feedback from this first mass 21CN migration project would help it finalise plans to roll out 21CN to customers across the UK by the end of the decade.

The Cardiff migration of customer lines to the new infrastructure is expected to begin during the second half of 2006.

More than 50 local phone exchanges will be upgraded and BT will implement various new IT systems to support 21CN. Three metro area nodes or "super exchanges" will also be built in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport.

BT's technology timeline predicts that UK internet penetration among the population will reach 75% between 2006 and 2010, and that the last ever phone call using the existing public switched telephone network (PSTN) will be made by the end of the decade.

These figures are reflected in research from the Communications Management Association (CMA).

Its annual membership survey shows 77% of companies are using broadband, and that the adoption of voice over IP is widespread, with 42% of companies using VoIP to cut their communications costs and deliver new phone features to users.

VoIP allows companies to bypass the public switched telephone network and supports packetised IP calls to enable free or cheaper calls. According to CMA, a further 15% are "planning VoIP implementations within 12 months", and a further 28% are currently evaluating it.

Recent research carried out by Deloitte shows that 84% of CEOs regard cost savings as the biggest factor in any decision to move to IP telephony, and research from AT&T shows that cost reduction is of critical importance for 47% of businesses and important for a further 40% of them.

Once completed, BT says 21CN will also save it £1bn a year.

Businesses are clearly moving towards the technology and service areas that 21CN is looking to address, and they should be hoping BT and its partners can stick to their tight schedule in building it, particularly if BT's technology timeline proves to be accurate.


BT Technology Timeline


  • Internet achieves 75% penetration in UK
  • Fixed and mobile network convergence
  • Wireless Lans become preferred access mechanism for mobile internet use
  • Wireless Lans in most shopping malls
  • Last ever PSTN call
  • 100mbps wireless speed in office/home
  • Mobile phones outperform standalone music players in market share
  • Push-to-talk style video clips
  • Calls can be addressed by e-mail address


  • Use of microwave photonics in local access
  • Video download over network at 10 times normal speed
  • 60% of internet access from mobile devices
  • Software radio available in portables
  • Wireless Lan access covers whole cities
  • Single address for e-mails, phone calls etc
  • HDTV over broadband


  • Domestic demand reaches 50mbps/connection for each home
  • Gigabit wireless in home


BT's 21CN suppliers

BT has chosen eight preferred suppliers for the 21CN project, after two years of discussions with over 300 potential suppliers.

Fujitsu and Huawei have been chosen for the access area, which will link BT's existing access network with the new 21CN.

Alcatel, Cisco and Siemens have been selected as preferred suppliers for metro nodes which provide routing and signalling for the 21CN's voice, data and video services.

In addition, Cisco and Lucent will be the 21CNÕs preferred suppliers for core nodes, providing high capacity and cost-efficient connections between metro nodes. And Ericsson has been selected for the Òi-nodeÓ area Ð the intelligence that controls the services.

Ciena and Huawei have also been chosen for the transmission area to supply the optical electronics that will convert the signals carried at high capacity over the cables connecting the metro and core nodes.

The demand for faster and extra capacity in the UK communications network is supported by research among businesses.

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