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BT is to migrate its national phone network to an Internet Protocol (IP) platform. The move will take five years to complete and should produce savings of £1bn a year for the UK's dominant fixed line telco.

The new multi-service IP-based network will carry both voice and data services and will replace the UK's public switched telephone network (PSTN). The 21st Century Network programme (21CN), as the upgrade is called, will involve installing IP kit, called Multi Service Access Nodes (MSANs), in exchanges which are capable of carrying both voice and data traffic.

The mass migration of customers onto the new network is set to begin in 2006 with the majority shunted across by 2008. Trials kick-off in October this year.

In a Stock Exchange statement, BT Wholesale chief exec Paul Reynolds said the move to the IP network would provide the same quality of voice services as punters experience today.

"We want to be absolutely clear that using IP technology in our network for our premium quality services is a gulf apart from the new budget voice over the Internet services being launched almost daily by a wide range of providers.

"The 21CN programme will deliver our vision of a converged, multimedia world where our customers can access any communications service from any device, anywhere - and at broadband speed.

"21CN will drive a radical simplification of BT's operations including significantly lower costs and the capability to launch new services to market faster than we can today. It will empower all our customers, giving them control, choice and flexibility like never before."

Trials of 21CN are due to begin in Cambridge and Woolwich later this year. BT is also planning to trial fibre to the home in a technical and commercial pilot. ®

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