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BT's 21CN has 100 users

But it's voice-only, with faster broadband still a year away

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BT took its much-hyped 21st Century Network live today, switching over 100 voice lines in a South Wales village and roping in an 11 year-old schoolgirl to make the first customer call.

The lines were switched over at the local exchange, making Wick - which is between Cardiff and Bridgend - the first place to be connected to 21CN, the all-IP national network which will replace 16 legacy BT regional networks and has so far cost £500m.

The first call on the new network was made by schoolgirl Laura Wess to the Rt Rev John Davies, the bishop of St Asaph. Presumably the bish, who's the Church in Wales's education rep, had to make do with ropey old analogue reception though, as he is in North Wales and therefore way outside the area currently covered by 21CN.

BT said that rolling out 21CN has so far involved rebuilding 10 per cent of the UK's core telecoms infrastructure, installing new equipment in over 100 exchanges, and laying more than 2,300km of optical fibre around South Wales. The company picked the Welsh capital as its pilot site for 21CN, and will switch another 350,000 Cardiff-area lines over to 21CN between now and next summer.

Being an all-IP converged network, 21CN will carry voice, data and multimedia all on the same core. BT said it will allow it to wholesale broadband services at up to 24Mbit/s.

There is some small compensation for BT customers in major urban areas who can't even get 1Mbit/s ADSL yet, in that the good villagers of Wick aren't scheduled to have their broadband links moved over to 21CN until the second half of 2007. But they are sure to be jealous of their access to all-IP versions of voicemail, caller-ID and so on. ®

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