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BT readies 'on the night' 21CN mass migration trial

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BT will begin trialling mass migrations to its new unified network in a series of acid tests in Swansea this summer.

The telco says it has proved the technology behind its £10bn nationwide 21CN project in two small South Wales towns, Wick and Bledinog. Now it has to demonstrate that it can move people over to wholly IP-based voice and broadband exchanges without them noticing.

BT said it has spent "tens of millions" on the Swansea test bed, which is known within the company as the "on the night" network.

Matt Beal, CTO of BT Wholesale, told reporters last week: "We've already shown we can replicate the services, the next thing to watch is whether we can scale up the migration."

The Swansea build out should be complete in six weeks, and trials will run over the summer. If all goes well, migrations on the national network will begin in early 2008, starting with broadband services, with voice close behind.

Beal said outages should be minimal. "It should be between seconds and minutes through the night...we have the migration activity nailed from a functional perspective."

Although the new gear is theoretically capable of 24Mbit/s, most in the South Wales trials had managed between 8 and 12Mbits/s, in line with the technical limitations of ASDL. Despite this, Beal said small scale HDTV tests had been successful. HDTV could be key to the credibility of BT Vision, which the firm hopes to wholesale to other broadband providers.

The 21CN timetable has slipped in the past, but BT was firm it will meet its 2011/12 deadline for completing the project.

BT hopes 21CN will save it £1bn a year in lower maintenance and other costs. Thousands of engineering jobs are set to go and 21CN managing director Neil Rogers said cuts in other areas of the business like call centres could not be ruled out.

Talking about reach for greater automation in 21CN, he said: "The more you give customers the work, the happier they're going to be."

BT reckons it will also slash the time it takes to roll out new services to a third of the current lead time, but a spokeswoman could not confirm whether the savings will be passed on to consumers.

The question of whether BT will ever move to upgrade the remaining copper wire bottleneck to the home remained unanswered. Beal repeated BT's claim that it could not offer the last mile fibre investment being seen in the US from Verizon and on the continent from Swisscom because of the UK regulatory regime. Rogers said: "It's not something I'd envisage us changing our policy on in the next couple of years." ®

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