Even if an 11-year-old school girl from the tiny village of Wick in South Wales was the first person to place a call over BT Group's new next-generation network, U.K. businesses will be among the big benefactors of the all-IP (Internet Protocol) network.
"We're moving toward giving far more empowerment to our corporate customers," said Neil Rogers, managing director of BT's 21st Century Network (21CN) project. "We want to give them more visibility and control of what's happening on the network."
The 21CN project is one of the most ambitious network overhauls of its kind in the world. BT is replacing its 16 legacy voice and data networks with a new network built entirely on IP technology.
On Tuesday, Laura Wess became the first 21CN user when she made a call from her school, which BT selected as the launching pad for its new network.
The move to an all-IP network will allow BT to offer consumers and small businesses "triple-play" voice, data and video services over a single ADSL2+ (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) broadband connection, at speeds up to 24M bps (bits per second). Among the new services supported by the network are VOIP (voice over IP) and IPTV.
The next-generation network will also allow BT to offer a far more flexible service to enterprise customers.
"Today, the managed service contracts we offer are very manually intensive at the front end," Rogers said. "Even though we try to integrate our operating systems with the front-end premises systems of our customers, we still find the process to be very labour-intensive. Our all-IP approach gives us much more flexibility."
Resilience -- the ability to recover from network hiccups -- and security are two additional features of 21CN that should interest corporate customers, according to Rogers. Because BT has chosen to build a completely new IP network from scratch instead of adding an IP overlay over its legacy systems, the operator has been able to design resilience and security into the network from the very beginning.
Although Rogers sees little room for BT to lower prices as a result of the network overhaul, he expects the new network to give the operator greater flexibility in how it charges customers. "More attractive pricing is quite difficult in the U.K., where prices are already very aggressive," Rogers said. "But we plan to be more flexible in our pricing, for instance by charging for services as opposed to physical capacity or even allowing customers to pay on-demand for some services."
Testing has proved among the biggest challenges of the next-generation rollout, according to Rogers. "It's been a huge effort to test network interoperability and customer premises equipment," he said. "It's an ongoing challenge."
Although some experts have questioned whether BT's choice of ADSL2+ technology to link homes and small businesses could someday become a bottleneck for services requiring speeds higher than 24M bps, Rogers said the technology offers sufficient bandwidth for the operator's planned high-speed services for the next four to five years. "At some point, we'll look at local fibre deployment," Rogers said. "At the moment, however, there's no business case for fibre in the U.K."