BT is to transform its network infrastructure in a programme designed to install a single IP platform for both voice and data traffic.
The platform is also designed to deliver better broadband and make use of multiple devices, and could be cheaper, simpler and more flexible for users and providers.
"Having a single platform is less complex for us and providers, and makes things easier and cheaper," a BT spokesman told vnunet.com.
The telco estimates that it can slash its overheads by up to £1bn a year.
BT will initially migrate all voice traffic from its traditional PSTN-based network to an IP-based network, starting with a pilot scheme in October. It claims that the quality will be as good, if not better, than PSTN.
The first switch will bypass the core PSTN network link between two major network nodes at Woolwich and Cambridge.
An extension to the Faraday exchange in London will then precede the installation of new equipment at 18 further exchanges connected to these nodes in south east London, Kent and East Anglia by January 2005. Mass migration from PSTN to the new network is planned for 2007-2009.
BT will also begin trials of fibre optics, initially for 1,500 homes, from October to September 2005. But even if fibre works as well as BT expects, the bulk of the access network will still remain copper.
Deployment of fibre for the foreseeable future is likely to be limited to new-build developments, especially if these are situated some distance from a local exchange.
"The trials will help to shape our thinking and to make strategic investment decisions," said Paul Reynolds, chief executive at BT Wholesale.
BT claimed that the new network will be in place by 2008-9, offering customers the flexibility to switch devices and broadband services without having to call out an engineer.
In turn, it is hoped that offering flexible, high-speed connections for customers will encourage application and content providers to develop innovative services and content.
Device manufacturers would be able to develop IP devices that are instantly recognised by the network.
Reynolds claimed that venture capitalists in the US are already opening up to companies developing devices and content that would make use of BT's new architecture.
"It is about empowering customers with content, cutting costs and giving flexibility like never before," he said.
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