BT is taking its first indirect step towards fixed mobile convergence by allowing two operators to use its network to serve their own customers.
One benefit of the system, which is undergoing a three-month trial, will be unified billing.
The two companies - Unique Air, a mobile comms operator, and Long Distance International, which provides US-to-UK services - will buy BT lines wholesale and use them to offer their own products and support. Unique Air said this would enable it to knock 20 per cent off BT prices.
The trials will involve around 1,000 residential customers living in the 0171 and 0181 code areas of London. Depending on the outcome of the trial, a full national service could be launched by BT in the middle of this year.
This arrangement will enable the triallists to issue their customers one bill instead of the user receiving two - one from the third party operator, and another from BT for line rental and for the calls made over the BT network.
The partnership with Unique Air, particularly, leads BT indirectly into the realms of fixed mobile convergence. One of the newest buzzwords in the industry, Vodafone became the first mobile comms operator to office this service to business customers by signing deals with Energis and Racal Telecoms. The service enables customers to gain bulk purchase discounts because their mobile and fixed line needs will be acquired and billed from one vendor.
The service follows numerous calls from Oftel to reduce BT's monopoly of the so-called local loop - the direct lines running to homes in the UK. Unique Air and LDI will use the lines to sell phone calls and services to their customers, under their own branding of the service. They will set their own prices for their service together with their own billing and customer services.
Ian Morfett, BT's director, strategy and business services said: "We believe that a successfu national service will help to expand the UK telecomms market by developing imaginative new products for new and existing retailers in the UK telecomms industry."
Jim Robertson, business development manager at Unique Air, said the success of the trial would be measured by a number of criteria including the speed with which faults are fixed, the benchmarking of its customer service levels against BT's, and the different ranges of services it can provide.
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