Top 10 things to know about 21CN

We look at the features and benefits of the BT 21CN network as well as common questions about the service.

1. What is BT's 21CN?

BT is investing billions of pounds in changing out the various UK public telephone and data networks for a new single IP (Internet Protocol) based network that will carry all types of traffic - voice, data, video, web surfing and TV - over the one network. It will save money for BT and therefore the cost benefits can be passed on to customers, but it also draws the intelligence to the centre of the network rather than being in the local telephone exchanges. This means that Redcentric as a service provider can devise new and innovative communications propositions that can be controlled by our own call servers, but delivered to all the phone lines in the UK over BT's 21st Century Network.

2. When can I have it?

It's a mammoth task, like building several Channel Tunnels, and we know how long that took! BT started off trying to change the voice lines over first but soon ran into trouble. BT is now leading with new data products and has just launched Ethernet and Broadband services over the new infrastructure. The full roll-out will not be complete until 2014 and the old products will not finally be switched off until 2016.

3. How much of the UK does the Ethernet service cover?

Since April 2009 Redcentric has had access to 621 Ethernet enabled exchanges covering 87% of businesses in the UK. In April 2010 this rose to 1100 exchanges covering 98% of the UK.

4. How much of the UK does the Broadband service cover?

From April 2009, over 500 exchanges have be enabled, covering 40% of the population or about 10 million households. From April 2010 this rose to 60% coverage, with complete UK coverage from 2012. This is because there are over 5000 exchanges in the UK and several thousand of these are very small indeed and will take some considerable time to upgrade.

5. When will my phone line be converted?

The first voice trials were conducted in two small exchanges near Cardiff and that experience was guiding a further larger trial of 75,000 users to be migrated to the new network. Thereafter there is a roll-out across the UK that will take up to 2014 to complete, exchange by exchange, similar to the progress of the original Broadband roll-out.

6. What will be the impact on my home phone service?

Everyone will be told what to expect by their current service provider. If you are a Carphone Warehouse customer, for example, connected to one of their unbundled exchanges, nothing will change as you are not connected to the BT 21CN network. If you are a BT customer or a customer of another service provider using the BT 21CN network, there will be a short outage of a few minutes on the night of the changeover, but that is all, as the calling features stay the same, although new features will be offered in the future.

7. What if I am a Business Customer, what is the impact then?

This is where it gets a bit more complicated. If you have very old equipment you may find it doesn't work anymore, a bit like analogue TV's not working with FreeView. BT is trying to catalogue the problem areas, but there is so much kit out there and so many different ways of using it that no-one can be certain that all will go well on the night. Therefore it pays to have an attentive Service Provider like Redcentric working with you through this transition, to ensure you still have service the next day. If it's really bad then the migration can be rolled back, but that is very much a last resort and the emphasis will be on identifying and fixing the problems rather than running away from them.

8. What are the longer term benefits?

New ways of communication are always cropping up. Who would have thought that texting on your mobile would have become a whole language and a new way of life in just a few short years. The BT 21CN is geared up to deliver whatever services can be devised and these can then be made available across the whole of the UK overnight, rather than having to wait for each local exchange to be upgraded. Also, Redcentric as a service provider can choose to offer their own range of services and features; they are not limited to the ones built into the local exchange by BT. We can look forward to innovation and the competitive challenge giving us a lot more choice of features and pricing packages on the fixed line network in the same way we are used to on the mobile networks.

9. What about the talk of super-fast Broadband and Ethernet?

One of the benefits of the new network is the vastly greater bandwidth delivered to each exchange. Domestic customers will be enjoying up to 24Mbps services and business customers will be able to afford bandwidths of 100Mbps or more even to small business sites or to each branch office of a larger organisation, enabling a different approach to computing in the 21st century. Thus businesses will be able to buy computing power, applications and storage on a pay-as-you-grow basis from within Redcentric's data centre, rather than having to lay out capital, space and resources to buy and manage their own IT in-house. Business costs will be driven down and reliability will be driven up, with solid business quality service level agreements to guarantee performance under exacting conditions.

10. What's it all going to cost then?

It's definitely a case of getting more capacity and capability than you have now for less cost, but exactly how much less will depend on the service provider you are with. The underlying transport network is just the foundation on which the service provider builds their unique added-value propositions. Redcentric will be able to articulate the cost savings in comparison with the bills you are receiving at the moment and be able to explain the structural changes to the supply of IT services that will bring down business costs sharply if you are willing to embrace them. We are expecting to achieve up to 40% cost savings for customers. Now is the time to start asking them for their answers!