Biometric single sign on for BT’s £13bn 21CN

7 Feb 2006

When BT deploys its 21CN network it will aim to provide users with the ability to sign on for broadband and telephony services from any device anywhere in the world. The company said it will use voice-based biometrics to guarantee security and is considering selling the technology as a trusted third-party service for banks, has learned.

BT’s construction of a new global internet protocol (IP) network — dubbed by the company as ’21CN’ (21st Century Network) — will cost £13bn sterling up to 2010, making it one of the largest and most expensive network installation/upgrade projects taking place in the world today. Construction has already started and following internal trials at BT, the first network nodes will be opened in Cardiff in the UK in the coming months.

Last year, BT Ireland CEO Danny McLaughlin confirmed that the 21CN network will be extended to Ireland in tandem with its rollout in the UK.

Last week during a visit to BT’s Adastral Park — a sprawling research and development campus employing 3,500 technologists located on a former RAF base near Ipswich — Malcolm Wardlaw, the executive at BT currently responsible for the intelligence and applications architecture within BT’s 21CN programme said that while predominantly the programme will be an infrastructure upgrade from the traditional copper network to a brand new IP network, BT’s services will evolve to transcend the fixed and mobile world.

“We are recognising the growing need to integrate IT and communications, the need to integrate fixed and mobile and at the same time deliver services at a lower cost. We are taking our existing networks and aim to deliver these over a single IP network. We are taking our traditional PSTN switches and throwing them into a skip and replace these with soft switches,” Wardlaw said.

Wardlaw continued to say that the company will be looking at deploying VPNs for voice and business services and that the vision is to make these services available on a ‘single sign-on’ basis from any device anywhere in the world. “It will be a whole set of services that will enable BT users to serve themselves with telecoms and data services.” For example, by logging onto a website users could access their voice services from a Wi-Fi hotspot, he said.

“In a way you could liken us to being a Windows of the telecoms world of the future,” Wardlaw added, likening BT’s plans to the DoCoMo model whereby thousands of application developers could deploy services over the 21CN network to businesses. “Key aspects of this platform will be our Services Exchange platform for mobile and broadband services and ICT. We aim to create a user-centric infrastructure that enables ‘single sign on’ via several devices from anywhere.”

Dr Andy Jones of BT explained that a key aspect of the 21CN single sign-on system would be the company’s URU Plus biometric technology that uses state-of-the-art voice verification that can be accessed via the web and can enable authentication through mobile phones, fixed lines and voice over IP. He demonstrated how a user accessing their online bank account could use the technology: after entering in their name and registration number they volunteer a phone number to reach them on; after answering the call they would be asked to repeat their registration number and if the biometric technology matches up their unique voice print they can gain access to the website.

Dr Jones said that as well as enabling authentication across the 21CN network for applications ranging from voice over IP, email access or entering a corporate VPN, the technology will also be made available from BT to companies such as banks that wish to ensure accurate and precise security for consumers and business customers and counter the rising epidemic of identity fraud.

By John Kennedy