BT to bring convergence to Irish telecoms


26 May 2004

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The convergence of various technologies like mobile, MPLS, voice over IP and Bluetooth will become a reality for businesses across Ireland and the UK this year as a result of new alliances such as that between BT and Vodafone and the changing face of telecoms in the direction of IT services, the chief technology officer of BT Matt Bros (pictured) told siliconrepublic.com.

Bros, who is based at BT’s UK R&D lab in Adastral Park, has been working on ways of linking existing technologies such as mobile with technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi into meaningful product sets. BT’s goal is to generate around stg£1bn of annual mobility and convergence revenue over the next five years.

He said that BT’s deal last month with Vodafone in the UK to offer fully converged fixed-to-mobile services could take a meaningful shape in Ireland over the next few months through a similar alliance between BT’s Irish arm Esat BT and Vodafone Ireland.

In November, Bros continued, the company plans to introduce what it terms its Bluephone in Ireland and the UK. The Bluephone will be a mobile phone that when in a person’s home or office will operate as a voice-over IP (VoIP) phone using DSL connectivity of the internet through a Wi-Fi connection, and when the person leaves the Wi-Fi domain the phone connects instantly onto a GPRS network, with all the billing converged.

Project Bluephone has undergone successful trials with 50 users over the past two months and the technology is proven. Now it is to be brought to market by BT in close collaboration with Alcatel, Ericsson and Motorola. A ‘soft launch’ involving more than 1,000 users is planned for this summer, with a full launch later this year. According to Bros the first Bluephone device likely to debut in Ireland could be the Motorola V320 device.

Bros told siliconrepublic.com: “If telecoms are going to enhance quality of life, then it will be through a converged platform of the latest technologies, like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and billing systems. What we are aiming at is a subtle joining together of these technologies in a way that delivers a meaningful experience to users. The alliance between BT and Vodafone is at the heart of the convergence experience. Imagine being able to simply use the one phone for home and mobile calls.”

He added that with the introduction of new platforms like Wimax – capable of a range of up to about 30 miles with data transfer speeds of up to 70Mbps – would make VoIP convergence and fixed cost telephony services a more compelling reality. “We are trialling Wimax in Northern Ireland and expect to have it in the Republic of Ireland later this year.”

The Bluephone news has been preceded by Esat BT’s recent decision to launch the first hosted VoIP service in Ireland, which in effect could act as a precursor to the adoption of the Bluephone. The first wave of VoIP services will be targeted at SMEs, corporate and public sector customers, before being rolled out to the company’s 10,000 residential broadband customers in a few months.

Esat BT product director Peter Evans said that the take up of multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) networks has addressed many of the historical issues associated with VoIP, enabling customers to prioritise network traffic and allocate prioritisation for voice, consolidate voice and data on a single network and lower overall operational costs.

He said that a typical SME or public service with a number of branches could route calls across a wide area network (WAN) and communicate internally for free while calls outside the network would be charged as normal. “The advantage would be for a company with offices overseas; if they wanted to call an overseas customer they could have the call routed from the overseas office to the local trunk network and the call would be charged at local rates rather than international rates,” Evans said.

Esat BT CEO Bill Murphy added that a sample residential VoIP product would be that all international calls using VoIP enabled handsets or headsets connected to computers would cost as little as €10 a month. “We are back in the consumer space and we are pushing quite hard with our broadband and future VoIP services. If I was sitting where Eircom was sitting right now I would be quite concerned. We have something that businesses and consumers are really going to want,” Murphy concluded.

However, a spokesman for Eircom commented: “We already have several corporate customers using VoIP through our Business IP network and the company is constantly reviewing its products and services across all markets, including consumer.”

By John Kennedy