Winner: The U.K.'s 21st Century Network

Our first winner this year in our annual roundup of Winners and Losers is BT Group, the firm formerly known as British Telecom. In "Nothing but Net", Senior Associate Editor Steven Cherry tells us that the U.K. is undergoing a complete telecommunications makeover, with BT leading the way.

In November, BT began replacing its existing telephone network with one based entirely on the Internet Protocol (IP), Cherry writes. When the enormous project (price tag 10 billion pounds) is completed, there will be no technical difference in the UK between the telephone system and the Internet. The BT initiative, which the company calls the 21st Century Network, or 21CN, will give the country a phone system that will be at once the simplest and most modern imaginable.

Although 21CN will not be the world's fastest IP-based network, it will be the planet's most comprehensive, Cherry states. No large incumbent carrier in the world—not in South Korea, not in the United States, not in Japan—has so much as a concrete plan for a complete conversion of its phone network to IP.

With a goal of converting the nation's legacy system by 2012, BT hopes to reduce the aggregate price of its services by an amount equal to almost US $1 billion (at current exchange rates).

A technology makeover this extensive is not without risk, writes Cherry. After extensive modeling, testing, and field trials, BT has started to unplug the traditional telco switches in the first areas to be served by the new IP equipment. In case of failure, BT could revert to its old hardware, which remains in place. So far, the backup hasn't been needed. On 28 November, the first customers on the new network made what to them were ordinary phone calls, mostly unaware of any changes to the system.

So the British have taken the lead in the modernization of telecom services, which is pressing all other industrialized nations to make the inevitable transition. For that, we recognize them as technology winners.

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