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BT is replacing 17 outdated fixed-line networks with a single, multi-capability operation that will need “several thousand” fewer engineers to maintain it, according to a senior executive at the leading UK telecommunications group.

Paul Reynolds, head of BT’s wholesale division, also said the creation of the group’s 21st century fixed-line network would require fewer call centre staff to deal with requests by customers for telephone and data services.

The network will be the most far-reaching technology upgrade for UK fixed- line telecoms since the switch from analogue to digital phone exchanges in the 1980s. It will also be an important contributor to BT’s future profitability.

Known as 21C, and based on internet protocol transmission standards for voice and data, the network will deliver broadband speeds three times faster than those currently available to consumers and companies.

Download speeds will increase to up to 24 mega bits per second, compared to the up to 8 mbps currently available.

However, the speeds will be slower than those on trial in some French and German cities for use with high-definition television. France Telecom is currently trialing broadband speeds of up to 100mbps in Paris.

Deutsche Telekom will offer broadband speeds of up to 50 mbps in 50 cities by 2008.

BT Wholesale is overseeing the creation of 21C and Mr Reynolds declined to specify the likely reduction in engineers as a result.

The Communication Workers Union claimed the number was 6,500. Mr Reynolds declined to comment on staff cuts at call centres.

However, he said the reduced manpower would be a significant contributor to how the group would make annual savings of £1bn ($1.96bn) from the creation of its 21st century network.

The network is expected to cost £10bn, and be completed by 2011, but BT pledges 21C will generate annual savings of £1bn from 2008-09.

Brian Healy, assistant secretary at the Communication Workers Union, said 6,500 operational jobs at BT “would no longer exist from 2011 in a 21C-compliant world”.

He added that the union was in discussions with BT about the options for affected engineers.

Mr Reynolds defended BT’s decision not to offer higher broadband speeds with 21C.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

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