BT has launched a service designed to make life easier for businesses running voice, multimedia and data traffic over converged networks.

The service, catchily titled Six Class of Service Differentiated Services Code Point (6 CoS DSCP), prioritises communications traffic into six classes of service in order to guarantee performance. BT expects the service will appeal to the growing number of companies seeking to cut costs by managing their own converged network, loaded with such services as video and voice over IP.

"The enterprise has really pioneered a lot of convergence solutions in a DIY fashion," said Matt Beal, director of implementation for BT's next-generation 21st Century Network (21CN). "BT is seeking to become the provider of choice for convergent, integrated communications offerings, services that are generally not the core competency of enterprises."

BT wasn't able to deliver such differentiated services until recently because of a combination of technical limitations and the lack of a market for such things, Beal said. The fact that the telco is rolling out 6 CoS DSCP now is a sign that enterprise demand for converged network services has reached a watershed, he said. "Before we could deliver truly differentiated services, we had to have a marketplace that could see value in them," he said.

The product integrates the DSCP (Differentiated Services Code Point) standard, which encodes a value indicating preferred QoS into the DS field of an IP header. BT's previous service-level offering, 3 CoS, didn't use DSCP, which supports applications such as ERP, VoIP and streaming video.

6CoS DSCP allows customers to burst between classes without the need for complex configuration, and lets users fine-tune the network to meet their applications' specific requirements. The service model runs on the edge as well as the core of the network, BT said. The service is designed to re-route prioritised traffic even in the event of a network failure.

The service is a taste of what BT is building into 21CN from day one, according to Beal. 21CN is BT's expensive next-generation network, designed to create an IP foundation for future services and to save the telco £1bn a year.

On, BT has also announced the suppliers for the major part of the 21CN project. Fujitsu and Huawei will handle the technology linking BT's existing access network to the 21CN. Alcatel, Cisco and Siemens will supply metro nodes, providing routing and signalling, while Cisco and Lucent will supply the core nodes linking metro nodes. Ericsson will handle i-nodes, the intelligence controlling the services, and Ciena and Huawei will supply transmission optical electronics.

"This is a milestone for the programme, because we can now move from technology evaluation, planning and design to where we can actually do the certification and begin building," said Beal.

Besides lining the pockets of these major suppliers, the new network will provide opportunities for smaller, innovative businesses who will be able to build on the standards-based foundation, according to Beal. "The barriers to entry are dramatically lowered," he said.