Key Points:

Telecom threw open the doors to two of its central Auckland exchanges yesterday as part of a plan to allow competitors to plug directly into its copper phone network.

The telephone exchanges in Ponsonby and Glenfield were the first to be included in the trial of local loop unbundling.

Orcon chief executive Scott Bartlett and ihug chief executive Mark Rushworth were the first to take up the offer from Telecom Wholesale for commercial trials to install their phone and broadband equipment in the exchanges.

Telecom's chief operating officer of technology and enterprises, Mark Ratcliffe, described handing over the access cards as a landmark moment.

"We haven't opened up exchanges to service providers and wholesale customers before and it's great that we finally get to do it," he said.

Rushworth said it reminded him of getting the keys to his dad's Cortina when he was 16.

"That was a big occasion when I got the keys [to the car]. It's the same kind of situation here in a sense - a significant milestone."

Telecom's wholesale division, which is responsible for the management of the phone company's networks, is offering commercial trials of local loop unbundling in five exchanges.

The trials started in advance of the Commerce Commission regulation of local loop unbundling, which is due to come into force later in the year.

Last week, the commission released the draft price to access the local loop at $16.49 a customer a month for urban areas and $32.20 for rural areas. This is what rival telcos will pay to use the Telecom copper network, which runs from local telephone exchanges to homes and businesses.

Rushworth said customers could expect to see a more consistent broadband service during peak times and faster speeds.

"What we're excited about is we can control the end-to-end service and that's critical, particularly with broadband."

However, Rushworth was dismayed the commission was only requiring Telecom to unbundle 15 exchanges a quarter. "It needs to be double, triple that," he said.

Bartlett said it was fantastic to be able to say proper broadband could finally be delivered.

Orcon would be locating broadband equipment in every open exchange.

"Orcon, with the backing of Kordia, has made a commitment on a nationwide launch, which means we intend being in most towns," said Bartlett. "Anyone not covered will be covered by our wireless 'Extend' service."

Orcon planned to offer high speed broadband - up to 100 Mbit/s - delivering high definition video services.

He would not disclose video content, other than to say it was "pretty cool".

Rushworth said the trials gave ihug the opportunity to test its equipment in a live environment with "real customers hanging off the end".

Initially, those customers would be limited to Vodafone and ihug staff connected to the Ponsonby and Glenfield exchanges.

CallPlus also anticipates testing equipment in two of the exchanges. A full commercial service is expected to be launched at the end of the year.

Shares in Telecom closed steady at $4.34 yesterday.