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April 15, 1992

BRITISH TELECOM EXPLAINS ITS TWO – “FIRST OF SEVERAL” – MULTIMEDIA COLLABORATIONS

By CBR Staff Writer

British Telecommunications Plc has put its multimedia where its mouth is, and reaffirmed its commitment to the concept with two agreements announced last week (CI No 1,894, 1895). It is to work with Ing C Olivetti & Co SpA’s Olivetti Systems & Networks on a multimedia system that will work over ISDN 2, and it has awarded a contract to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – potentially worth $500,000 a year – to develop tools enabling computers to interpret visual images. The Olivetti agreement will see the two companies initially developing a service to the financial industry, to go into testing this summer mainly in the UK. From the sound of things, however, this will not be a particularly tailored package – a British Telecom spokesman said that it would enable traders to talk face-to-face with contacts (rather than over the phone) which is a pretty mainstream application. What seems likely is that BT wants to use the financial arena as a testbed for the viability of the system, taking advantage of the geographic concentration of companies in the Square Mile, and the willingness of City firms to test new technology. The new system will run under Microsoft Corp’s Windows, and is expected to conform to the specifications adopted by the Multimedia Personal Computer Marketing Council (the group aiming at an open standard for multimedia, whose members include AT&T Computer Systems, Fujitsu Ltd, Microsoft Corp, NEC Technologies Inc, Philips Consumer Electronics, Tandy, and Zenith Data Systems as well as Olivetti). Indeed, BT’s choice of partner for the project was decided by two factors, Olivetti’s experience in the Open Systems market and its pan-European presence, since the plan is to offer the products of the agreement across the whole European mainland. Olivetti has already developed its own multimedia product at its Cambridge labs which are joint funded by Digital Equipment Technologies. BT’s deal with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab is separate from its Olivetti project (these are just two in a series of announcements according to a BT spokesman) and will see the development of technology that can recognise significant items or events from still or moving pictures. The main purpose of the research, for which BT will also use its own staff, is to overcome problems with the construction, interaction and distribution of multimedia information. It will, however, also enable the company to offer new value-added services: one application being quoted is video catalogues where users can choose items by colour or texture.

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