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Technology / AI and automation


British Telecom is developing a self-designed equivalent of the French Minitel computer system, which offers some 3m French users electronic access to their directory enquiries. The company stated at a press meeting yesterday that it is taking steps to improve the quality of its service, particularly directory enquiries, which it admits has and continues to undergo severe congestion problems. It claims that despite a 30% staff wastage level – due greatly to lower wages than are available for telephony work elsewhere – Telecom says it increased its operator personnel by about 10% last year and plan to do so again this year. Managing director of the UK communications division Mike Bett says the computerised system is being developed in-house now but will not be available until 1990. Our priority is to introduce direct dial access for business customers. Trials of this system will begin in June 1988. This will take a significant load off the directory enquiries system. A cultural change has taken place in offices in the UK, added new group managing director Graeme Odgers. People no longer want to look up numbers in their telephone directories. They want to be able to get the information on the phone and we must deal with that demand. When Telecom eventually introduces a system for domestic customers it will not come free, as it has in France. The company is known to have compiled a report on the French experience, but says it would not work per se in the UK. The company yesterday also pledged to start publishing figures on its quality of performance again every six months, due to pressure from a number of sources, including Oftel and the press. The company stressed that the statistics will be worse than normal when next published because of the ex-tensive damage caused by October’s hurricane, which brought down 2,000 miles of cable. Telecom promises that 90% of all payphones will be in working or-der at all times by March 1988 with enhanced facilities, and that there would be fewer network faults as its digital exchange and optical fibre cable programme continues. There are now 52 of the plan-ned 53 digital trunk exchanges in place, and the last goes in in a couple of months, after which it can concentrate on the local exchanges. It also claims to have the largest network in the world – 300 processors – using the C7 signalling system.

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