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November 24, 1987

FERRANTI AND PARTNER LIBERA GET FIRST SHOT IN LOOMING BATTLE OF CORDLESS PHONES

By CBR Staff Writer

The battle for UK supremacy in the cordless telephone market in the years ahead looks likely to be just as interesting and close- fought as the struggle between Vodafone and Cellnet has been in mobile cellular phones. So far, there are three known participants in the second generation of cordless phones British Telecom, Shaye Communications Ltd and Libera Developments Ltd – but others are thought to be preparing to enter the fray. The potential for the emerging new products is huge if the reaction of venture capitalists is anything to go by. Shaye, which was started by Sir Clive Sinclair, and Libera have received several million pounds each of venture funding. Nokia of Finland has also pumped UKP2.6m into Shaye, while Ferranti Plc and Telephone Rentals Plc have both taken equity stakes in Libera. In July, British Telecom gave STC Telecommunications a UKP6m contract to develop CT2 – the Department of Trade and Industry second generation cordless standard – products for sale from 1990. With Shaye’s plans still uncertain, Libera appears to have the field to itself in the immediate future. It demonstrated its phone in public for the first time yesterday. The phone is small, about 5 by 1, low-power and very light. Unlike the current generation of cordless phones, it is not tied to a particular point. Calls can be made if the user is within 600 feet of any public ‘telepoint’, a biscuit boxsized device with antennae, plugged into the public network. The phone sends voice to and from the telepoint on DTI-designated UHF frequencies between 864MHz and 868MHz. The telepoint batches up call information and includes a built-in modem through which it sends the data overnight back to a central accounting system and receives details of newly registered users. The UK network will be managed by Ferranti Creditphone Ltd, a company jointly owned by Ferranti and Libera. Ferranti Instruments has the manufacturing rights in the UK, although it has sub-contracted AB Electronics Plc for the time being. Ferranti Creditphone will shortly start installing the telepoints and will be operational sometime next year. The exact timing will depend on how quickly the company can persuade airports, stations, pubs, shops and other private areas open to the public to take the telepoints. The site providers will receive a small royalty on each call made, though unless they are major sites they will have to pay for the initial installation. Initial registration fee The calls will be charged at the standard call-box rate. Users will also have to pay an initial registration fee and quarterly subscription charges estimated to be UKP5 and UKP15 to UKP20 respectively. At the heart of the Zonephone is a surface mounted VLSI format logic chip custom-designed by PA Technology and fabricated by Plessey Semiconductor. A second chip, controlling the switching of the direction of information, was developed by Mullard. Other chips used include a member of Texas Instruments’ 320X0 family of Harvard Architecture signal microprocessors, and custom chips from Ferranti. The signal processor is also used in the telepoint base station, which like the accounts systems was designed by Siemens’ South London-based subsidiary Communication Control Ltd. The external design of the phone was done by PA Design, despite its name part of Michael Peters Plc. If all the people involved in the development persuade their friends to buy a Zonephone, Ferranti Creditphone and Libera Developments should emerge victorious from the battle ahead. Libera founder John Pickin, a former Ferranti technical director estimates there will be four million CT2 phones in use in the early 1990s in the UK alone. The French PTT, Secre’ SA and Alcatel Thomson Radiophone SA have signed to take the Zonephone to France. The shareholders in Libera are Ferranti – 25% – Telephone Rentals – 13% – as well as Fleming Ventures Ltd, Electra Investment Trust Plc, British Technology Group and the Royal Bank Of Scotland’s Melville Street Investment Plc.

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