Even before the GEC Plessey Telecommunications Ltd joint venture was agreed upon, Plessey Co was gearing up to exploit its skills in designing and manufacturing public pay telephones by teaming up with companies keen to take on British Telecom with their own pay telephone services. Last month, the Office of Telecommunications lifted British Telecom’s monopoly on payphones, and Plessey’s successor, GEC Plessey Telecom, has rushed out a new line of phones for both public and private premises installation. The new company has unveiled five versions of a payphone tailored for the private premises market, becoming the second company to seek to capitalise on liberalisation: the Oftel decision was anticipated by the UK arm of Southwestern Bell Telephone Co, which launched its product just prior to the Oftel’s announcement. The GEC Plessey phones are, however, more flexible, and will accept coins, credit cards, and a mixture of pre-paid cards and credit cards. On the public payphone front, GEC Plessey is to supply Mercury Communications, the second licensed provider, with telephone equipment. Mercury plans to launch for later this year and GEC Plessey starts deliveries any day now. But it may have come all too late: Ferranti and one or two others hope to make the fixed payphone obsolete with their low-cost cordless pocket telephones.
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