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May 6, 1994


By CBR Staff Writer

New Prestel Ltd, the company recently formed by the management buyout of British Telecommunications Plc’s Prestel viewdata unit, has licensed from BT the PhoneBase directory enquiries service. Taking over the service has meant building a new network; the company has replicated the old system using old GEC Computers Ltd kit taken over from BT, although it’s currently in the process of replacing this. There are 27 access points around the UK. According to Edward Forwood, New Prestel’s business development and financial director, the main problem is that BT put virtually no effort into marketing the service over the last few years – odd when you think that the phone company is now alive with all the Information Superhighway and video-on-demand buzz-words, yet when it already had an addmittedly humble spur on the Superhighway in Prestel, it so neglected it that it saw no future for it. Forwood says the company expects to keep a broadly similar user profile – of the 30,000 subscribers, the vast majority are business users. Another problem faced by the company, he said, was that around two years after the launch of the original service, television-based services – Ceefax and Oracle teletext – started appearing which pretty much snuffed out the market. The company currently offers more than 300 services, including share price information and company news, personal and business banking services, databases, and travel services. Forwood said the company also planned to launch new services, such as an Internet link – and added that once the new hardware was sorted out, New Prestel would be looking at providing high-speed modems for access at higher data rates. The recent launch of Tel-Me (CI No 2,408) creates more competition for New Prestel, but Forwood promised that charges would be competitive. The annual subscription of ?100 will remain – a third of Tel-Me’s – although Forwood would not give figures for access charges for the planned PhoneBase service. And improvements to the existing service are in the pipeline. Work is being done on both the database and indexing elements of the system to make it easier to use; and a Windows user interface is also planned.

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