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Tuesday, 31 July, 2001, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Irish firm prompts UK telecoms rumpus
Detail from Conduit press release
The controversial press release
Ireland's fastest growing technology firm has stirred up a hornet's nest in the telecoms sector by claiming advance notice of an investigation decision by UK telecoms regulator Oftel.

Dublin-based Conduit, which claims revenue growth of about 200% a year, has released a statement welcoming Oftel confirmation of enhanced deregulation in the directory inquiry market.

The move could lead to reductions in the 40-60p fee Britons are currently charged per inquiry, and services such as traffic information being made available to callers, Conduit head Liam Young told BBC News Online.

Yet Tuesday's statement also admitted that Oftel is not expected to confirm the decision formally until September.

"We have not yet published a statement, and nothing is imminent," an Oftel spokeswoman said.

And the announcement was branded "bizarre" by market leader British Telecom, which too has been banking on a September announcement, and said Oftel inquiries "normally move at the speed of a glacier".

"The real issue is whether 192 is kept as a directory inquiry number, and a decision on that has yet to be announced," a BT spokesman told BBC News Online

'Big news'

Liam Young, Conduit chief executive and a former BT sales chief, said Oftel had confirmed it had made a "provisional decision" over deregulation of the UK directory inquiries market, which the company believes could be worth 250m-300m a year.

The key issue is that new entrants into the directory inquiry market will now be able to use short numbers, such as 192, putting them on a "level playing field" with existing providers, such as BT.

While the retention of the 192 number itself remains a key issue, Oftel's initial confirmation alone heralds a huge opportunity for Conduit, Mr Young said.

"This is big news as far as Conduit is concerned," he said, predicting the firm would earn 15m-20m in the UK over the first year of full deregulation.

Frankfurt float

The company already provides directory inquiry services in Britain as a contractor for firms including Telewest, and predicts that further deregulation will prompt the setting up of two call centres to add to an existing site in Cardiff.

Conduit last month announced underlying net losses of 5.27m euros for the year ending 31 March, compared with a 1.53m euro deficit a year before.

Revenue was 177% higher at 30.4m euros.

The firm, which was floated in June 2000 on Frankfurt's Neuer Markt and operates in four European countries, was rated by consultancy Deloitte & Touche as the fastest growing technology firm in Ireland last year.

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