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Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 15:15 GMT
Directory enquiries get new numbers
Call to directory enquiries
Competition should mean the price of calls comes down
The market for supplying directory enquiries is being opened up on Tuesday, marking the beginning of the end for BT's 192 service.

The telecommunications watchdog Oftel is removing BT's monopoly, and for the first time consumers will have a choice of which directory enquiries service to use.

About 10 new services will be launched on Tuesday, all on six-digit numbers beginning with 118.

The firms offering them include BT, British Gas, One Tel and Orange.

Some new numbers
BT: 118 500
British Gas: 118 511, 118 411
Orange: 118 000
One Tel: 118 111 and 118 211
Opal Telecom: 118 114
Telegate: 118 866
The Number UK Ltd: 118 118

Others are expected to follow in the New Year.

Customers have been promised the prospect of cheaper calls and a range of services beyond just residential and business numbers.

David Edmonds, Director General of Telecommunications, said: "For the first time consumers will have an easy choice of directory enquiries services at a range of different prices.

"Whether you want a straightforward phone book listing, or to check the number of your local cinema and the films showing, or to book an Italian restaurant in your local area - there will be a service to suit you.

"And there will be real competition on price too, with the choice to pay per minute or through a one-off charge - or both."

Mobile phone numbers

192, which receives an estimated 600 million calls each year, will be phased out by August 2003.

To replace it, BT will be offering a revamped service, which will include elements from its newly acquired directory Scoot.

BT is playing down the loss of the monopoly.

It says its new service will be better because callers will always get a person on the end of the line not a recorded number, and it will include added services like cinema listings and a TV guide.

New directory enquiries
Choice of up to 10
Offering telephone directory and listings
All numbers beginning with 118
192 phased out

The company says it welcomes the competition and it is sure that it will remain the market leader.

It is also looking at future plans to develop a much-needed listing of mobile phone numbers and a "personal information hub" - where customers can create address books and store individual information, such as bank account details, securely.

BT is scrapping its fixed 40p charge for the service and replacing it with a time-based one, although it does not expect the calls to cost more than 40p.

New directory phone books - including a classifieds section for the first time - will be launched early next year in pilot areas including York, Southampton and Southport.

Pierre Danon, chief executive of BT Retail, said: "Oftel's decision to open up the market has enabled us to seize the opportunity to expand our traditional 192 service into a new improved 192 for the 21st century.

"We plan to give our customers instant and easy access to a wealth of information."

The BBC's John Moylan
"The 192 service has hardly changed in decades"
Caroline Ball, BT
"The market will open up and it will give customers greater choice"
See also:

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