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Thursday, July 15, 1999 Published at 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK


Payphones go online

Net access by credit card or BT phone card

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

A new generation of payphones incorporating high-speed Internet access has been launched in the UK.

The telecoms giant BT said it was setting up the world's first truly national network of multimedia payphones, with 1,000 due to be in place by March of next year and the first officially opened by the model Caprice at London's Waterloo station on Thursday. Net payphones exist in other countries, with the Netherlands closest to achieving a country-wide network.

Ken Livingstone: You could vote with this
Labour MP Ken Livingstone, bidding to be London's mayor, was on hand at a news conference to praise the Multiphone for enabling easier Net access to all and "breaking through a lot of the fears and worries that people have."

Priced and placed for all?

But BT's minimum charge of £1 for 10 minutes' surfing (compared to 10p for off-peak home phone calls and £1 an hour at the easyEverything Internet shop) was criticised at the news conference and the company was asked why it was not siting the terminals on council estates.

[ image: Malcolm Newing:
Malcolm Newing: "World first"
BT said the minimum charge was due to high development costs and the Multiphones would be sited at first where there was "highest footfall" - airports, railway stations, motorway service areas and shopping centres across the UK.

"This is the first time that everyone in the UK will have the opportunity to use online services 24 hours a day," said Malcolm Newing, director of BT Payphones.

Type by screen

The Multiphone's features include:

  • Twelve-inch touch-sensitive colour screen. Users can type in URLs and e-mails using the screen. BT will have a portal site as a home page and uses Websense technology to block access to objectionable material.

    [ image: The Multiphone]
    The Multiphone

  • ISDN2 connection, providing 64K bps Net access on one channel and phone calls carried on the other.

  • Free information is provided on the screen without a Net connection such as the latest news, sport, travel and an entertainment service.

Services to be added later this year include:

  • Videophony - users would be able to see as well as hear the person they are calling, the first of these will be installed in the Milllennium Dome.

  • Video e-mail - users can take a photo of themselves at the terminal and attach it to an e-mail.

  • Local street guides will give users their exact location and help them plan a route to where they are going.

  • A built-in printer - BT is still searching for one that can deliver acceptable reliability.

  • Free directory enquiry information on screen.

Malcolm Newing said the Multiphone would fit in with BT's recent announcement of multimedia kiosks with PhotoMe as there was going to be an explosion of public Internet access terminals. the kiosk would have a seat and could not be placed as easily as the Multiphone , he said.

But perhaps the most impressive feature of the Multiphone is what happens when the screen freezes or Internet speeds slow to a crawl: no matter how hard you hit it with the phone receiver in frustration, the vandal-proof screen will not break!

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