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Last Updated: Friday, 28 May, 2004, 09:06 GMT 10:06 UK
Low-cost texts to tempt deaf users
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News Online disability affairs reporter

A service for deaf and disabled people that simulates SMS texting, but at a fraction of the cost, has been launched by a British company.

Text message
Chatterbox is available to anyone with a GPRS phone
Anyone with a GPRS mobile handset or PDA can download the Chatterbox software and can then give free copies to up to 50 friends.

"It works by emulating text messaging over the internet," Chatterbox managing director, Ted Beagley, told BBC News Online.

"It reduces the typical cost of a text message from 8p to 0.8p - and some mobile contracts will even allow up to 3000 of these messages to be sent free of charge every month."

The system, MX Chat, works by converting a text message into data and sending it via the internet to the Chatterbox server.

The receiving phone then converts it back so that it appears as a text message.

"It looks almost the same as sending and receiving an SMS," said Mr Beagley.

The difference is that Chatterbox users can only exchange messages with other Chatterbox users - a bit like sending and receiving instant messages via Yahoo or MSN.

Photo of Ted Beagley and Ruth Gibson
Ted Beagley and Ruth Gibson hope Chatterbox will spread like a virus
Mr Beagley's partner in the Chatterbox venture, Ruth Gibson, is deaf herself and was spending in excess of 100 every month texting her sister.

"A lot of equipment for disabled people looks very clinical, and the great thing about this is that it uses an ordinary phone," she said.

A year's licence for the Chatterbox software costs 99.

The company hopes that when people start to use the system as 'friends' they will become so hooked that they will buy their own copy and it will spread like a virus.

Mr Beagley says clubs and other organisations might consider running their own Chatterbox servers so that they could maintain a private network.

He also plans to launch a PC version once he has acquired sufficient server capacity.

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