BT lines up Sonic and Schwarzenegger for callers

Click to follow
The Independent Online
TRIPS to the video store may soon be a thing of the past for many if BT has its way. From next year, consumers could be able to choose a video or computer game and have it delivered via the telephone line. The sitting-room revolution is part of plans to launch new consumer services.

'Video-on-demand' and electronic delivery of computer games are among the first offerings under a programme called ICE - Information Communications and Entertainment. Discussions are understood to be taking place with game companies and potential equipment suppliers about the gadget consumers would need to select their choice from a menu displayed on a television or computer screen.

BT is thought to be in contact with mail-order firms about video- based home shopping, too. According to one executive, people may soon wander down a shopping mall on their television screen, choosing goods electronically.

BT is also developing an answering service that would do away with the need for individual machines. Callers would leave messages with a computer-based recording system and a recipient would pick them up by dialling a specified number. The computer could be programmed to ask callers questions tailored to their needs, recording answers.

Success depends largely on refining voice-recognition technology so that accents and quirks of speech can be recognised.

ICE makes use of a relatively novel technology developed in the US - Assymetric Digital Subscriber Loop - which allows high quality video to be sent down existing copper wires.

The search for new services is being driven by BT's desire to generate business outside the tightly regulated voice telephone operation - and awareness that its local network is under-utilised for at least 99 per cent of the time. Although most people have a telephone, average usage is low.

BT is prevented under its licence conditions from diversifying into delivering television channels over the telephone network. Having failed to get that constraint lifted, it is examining other ways of exploiting the wires and believes the ICE services will not need a licence change.

However, fierce opposition is likely from the cable television industry. According to the Cable Television Association, video-on-demand is within the category of entertainment service denied to BT.