BT technology set to rival cable TV: How the phone line can put favourite films on your television screen

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The Independent Online
BRITISH TELECOM has linked up with leading programme makers for trials to provide video-on-demand to telephone customers.

The scheme is undergoing technical trials in Ipswich. It allows customers to use their telephone line to 'order' films, programmes and consumer information from a menu on their television screens, and have them delivered to those screens via the telephone network.

Some 2,500 households will be involved in more extended trials later this year. Spreading the service throughout the UK would cost BT an estimated pounds 15bn to upgrade the existing telephone network and increase computer capacity.

Programmes during the trials will be provided free by television companies including the BBC, Granada and LWT, Thames Television and Carlton. A Hollywood studio, as yet unnamed, will provide films and BT will add other services such as home shopping and a range of general information. There will be no restriction on the use of normal telephone services while the entertainment is delivered over the

network.

Paul Reynolds, director of BT's Information Communication and Entertainment Programme, said: 'Customers will be able to call up a movie when they want to. Eventually they will be able to order products they see on screen, or change a standing order in a bank, just by pressing a button.'

BT's decision to press ahead with its video-on-demand programme is certain to infuriate Britain's fledgling cable television industry, which is investing pounds 7bn over the 1990s to bring fibre-optic cable to most homes in the UK. In order to allow the cable companies to become established, BT was forbidden by the Government to deliver normal broadcast television over its network. However, the new scheme circumvents that restriction because the programmes and services are not scheduled or simultaneously broadcast to more than one person and because consumers choose what they want to see and when to see it.

BT has not decided where the consumer trial will take place, or how the guinea-pigs will be chosen, but those selected will have to pay for the services they use.

Participants will be able to call up menus and make their choice using a device like a remote control unit. Whatever they order will be delivered from a computer to the television via an electronic box on top of the set.

Both copper cable and fibre optics will be used for the trials and high-capacity radio links are being considered.

A pin code may be introduced so that parents can stop children running up huge bills, and there may be a bar on access to services or programmes considered unsuitable for children.

BT refuses to say how much the services or the equipment might cost, pointing out that prices will depend on how many people want interactive services and how much they use them.

Apple, the US computer group, will provide set-top boxes for the trial, but they are not yet available. Oracle, the information services company, will provide the software that enables information to be taken from the computers in the network for delivery.

BT has not named the companies that might provide banking and other services.

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