Answer to the missing link

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ONE DAY, but not soon, the world will have standard telecommunications networks with standard connections. Until then, anyone wanting to transmit data from a portable computer may need one of 37 adaptors when travelling abroad.

Notebook computers are now essential tools for business travellers, says Gordon Brown, managing director of Tele Adapt, a company that exists solely to help people transmit data from portable computers from anywhere in the world.

'Once in a foreign hotel room after UK business hours, you are very much on your own when trying to connect a notebook to your office via the telephone system. Without the right connectors and a modem configured for that country, the situation is often hopeless.'

TeleAdapt, set up by Mr Brown in 1992, sells more than three dozen different adaptors, allowing a conventional British Telecom plug to be used in the telephone sockets of more than 180 countries. Price range from pounds 20 for a single adaptor to pounds 400 for a worldwide pack.

Other accesories make it possible to connect a portable up to hard-wired phones and payphones, which cannot be unplugged. There are also acoustic couplers to enable users to link up to the phone system through the handset.

A kit containing 'everything a portable computer user needs to connect to any land- line telephone system anywhere in the world under any circumstances' costs pounds 800. But even with this amount of hardware, travelling executives can run into difficulties.

TeleAdapt has a telephone support service to talk users through their connection problems. The company has an office in London and one in the US. At the beginning of November, it will open a third in Australia to provide coverage across time zones.

'Our support staff have detailed knowledge of national phone systems and their operation, which means we are able to provide step-by-step coaching for customers trying to link their computers in new countries,' said Mr Brown.

Mr Brown set up Tele Adapt when he was made redundant from the communications equipment company Dowty Case. While working for Case he became aware of the connection problems people experienced when they took their computers abroad.

He started with a collection of 22 different plugs and spent six months combing the world for other types. He is still finding new ones - the latest adaptor fits the telephone network of the Dominican Republic.

TeleAdapt is also compiling a database of the phone systems of leading international hotels, so travellers can be prepared. There are 600 hotels listed so far, and the company offers air miles as an inducement to customers who file reports on hotels they have stayed in.

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