C&W plans clever phone numbers

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CABLE & WIRELESS is to invest pounds 1bn in intelligent networks that allow people to use one number for all their incoming calls, wherever in the world they may be. The 'follow me' numbering will be among the first of a wide range of futuristic services available, ranging from entertainment and education to video meetings between executives at different locations around the globe, writes Mary Fagan.

The investment will begin in the UK, where Mercury Communications, C&W's subsidiary, will spend pounds 200m on intelligent networking. The project will then be rolled out over the next five years to cover other C&W operations including Hongkong Telecom and the group's North American arm, C&W Inc.

The group is working with a US company, DSC Communications, which will supply the computer technology and software that provides the intelligence. Although the target is business customers, C&W and DSC have also had talks on the potential of delivering video on demand and other entertainment services to the home.

James Ross, chief executive of C&W, said: 'The plain old telephone service is rapidly becoming a commodity. To get longer-term profit growth we need to move up the value-added chain.'

The first of the interactive services will be available to businesses later this year and will be customised to meet individual needs. Mr Ross said: 'We are turning a dumb network into a programmable machine.'