Telephone will reveal your bank account

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The Independent Online
A NEW telephone handset that enables subscribers to call up their bank accounts, flight arrival times and even the weather forecast on screen and at the touch of a button will be launched in Britain this autumn.

Called Easiphone, it is a combination of a conventional handset, a miniature keyboard and a six-inch screen. Users will also be able to go home shopping down a "virtual high street" guided by an voice prompts.

The handset will retail at around pounds 150 and BT, which is developing the product in partnership with the Cheshire-based company Bizzyline, aims to sell 1 million in the first year. By 2000, it hopes one in every five homes will have an Easiphone.

The information displayed on the screen will be "real time". Subscribers will also be able to buy a miniature plug-in printer to make a hard copy. BT is in talks with 30 content-providers, ranging from banks and airports, to retailers and rail companies, to supply data.

The new telephone is the first in a range of "multi-media" products being planned by BT which could revolutionise the home. It is also developing a web phone with a built-in Internet browser which will sell initially at pounds 499 and a new Home Highway telephone offering home shopping, FM quality audio, video games and access to the Internet 30 times faster than analogue modems.

BT will charge up to pounds 80 a quarter for Home Highway.

But the ultimate multi-media product will be a service providing Internet, telephony, video-conferencing, video-on demand and normal television via a single copper wire link into the home. Trials of the system, based on a technology known as asymmetric digital subscriber loop, will begin in north-west London later this year.

The traditional UK telephony market is today worth pounds 10bn a year. But BT estimates that by 2002 it will have been overtaken by revenues from multimedia applications such as interactive television.

Provided it gets regulatory clearance from Brussels, a consortium of BT, BSkyB, Midland Bank and Matsushita, will launch a new service known as British Interactive Broadcasting later this year. It will be available on both satellite and terrestrial digital television, offering everything from home shopping and banking to public service information and games.

Subscribers will be able to buy digital "cash tokens" that can be inserted into the set top box providing a certain amount of credit to play video games.