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Events in telecommunications history


On 5 March the Government's White Paper 'Competition and Choice: Telecommunications Policy for the 1990s' was issued. In effect, it marked the ending of the duopoly which had been shared in the UK by British Telecom and Mercury Communications since November 1983 and the build up to privatisation. The new, more open and fairer policy allows customers to acquire telecommunications services from competing providers using a variety of technologies. Independent 'retail' companies would also be permitted to bulk-buy telecommunications capacity and sell it in packages to business and domestic users. The White Paper was endorsed by British Telecom, the new policy allowing the company to compete freely and more effectively by offering flexible pricing packages to meet the needs of different types of customer.

ISDN 2 (Integrated Services Digital Network) was launched on 7 February, offering new applications in addition to enhancing existing services. Customers were able to take advantage of vastly increased computer to computer data transmission times. Other benefits included low cost video links through which speech and images were carried, the ability to transmit an A4 page in a couple of seconds over facsimile and an improved telephone service with faster call set-up and clearer speech.

ISDN 2 was gradually replaced by ISDN 2e following the latter's introduction in October 1997 to comply with the latest European ISDN standard.

BT launched Phone Disc in March, an electronic phone book, as an alternative to directory enquiries and phone books. The CD contained all 17 million residential and business entries covering the UK, although ex-directory numbers were not included.

The standard networkable version was initially available for an annual subscription of £2,200, but in October 1995 the charge was reduced to £1,600 a year. Customers received an updated Phone Disc every quarter.

The annual version of Phone Disc was first available at a cost of £950, but this was reduced in September 1994 to £299 and again to £199 in November 1995.

For high volume multi-server users there was another network version, again updated quarterly, which was launched in 1994 at £4,000 a year, reduced in November 1995 to £3,000 a year.

Originally available in MS-DOS, a Windows based version of all three options was launched in September 1996. A Welsh bilingual version became available from August 1992.

Phone Base was introduced at the same time as another alternative to directory enquiries. Phone Base was a dial-up service connecting a customer's terminal or PC to BT's database via a modem and the telephone network. There were no connection or rental charges, and the customer paid for the cost of the call over the network. As with Phone Disc, ex-directory numbers were not available.

A new corporate structure took over from the existing organisation on 2 April when British Telecom was relaunched as BT, the company's new trading name. Introduced over the previous 12 months since the unveiling of Project Sovereign - the name given to the initiative - the objective was to set-up a company structure best suited to face the telecommunications challenges of the 1990s. The name Sovereign was selected since it reflected the company's commitment to meeting customers' needs - 'The customer is King'. The new organisation focused on specific market sectors to cater for the different needs of BT customers - the individual customer, the small businessman or the multi-national corporation, and so forth. The new BT was launched with a new corporate identity suitable for a quality company in a highly competitive world marketplace. Putting Customers First, the programme which followed on from the reorganisation and the BT Commitment encapsulated BT's new identity - a company that was open and easy to deal with. This was further reflected in the BT logo, a symbol which represented two human figures, one listening, one speaking, brought together by BT's technology and understanding of customers' needs.

Free call-barring was introduced on 1 February which allowed customers to prevent calls being made to premium rate services from their lines.

Charges were introduced for directory enquiries for the first time from 2 April. People using the service were thereafter charged 43.5p (45p after that years rise in VAT) for a search for up to two numbers. Despite adverse media attention on this development, BT demonstrated that the new system would be a fairer way of paying for the service. The service as a whole cost £250 million a year, which was borne by every customer through higher call charges whether they used the service or not. There was no extra revenue for BT, since all income generated from charging for directory enquiries was channeled into reducing call charges. At the same time charges were introduced, call charges were reduced by 7.3 per cent for national calls and 4.5 per cent for local calls. Enquiries from public payphones remained free, and there were no charges for people with visual or other disabilities who were not able to use phone books.

On 1 September 1994, BT cut the cost of directory enquiries to 25p incl. VAT, although the cost rose again to 35p on 18 February 1998. This reflected an £84 million investment in new technology over the following year to further improve the service. International directory enquiry charges on '153' also increased in 1998, from 60p to 80p per enquiry.

The first BT payphone available for sale as well as rental was launched. Until now BT had offered private payphones for rental only. Known as the Payphone 190

the tabletop payphone replaced two previous BT models - Moneybox and Payphone Mk II.

On 30 May a new BT cableship was launched in Rotterdam named CS Sovereign, the first new wholly owned cableship for 15 years. She was built by the Dutch firm, Van der Giessen-de Noord, who won the £32 million contract after international competitive tendering. CS Sovereign handled repair and maintenance to fibre optic systems and intended to replace CS Alert.

Braille telephone bills, a new service for blind customers, were introduced on 12 August. Partially sighted people also benefited with the introduction of large print bills at the same time. BT worked jointly with the Royal National Institute for the Blind to produce the bills, which because of space constraints, only showed the details contained on the ordinary non-itemised bill.

On 19 September BT announced the formation of a new subsidiary - Syncordia. Providing multinational companies with tailor-made voice and data communications networks, Syncordia offered an international network with end-to-end solutions for their complex international communications systems. Traditionally, companies around the world had to negotiate with individual national telecommunications administrations for the provision of telecommunications services. By April 1993 the new company had won over $200 million of business.

In September 1995, BT's outsourcing contracts had generated over a billion pounds of revenue, BT integrated its UK and international telecommunications outsourcing businesses into a single service under the Syncordia brand. Outsourcing would be provided by BT's US partner in the Americas and by BT in the rest of the world. The concentration of outsourcing services under the single Syncordia brand underlined BT's commitment to provide a consistent, high quality service to customers wherever in the world they operated.

Syncordia was merged in May 1999 with BT's equally successful systems integration business Syntegra to form a new division, BT Solutions, to sit alongside the other recently created Divisions, BT UK and BT Worldwide. BT Solutions combined complimentary skills of the previous two businesses under a single brand to meet all customer needs for integrated business solutions.

Following BT Chairman Iain Vallance's pledge at the annual shareholders' meeting in Nottingham on 18 July to introduce a "customers' charter" to match BT's determination to be the phone company with the best customer service in the world, BT launched the BT Commitment on 20 September.

A complete set of service standards for customers, the BT Commitment built on the success of the Customer Service Guarantee first launched in 1989. It specified target response times for orders and repairs, and connection rates and speed of connection. It also guaranteed compensation for missed targets, particularly if the customer suffered financial loss as a result. The BT Commitment, which was part of BT's on-going process of continuous improvement which began under the Putting Customers First programme the following year, also promised easier and more flexible contact with BT. The simple contact numbers of 150 for residential customers enquiries and 151 for residential customers 24 hour fault reporting service, and the 152 and 154 equivalents for business customers, were launched at this time.

BT launched a range of discount schemes for business customers called Customer Options in September. In return for a quarterly charge, businesses had the opportunity to make savings on directly dialled calls. A range of schemes was available, depending on the size of the customer's bill. They included Option 40 (£8 per quarter charge, savings of between 8 and 11 per cent), Option 50 (£300 quarterly charge, savings of between 10 and 12.4 per cent) and Option 70 (£600 quarterly charge, savings of between 11 and 13.3 per cent).

Option 15, a scheme aimed at residential customers, was launched in January the following year.

The Business Choices range of discount schemes  largely replaced the Customer Options range, with the exception of Option 15.

The introduction of a new user-friendly public payphone was announced on 11 October. It offered customers the choice of three payment methods in a single model - coins, BT Phonecards and credit cards. These multi-payment payphones were brought into service in 1992.

The Government made available 1,598 million ordinary BT shares (25.6 per cent of ordinary issued shares) for purchase in a second flotation (BT2) on 21 November, amounting to around half of its holding of 47.6 per cent of shares in the company) which remained from the original 1984 flotation. The sale raised over £5 billion for the Government, reducing its stake to 1,343 million shares (21.8 per cent of ordinary issued shares) .

A third and final flotation followed in 1993.

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