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Events in telecommunications history

1989

The world's first satellite telephone communications system for airline passengers, Skyphone, had its commercial debut on a British Airways 747 in February.

Skyphone was operated by a consortium consisting of British Telecom, Singapore Telecom, and Norweigan Telecom. Using digital satellite technology giving high quality links and security, Skyphone provided air-to-ground, ground-to-air, and even air-to-air telephone communications.

British Telecom handed over a cheque for £753 million, then the largest cheque ever written in the UK, as part of the company's corporation tax payments for the 1987/88 financial year.

British Telecom launched the M6000 family of business computers, designed and made by the company at its Fulcrum factories in Birmingham.

A new telephone directory enquiries centre for London was officially opened on 25 January in Darlington. This centre, and those in Torquay and Yeovil opened the previous year, were set up in response to an explosion of calls following the computerisation of the directory enquiry service. Siting them outside London and the South-East eased employment problems and made use of existing accommodation.

On 26 January, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Lord Young announced his decision to grant four licences to operate telepoint services - mobile communications systems similar to Cellnet, but aimed at a wider audience. One consortium, involving Standard Telecommunications Cable (STC), British Telecom, France Telecom and Nynex, was granted a licence to run the Phonepoint service, using the cordless (CT2) handsets. Phonepoint launched its service in August the same year, and was the world's first telepoint operator.

The licences granted were to last for a period of 12 years and were to be monitored and enforced by the Office of Telecommunications (OFTEL). Three of the four telepoint services were closed down in 1991, including Phonepoint on 1 October. The last service - Rabbit - run by Hutchison Communications was launched in 1992, although that was also subsequently closed down.

British Telecom introduced the Customer Service Guarantee, a compensation scheme covering telephone line installations and repairs. Under the scheme customers were able to claim compensation or a fixed penalty if they were without telephone service for more than two clear working days because of British Telecom's failure to install a line on the agreed date, or to repair a telephone line promptly.

The Customer Service Guarantee was revised and reissued several times over the following years, and enhanced by the BT Commitment.

British Telecom acquired a stake of slightly more than 20 per cent of McCaw Cellular Communications Inc, the USA's leading cellular telephone operator, thereby taking a major foothold in the fast-growing worldwide communications market. McCaw later merged with a subsidiary of AT&T, whereupon on 19 September 1994 BT acquired a holding of AT&T shares in exchange for its McCaw shares. BT sold this holding in its entirety in February 1995 by means of a public offering.

The Telecommunications Vocational Standards Council (TVSC), a body to establish vocational qualifications for the telecommunications industry, was set up by British Telecom, Mercury Communications Ltd and STC Telecommunications Ltd.

Automatic Voice Response (AVR) was introduced into the directory enquiries service to give a faster response to callers. The voice of actress Julie Berry was digitally recorded speaking all British Telecom's 6,000 exchange names, plus the full set of numbers and number combinations. When a number requested by a caller was found by the operator, the AVR equipment assembled a number message from its store of exchange names and numbers recorded by Julie Berry and gave a recorded message to the caller allowing the operator to speak to the next caller.

The "Beattie" series of advertisements starring comedienne and actor Maureen Lipman were launched. They were broadcast until 1991.

BT Marine, British Telecom's undersea cable laying subsidiary, announced in November the building of a new 12,500 tonne cableship to replace the CS Alert in 1991, to be called CS Sovereign. The new ship was launched in 1991.

BT's massive programme to modernise its local telephone network reached the half way stage at the end of June when St Paul's exchange came into service. It was the 3,319th local exchange to be switched over from electromechanical to digital technology.

By this time BT had spent more than £15 billion on supporting, modernising and expanding mainstream services in the UK. The trunk network had become fully digital the previous year.

British Telecom purchased the Tymnet network systems business and its associated applications activities from the McDonnell Douglas Corporation on 19 November for $355 million. Its activities included TYMNET, the public network business, plus its associates private and hybrid (mixed public and private) network activities, the OnTyme electronic mail service, the Card Service processing business, and EDI*Net, the US market leader in electronic data interchange.

BT Tymnet anticipated developing an end to end managed network service for multi-national customers, and developing dedicated or hybrid networks that embraced major trading areas. Customers would be able to enjoy one-stop-shopping for global data networks, and a portfolio of products designed for a global market place.

These services were subsequently offered by BT Global Network Services, and subsequently by Concert as part of Concert Global Network Services after the Concert joint venture company was launched on 15 June 1994.

The BT Chargecard was introduced.

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