Screen refresh took on new meaning for Minitel users in France last week, with France Telecom’s demonstration and announced availability of 9.6Kbit-per-second transmission rates for the national viewdata service, which today plods along at 1,200bps. Indeed, Teletel Vitesse Rapide visibly improves current response time and provides a means for service providers to add photo visuals […]
Screen refresh took on new meaning for Minitel users in France last week, with France Telecom’s demonstration and announced availability of 9.6Kbit-per-second transmission rates for the national viewdata service, which today plods along at 1,200bps. Indeed, Teletel Vitesse Rapide visibly improves current response time and provides a means for service providers to add photo visuals to their viewdata service. Nonetheless, the new 3623 access channel could be considered merely a pit-stop toward more advanced multimedia viewdata, since it cannot provide high-resolution photos and is far from hitting the market’s top transmission speeds. High-resolution video and audio will come only from the operator’s ISDN 64Kbps access, called Teletel Access Numeris, which is available on an experimental basis at the 3622 access code, and is still in the process of acquiring service providers.
(France Telecom launched a request for proposals for service partners in July.) Kiosque Micro, a second higher-speed Teletel access for personal computer users, at 14.4Kbps, is scheduled to begin operation by the end of 1994, the operator said. It will also feature access to personal computer services such as CompuServe. Jean-Jacques Damlamian, France Telecom sales director, acknowledged that 9600bps is not the leading edge in transmission technology. We used the facsimile modem standard for Teletel Vitesse Rapide because, when we started two years ago, it was less expensive than either V.22 or V.34, he said. Damlamian and Francis Kretz, telematics product manager, also acknowledged that the continued multiplication of Minitel access numbers is somewhat disconcerting. We’re working toward a single Minitel access number that will recognise the [speed of the] modem that has called it, but we have not yet fixed on the appropriate technology to handle that, Kretz said, adding that a solution is approximately two years away. Access to Teletel Vitesse Rapide requires a new Minitel terminal – either the new High Speed Photo Minitel, which is available in limited quantities (4,000 units manufactured) or the Minitel 4, which will be available in mid-1995 with an integrated smart card reader. The High-Speed Photo Minitel will cost customers about $15 per month compared with a maximum cost of some $3 per month. Damlamian says he is not worried about putting users off with the higher cost. We are targeting intensive users of Minitel. I don’t believe that 80 francs per month will pose a problem for those users to get from their boss, he said.
By Marsha Johnston
Personal computer access to Teletel Vitesse Rapide can be had through the operator’s Djinn modems, particularly via a new 9600bps version available this month, at a reduced price of $175. The price, considerably lower than the average Djinn tag of $350, was cut due largely to the elimination of its answering machine function, which one journalist at the conference noted does not work anyway. Previous models of Djinn can access Teletel Vitesse Rapide, but only at 4.8Kbps. The Djinn modems are manufactured by French companies Com1 and RTE. The modem components in both the Djinn modems and in the new Minitel terminals come from Rockwell International Corp, while the High Speed Photo Minitel terminal itself is manufactured by Alcatel NV. Obviously one of the biggest keys to the success of Teletel Vitesse Rapide will be the response of service providers. A big question remains as to whether those service providers will be interested in jumping onto a 9.6Kbps service, or whether they will opt for ISDN. Our biggest concern with this project is that our service partners will follow us closely by putting in new applications at a tariff that will attract a clientele and not just push the client’s cost up. That would only contribute to frequent public impression that Minitel is expensive and that it just keeps getting more expensive, which is of course not what we want to see happen, Damlamian said. Strangely enough, the operator went on to say during the conference that Teletel Vite
sse Rapide should cost the user, on average, less because of its faster speed, unless of course the user is a slow reader. At the announcement, France Telecom said it has 29 service partners for Teletel Vitesse Rapide, including Agence France Presse, with a photo database. An AFP representative noted We have identified several professions that would consult such a service and we think it has an important potential, but it will take a few months to see. Damlamian said I believe we will be successful with Teletel Vitesse Rapide if, in two years, we have converted half of the service providers – that’s about 14,000 in total. Kretz added What’s important is that the top 1,000 services are put onto Teletel Vitesse Rapide and I believe that, in the coming months, we will get a good response.
The operator has instituted a sliding scale of tariffs for Teletel Vitesse Rapide, hoping to further attract service providers, not to mention users. The per-minute charges range from about 24 cents to $1.75. Each of the charges provides as well a sliding scale of rebates to the service provider, depending on the class of transport chosen. A minimal charge of 11 cents is available as well, but since it pays back no revenue to the service provider, it is unlikely to be heavily populated with services. Once Teletel Vitesse Rapide is in use, it is likely to accelerate the trend towards users spending less time on Teletel. In second quarter and year-to-date results for Teletel announced by France Telecom, it is plainly evident that users may be making more calls to the service, but they are hanging up more quickly. In the second quarter, the number of calls to Teletel grew 1.9%, while the average length of a call dropped 6%, to four minutes, 20 seconds this year from four minutes 42 seconds in the second quarter last year. For year-to-date, calls grew 5.9%, but their duration dropped by 1.5%. In a start-up mode, however, Teletel’s new cousin, Audiotel, is experiencing growth on both counts. For the first four months of the year, the number of calls grew 11% and the time spent with the service climbed 23%, while payments made to the service providers grew by 36%.