01 August 1999

BT IS POISED to launch its long awaited consumer multimedia service next month, revealed group financial director Robert Brace to a London investment conference. Delegates were given the nod to ‘expect an an-nouncement in August’.

The service, which has been in pilot intermittently for over four years, will transmit fully interactive multimedia services, including video on demand, over standard domestic tele-phone lines. BT has already placed substantial orders for the necessary network and subscriber equipment.

However, the telecoms giant is not alone in planning such a service. Aggressive US operator MCI WorldCom is equally eager to offer its customers a similar service using the same technol-ogy, but is prudently delaying its launch until BT reveals its subscription rates. No-one yet knows the level at which BT will set prices [on the high side of excessive, judging by past form!] but the EC2 bookies are of-fering evens on £40 per month.

Reminiscent of the trickle that precedes the bursting of a dam, cabled multimedia services appear set to become a torrent within the next 12-18 months. Not only are BT and MCI waiting to push the button, but cable rivals including Cable & Wireless and NTL are already marketing the modems necessary to receive multimedia services. [No wonder Billionaire Bill has been courting the likes of BT and buying stakes in UK cable companies [Debrief, 6-33 & 7-7]; Microsoft’s WebTV could become its next ‘Windows’.]