EVENTS IN BRITISH TELECOMMS HISTORY, adapted and abridged from (i) an OFTEL document (which is well worth consulting as well), (ii) ITU documents and (iii) PA Consulting Group Computers & Telecommunications 25th Anniversary Book. In time this chronology will be much extended. In time...



Commercial telegraph services in Britain began in the year 1839, when Cooke and Wheatstone first carried messages their short-line telegraph system between London and West Drayton, a little way west of London. Commercial success did not take long to follow and by 1850 telegraphs were widely used for public message traffic and for regulating trains on the railways. Most of the telegraphs were operated by a number of private companies (whose lines tended to follow railway routes) but a number of railway companies also ran their own systems for both internal and public message traffic. The districts occupied, for example, by the South Eastern, the Chatham, the Brighton and the North British railway companies were effectively their own territory and saw little competition from the telegraph companies. By 1869 the railways were operating approximately 36 per cent of all telegraph offices open for public use and owned about 22 per cent of all route mileage. Only the South Eastern and the Taff Vale railways completely owned a telegraph for the use of the public, but there were many others worked under agreements with the telegraph companies. and in the majority of cases these relationships were "of the most diverse and complicated character".Examples included the L&YR, LB&SCR, LC&DR, NBR and the Caledonian Railway. The railways' proportion of the total public message business was only 5 per cent but the public messages were in any case ancillary to railway business Nonetheless the railways were opposed to the transfer of any traffic to the State, which became imminent in the late 1860s.

In 1870, as a result of the Telegraph Act of 1868,  all public telegraph facilities passed under the control of the Post Office, an action seen by some as official confiscation.  The sum paid to the private companies was nearly six million pounds, while another one and three quarter millions were paid to the railways for wayleaves and other privileges. By way of further compensation the railways were allowed to send telegrams relating to railway business free of charge over Post Office wires, a facility not withdrawn until 1967.   In fact the year 1967 marked a milestone in the history of railway telegraphs, when the Post Office finally abolished the railway free pass facility.  The railways clearly found the facility of considerable use,  whereas to the Post Office the arrangement was a burden and an anomaly, since in their eyes one nationalised industry was carrying part of the costs of another. In the twenty years from 1945 to 1965 railway free pass traffic had increased 35 per cent from 601,000 to 809,000 messages while public telegram traffic was declining 85 per cent from 62 million to 9.6 million.    Clearly if the public telegraph (as opposed to telex) service was to be rationalised and run down, then the railway free pass traffic must be curtailed. For abolishing the facility the Post Office paid British Railways (BR) one million pounds in compensation.  As a result, both the loss of the free pass facility and the compensation payment hastened and encouraged the development of new telephone and teleprinter installations as part of the BR National Telecommunications Plan, and one can reasonably assume that both parties benefited by the arrangement.

The nationalisation of 1970 did not affect overseas telegraph routes, which prospered until the introduction of long-distance wireless services in the 1920s. By 1929 the cable companies faced extinction in the face of cheaper and more efficient wireless services, and they consequently amalgamated to form Cable & Wireless Ltd. This ran as a private company until 1950, when its links from the UK to overseas were taken over by the Post Office. Its inland and wholly overseas assets remained in the hands of Cable & Wireless Ltd. The overseas Post Office wireless links that had been handed over to C&W in 1929 were taken back into the Post Office in 1950 as well.

The inland monopoly of the Post Office and BT over telegrams was never lost after 1870, although licences were issued to other companies (such as the Exchange Telegraph Company—Extel), generally with highly restrictive conditions.  


Telecommunications in general—1650 to the present day


Roman times

It seems that visual signalling was used to some purpose by the Romans, and the Ordnance Map of that period indicates a chain of such stations on the Yorkshire coast. Nothing much was done in this line in the Middle Ages, though an elementary attempt was made to organise beacon signals on the Scottish Border. Here is one of the codes—

  • One flame = Enemy reported approaching.
  • Two flames side by side = Enemy coming indeed.
  • Three flames side by side = They are in great power.


Stone speaking-tubes have been discovered in old castles, also a particularly interesting example of one with an amplifying device at Worcester Cathedral. A report by Mr Harrison, the Custos, stated in 1936: “After building the Crypt in 1084, work was com≠menced on the Monks’ Parlour with an extensive Treasury on an upper story. This was situated on the south side of the Cathedral and communicated with the eastern alley of the Cloisters.

“From the large central room of the Treasury there was communication (by sound) both with the Chapter-house and also the Cathedral. On the south side, an iron grating permitted all sounds from the Chapter-house to percolate to this inner room. Then on the north side appeared an opening in the wall measuring twenty-eight by twenty-four inches and narrowing to a shaft about eleven inches square. This shaft or tube ran downwards and eventually found an outlet in the South Central Transept wall—in close proximity to the Choir. Thus the Monastery Official working away in the Treasury was able to hear and follow all the services which proceeded in the Choir, and further≠more heard all discussions carried on in the Chapter Meetings.

“The grating exists to this day, as does the tube opening. The site of its exit is now covered by the huge pedal organ and it is now impossible to trace but a short extent of the old-time speaking or listening tube.”


By 1964 research was underway in the UK and the USA on how to incorporate the new integrated circuits in public telephone exchanges, a development which bore fruit four years later.

The UK had about eight million telephone users, with 80% of households being telephone subscribers. At this time the General Post Office (GPO), a Government Department headed by a Government Minister (the Postmaster General), had a monopoly in UK telecomms and postal services. This included the operation of the network and supply of all equipment. Exceptionally Kingston upon Hull City Council ran the network in the Hull area. Since the beginning of the decade the GPO had been free from day-to-day supervision by the government Treasury. But capital for investment was still on a tight reign.

International connections were handled by the national telecommunications authorities collaborating over standards, tariffs and services. Private telephone service companies were the exception outside the USA. Even there AT&T’s activities were closely regulated. The UK’s state-owned Cable & Wireless Company handled the international and internal telecommunications of some commonwealth and third-world countries.

In Europe each national Post Telegraph and Telephone (PTT) authority supported its favoured local suppliers. The attitude to their welfare was close and paternal. The leading UK suppliers were General Electric Company, Plessey and the International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) Company’s subsidiary, Standard Telephone and Cables (STC).

Telephone users were getting used to two new aspects   of their service, both. developed on the back of cheaper  hardware. Many of them could now dial another  country directly using 13 or 15-digit codes and numbers. France was  the first country they could call directly. Others were to   be added in 1964. In 1958 Queen  Elizabeth II had made the first inland subscriber trunk  dialling (STD) call. She was in Bristol, telephoning the Lord  Provost of Edinburgh. ‘What would happen if she dialed the wrong number?’ an aide asked the GPO.   ‘She’ll get through whatever the number she dials,’ was   the reply. Other less regal users were not so assured of  the service.

Telephone users were also getting used to smaller private automatic branch exchanges in their own offices that did not need a full-time operator. A PABX had just been launched in the UK which could handle five exchange lines and 20 extensions. One of the extensions answered the calls coming in and could transfer them to the required extension.

Generally, at this stage, the telecommunication of voice and the processing of data went their separate ways, although they often used a common base of technology, and had collaborated on research. But there was some overlap. Following trials in 1962 in the USA, telephone lines were being used in the world’s biggest commercial computer communications network. Travel agents and the sales staff of American Airlines were using the Sabre network to check the availability of flights and book seats.

The use of telephone lines for data transmission was already, to some degree, accepted in the commercial world. It had been pioneered by the US and UK for early-warning systems which were deployed in the late 1950s to guard against incoming bomber and missile attacks. The GPO was finalising details for the launch of a service for data transfer which it would offer the commercial user in 1964. The service, Datel 100, could take 100 bits a second and deliver them over a private circuit to the receiver’s computer.

 First crossbar exchange was installed in the UK. It shortened switching times and was more reliable than the earlier Strowger designs which had lasted from the early 1900s.

The first Datel service was introduced in the UK to handle data traffic over the public switched telephone network. The speed was 100 bits a second for voice communications. It was instituted to Germany, parts of France outside Paris, Holland and Switzerland.

A world numbering plan for telex was approved in anticipation of automatic routing in the world telex network.


First full production models of electronic exchange, Electronic Switching System 1 (ESS 1), goes on line in New Jersey, USA.

Post Office Tower in London opened as hub of a UK microwave network of 130 stations.

London Radiophone service was introduced. It soon gets clogged with more demand than capacity.

Intelsat 1, the first communications satellite to operate in a geostationary orbit, came into commercial service.

Datel 600 data-transmission service from the GPO allowed 600 bits a second transmission on public switched circuits and 1,200 bits a second on four-wire private circuits.

An international Datel service was opened for low-speed data communications. Initial speeds were 100 and 200 bits a second.

UK telephone customers given first real choice of telephone instrument: they could, for an extra charge, have a Trimphone. The handset was over the dial and the sound of the speaker's voice was carried through an acoustic pipe to a microphone in the top of the handset next to the receiver. It had a tone ringer, not a bell, and the dial numbers were lit, hence Tone Ringing Illuminated Model.


A proposal for fibre optics was made in a report by Charles Kao at STC Laboratories in the UK. Two GPO researchers took it seriously and propose a practical method of making it by mixing 10 different ingredients at 1,200 degrees centigrade. It was so pure that, if the oceans were made of it, you could see the sea bed.

A proposal for digital communications network was published by Donald Davies from the UK’s National Physical Laboratory. It is the first use of the term packet in data communications. Instead of a circuit being switched, as in the voice network, discrete packets a of data, each of a uniform length and with an ‘envelope’ of identifying data, could be switched through a dedicated network.

First production electronic public telephone exchange was installed in Europe by the GPO at Ambergate, Derbyshire. It was the first medium-sized electronic exchange installed in the world, a TXE2 reed relay exchange.

UK began the process of changing to all-figure telephone numbers. This was in anticipation of fully automated domestic switching.


The GPO launched Datel 200, a data transmission service twice the speed of Datel 100. On private circuits speeds of 300 bits a second were achieved.


The first electronic pulse-code modulated telephone exchange went live in the GPO network. Europe’s first pulse-code modulation transmission carrying telephone calls in a digital form installed between London and Sunbury-on-Thames.

The GPO introduced Datel 2400, a data-transmission service at 2,400 bits a second on a private four-wire circuit.


October The Post Office Act 1969 established the GPO as a statutory corporation headed by a Chairman appointed by the Government.

The K6 public payphone kiosk, introduced in 1936, was replaced by the new K8 model.

The Post Office introduced its last design of electromechanical PABX. It handled 20 exchange lines and 100 extensions with a cordless manual board.


The National Physical Laboratory tested a protype packet-switched network, called Mark 1, at its Teddington, Surrey, site.

The European PTTS form the CEPT Special Committee to consider data communication developments.

The world's first intercontnental subscriber trunk dialling (ISD) facility is introduced, between London and New York.

The world’s first computer-integrated production of a telephone directory was completed by the PO in January.

 Three new suppliers entered the UK PABX market. Swedish Ericsson launched an electro-mechanical exchange and Pye supplied a Philips-built UH rotary system. IBM UK introduced the first computer-controlled PABX, the 2750. IBM and the PO split maintenance with IBM maintaining the computer controller and the PO maintaining the rest of the PABX.


On D Day, February 15th, the UK moved across from Lsd to decimal currency. Accounting systems, payroll applications, billing, asset assessment and a host of applications had to be changed. Within three weeks of D Day the UK payphone network was changed from a unit payment of 6d to a unit payment of 2p.

The Post Office launched Confravision, a videocnferencing service, to a low level of demand.


Britain's ten millionth telephone line was installed.


IBM UK introduced the 3750 computer PABX for larger users. It could handel 2,516 extensions.


A trial public facsimile service was introduced in the UK, called Postfax. Documents could be sent and received between 22 post offices.


A press-button telephone with a configuration of three buttons in three rows and a single button for zero underneath was introduced. GEC and Plessey used the reed-relay technology of the TXE2 public exchange in a range of computer-controlled PABX, the first UK-designed computer-controlled PABX on the UK market. GEC aimed at the 600-extension market and Plessey at the 2,000-extension market.


The centenary of the telephone was celebrated in the UK by the decommissioning of the last manual exchange in the UK, in the Isle of Skye.

The first production TXE4, a reed relay large exchange, was installed.

The PO took over all the maintenance of IBM’s computer-controlled PABXs installed at customer sites, the first on-site maintenance of computer equipment by PO engineering.

A four-year project by the PO began to develop a line of stored-program controlled PABX. The result was the Herald and Monarch systems which were introduced in 1980.

Owing to lack of response the Postfax public facsimile service was closed after two years.


A radiopaging service was opened in the UK in the London area by the GPO.

The first international switched data network service was offered. Western Union International and Tymenet collaborated with the British Post Office in a trial service. In 1978 the service went live. Links to Canada, Spain, Hong Kong and Australia were added by 1981.

Euronet, a European packet-switched service, is opened.

 The compact telephone is introduced in the UK, the third alternative telephone introduced by the GPO. The colour was Balmoral Blue, in commemoration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee.

An experimental packet-switching service opened in the UK. Nodes were in London, Manchester and Glasgow. They used the PO's own protocol as no international protocol had been published. Following the UK experimental service, public services were opened in the USA, Canada, France and Japan.


Fibre optics was first used in an operational telecommunications network. It linked the Post Office’s Martlesham Heath development centre to the local Ipswich telephone exchange.

 The XPress call maker telephone was introduced in the UK. It included memory for storing numbers and logic to retrieve the numbers and dial them for the user when a code was inserted.

A specialist range of telephones is launched in the UK which caters for the short-term demand of changing fashions. Mickey Mouse, the Candlestick and the Classic telephone are part of the range.

An international packet switched service opens between the USA and UK.

The National Committee on Computer Networks in the UK reports its findings. The concentration on the subject of computer networking which the report produced, generated more business and applications from telecommunications and computing systems.


The first UK subscribers were directly linked to a digital exchange, Glenkindie UXD1 in Aberdeenshire.

 Subscriber Trunk Dialing, begun in 1958, was completed, allowing direct calling between all UK subscribers.

The PO collaborated with six other postal administrations in the Intelpost service, an international facsimile service. Twenty stations were opened in the UK which were linked to the other stations in six countries. By 1981 51 Intelpost centres were provided in the UK.


The first processor-controlled digital telephone switch, System X, was installed as a tandem exchange for international calls.

The PO introduced the Herald, Monarch and Regent ranges of PABX. Herald was developed for the PO by TMC to handle up to 50 extensions. Monarch was produced by GEC and Plessey for 120 extensions. Regent was bought in from Mitel for 120 extensions.

July Industry Secretary Sir Keith Joseph announced the Government's intention to restructure the PO and relax the monopoly over terminal equipment and value-added services.

November The British Telecommunications Bill sought authority to divide the PO into two separate organisations—the Post Office and British Telecom.


The first full public packet-switched service opened in the UK, based on GTE Telenet. The average delay of a message on the network was 150 milliseconds to 200 milliseconds. This national network was connected to the International PSS which had been established since 1977.

The first System X public computer-controlled telephone exchange to which subscribers were directly attached was installed at Woodbridge in Suffolk. It included voice guidance to help subscribers.

There were 27 million telephone stations in the UK and 90,000 Telex subscribers. Planners in the 1950s had projected a total Telex subscriber population of 12,000 for 1981.

BT introduces the Ambassador range of telephones to become the standard multi-function phone of the 1980s. It was the first UK telephone designed for the plug-and-socket connection which was beginning to replace the wired-in connection of previous telephones.

January Professor Michael Beesley submitted his report on liberalisation to the Secretary of State for Industry.

October The Telecommunications Bill received royal assent. Apart from formalising the split of the PO, it also established new responsibilities for the British Standards Institution (BSI) and set up the British Approvals Board for Telecommunications (BABT)—a subsidiary of the British Electrotechnical Approvals Board. British Telecom began operating under a licence and independent suppliers of telephones were permitted.


IT82, a campaign to increase the awareness of information technology, ran in the UK for 12 months. The private sector put in £2.5 million, the government £2 million. The campaign marked general acceptance of the term IT.

Value-added network services (VANS) were opened to competition in the UK through general licensing.

The UK’s Inland Telegram service was superseded by the Telemessage, with overnight delivery through the post.

January BT began to sell telephones and install 'plug in' master sockets (as opposed to hard-wired installations).

February The Mercury consortium received a licence to build and operate an independent network to compete across the full range of telecomms services.

June BT telephone suppliers were permitted to sell in competition to BT.

July The Government published a White Paper (Cm8610) proposing the sale of 51% of British Telecom and the creation of OFTEL as the regulatory body.


February The Government accepted the recommendations of a report by Professor Stephen Littlechild to limit British Telecom's main price increases by RPI-X%. The formula was set at RPI-3% for the first five years of privatisation.

April Mercury launched its first telecomms services in the City of London.

May Licences were granted to Cellnet and Racal Vodafone to provide national cellular radio networks.

July The Telecommunications Bill was reintroduced. The Bill allowed for the selling of BT and setting up of OFTEL.

November Minister for Information Technology Kenneth Baker set out the 'duopoly' policy limiting the number of long-distance fixed-link operators to two—British Telecom and Mercury—for seven years. (Kingston upon Hull City Council would continue to supply the service in the Hull area.) He also announced further liberalisation in equipment supply and maintenance.


April The Telecommunications Bill received royal assent on 12 April.

June British Telecom's and Kingston-upon-Hull City Council's licences were published.

July Professor Bryan Carsberg was appointed as Director General of Telecommunications.

August OFTEL was officially created on 1 August. That month BT became a public limited company.

October A joint IBM/British Telecom proposal (known as JOVE—JOint VEnture) to run a managed data network was refused on the advice of the Director General because of the dominant position such a grouping would have occupied in the market.

November 51% of BT shares were sold to the public - a total of 3,012 million ordinary shares. The purchase price was 130p and the offer was 3.2 times oversubscribed.


January BT's monopoly on the supply and maintenance of the prime (first) telephone ended.

The two cellular operators, Cellnet and Vodafone, began commercial service in the London area. Later in the year the operators were issued with revised 25-year licences.

June The Director General invited applications for the running of national private mobile radio (in the old Band III frequencies) and regional London PMR networks.

October The Director General published his determination of the terms for the interconnection of British Telecom's and Mercury's networks.


March Band Three Radio Ltd and GEC National One were announced as the successful applicants for trunked national public access mobile radio (PMR, in Band III) operators' licences.

May Mercury began offering basic network services

December BT's monopoly on the supply and maintenance of extension wiring and sockets ended. BT, Mercury or Kingston-upon-Hull City Council in Hull still have to install the master socket.

The Secretary of State delegated his powers to approve telecomms apparatus and designate standards to the Director General.


A strike by BT's engineers at the beginning of the year led to quality of service issues being prominent.

March The Director General published his determination on international accounting arrangements for BT and Mercury.

June A pilot scheme for approval of some simple telecomms equipment was introduced. Applicants could deal direct with certain test laboratories.

The EC published a green paper—'Towards a Dynamic European Economy'—on the development of telecomms in the common market.

August The Under-Secretary of State for Industry confirmed that Cellnet and Vodafone would provide the UK part of the pan-European digital cellular radio service.

OFTEL issued a consultative document on BT's contractual liability with its customers.

September Sir George Jefferson resigned as Chairman of BT and was replaced by Iain Vallance.

October The Director General signed a determination allowing Windsor Television (a broadband cable franchisee) to provide a telephone service in conjunction with Mercury - the first such determination.

OFTEL published a quality of service survey and BT began publishing its own quality of service figures.

November The Director General signed a determination allowing Mercury to provide a public call box service in competition with BT. This followed an OFTEL survey published in September which showed only 77% of BT public call boxes in working order nationwide. By March 1988 a survey showed that over 87% of BT's call boxes were working.

Kingston Upon Hull City Council's licence was revoked and a new dual licence was issued to the Council and Kingston Communications (Hull) plc, the wholly-owned company established by the Council to run its commercial telecomms.


January OFTEL issued a consultative document on what should replace the RPI-3% price cap on BT's main prices (this formula in BT's licence was due to run out on 31 July 1989).

May OFTEL published the payphone standard. This ended BT's monopoly on the supply of payphones to customers and meant that occupiers of pubs, shops, etc could purchase and/or run their own payphones on their premises.

July The Director General reached agreement with BT on a new price cap of RPI-4.5% to run from 1 August 1989 to 31 July 1993. The basket was expanded to include operator-assisted calls and any new charged-for services.

The Director General referred the problems relating to multiline chatlines and other message services to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission - OFTEL's first reference.

Mercury launched its first public call box service at Waterloo Station.

August/September There was considerable concern over the quality of service on cellular networks. The Director General began an investigation.

September Mercury started a customer guarantee scheme

October Six licences for specialised satellite services were granted (one way point-to-multipoint services).

December The Macdonald Report on the development of the UK's communications infrastructure was published by the Department of Trade and Industry.


January The Director General received a knighthood.

Four telepoint (CT2) licences were issued.

February OFTEL published the MMC report on Chatlines and other message services.

April Following OFTEL's consultative document in 1987, BT introduced a compensation scheme for customers giving them £5 per day after two working days for delayed fault repair or provision of service. Alternatively, for proven loss, business customers could claim up to £5000 and residential customers up to £1000.

BT announced there would be a code change in London from 01 to 071/081 in 1990.

July OFTEL published a consultative document on 'Numbering for Telephony into the 21st Century'. This looked at options such as code recovery and ten-digit dialling.

August The Director General recommended to the Secretary of State that suitably qualified installers and maintainers should be able to connect call routing apparatus without the pre- connection inspection by the network operator then required. A BSI scheme to qualify installers and maintainers was introduced in 1990.

November A new version of the class licence (Branch Systems General Licence) under which the vast majority of people ran their telecomms systems (including residential customers) was issued. This allowed simple resale of spare capacity on private circuits leased from public telecommunications operators.

Unsolicited sales calls by fax or telephone were regulated under this version for the first time.

A determination was made to bring into force in December the amendments made to BT's operating licence to regulate multiline chatlines and one-to-one live premium rate services, following the MMC reference in 1988. Under the new regulations a code of practice had to be agreed by the Director General - a code was agreed in December. Under the code a compensation scheme for unauthorised use and rules on content were introduced. Similar licence conditions were agreed for the licences of Mercury, Kingston, Cellnet and Vodafone.

December A price control (of RPI) on private circuit prices was introduced. BT began a compensation scheme for delayed service on private circuits.

On OFTEL's advice the Department of Trade and Industry announced that three personal communications network (PCN) licences would be awarded. The original licensees were Mercury PCN, Microtel and Unitel (all consortia).


May The London code changed on 6 May from 01 to 071 and 081.

June New mobile operators (such as PCN licensees) were told they would be able to sell direct to customers with safeguards for service providers. Steps began to allow existing mobile operators to market direct in the future.

July OFTEL took action against four cable TV franchisees over delays in building their networks. This was the first such action.

August The code of practice for live one-to-one premium rate services was revoked and new one containing a requirement to record all conversations approved.

OFTEL specified the first installer allowed to connect call routing apparatus to a public network without a pre-connection inspection by the network operator.

October OFTEL recognised the concept of logically separate telecomms systems.

November The so-called 'Duopoly Review' began with a Department of Trade and Industry consultative document. This looked at the undertaking to introduce no more long-distance fixed-link operators (apart from BT and Mercury) for seven years from November 1983. The review looked at many other aspects of the UK telecomms industry.

December On the last day of the year the Broadcasting Act came into force. Among many other provisions, the Independent Television Committee (ITC) took over from the Cable Authority in granting cable TV franchises.


January Following the Broadcasting Act 1990 OFTEL began monitoring licences for the broadcasting transmission systems of National Transcommunications Ltd (the broadcasting transmission business of the former Independent Broadcasting Authority) and the BBC. The Home Office sold National Transcommunications Ltd later in the year.

February BT began offering itemised billing to customers on digital exchanges.

March The Duopoly Review white paper 'Competition and Choice: Telecommunications Policy for the 1990s' (Cm1461) was published by the Department of Trade and Industry. This set out government policy in many areas. Decisions announced included ending the duopoly policy and allowing international simple resale to destinations with equivalent freedom to the UK. Decisions and proposals requiring licence modifications included: the setting up of the access deficit contribution (ADC) system, OFTEL taking over the UK numbering scheme, introducing number portability, more freedoms for cable operators, and changing the price control formula from RPI-4.5% to RPI-6.25% with international prices added to the basket and cut by 10%.

The Ovum report on numbering in the UK proposed a 10-digit scheme (0 plus ten digits for national dialling) to include the concept of personal numbering.

April VAT began to be charged on telephone bills.

BT started charging for directory enquiries. The price went into the controlled basket.

June OFTEL consulted on the future of emergency call handling arrangements and puts forward the idea of setting up a specialist call handling agency.

July Following consultation revised proposals for licence modifications to implement the Duopoly Review provisions were agreed with the licensees and the licences modified in September.

The three personal communications network licences were issued.


August A class licence was issued to allow the provision of satellite services (not over the public network).

Another new class licence, the Self-Provision Licence, gave more freedoms for private circuits including the abolition of the distance restriction between linked premises and the permitting of separate maintenance of serially-connected equipment.

The Director General issued an interconnection determination between Vodafone and Mercury.

After discussion with OFTEL, BT reduced the maximum deposit asked for to £150 and introduced an appeal procedure.

September The Director General announced his agreement to the proposal for a 10-digit numbering scheme. At this time the PhONEday changes were proposed for April 1994. Plans for OFTEL to take over the UK numbering scheme were also published.

The Director General issued an interconnection determination between Cellnet and Mercury.

October Following the suspension of BT's Phonepoint service, only one (now Hutchison's) of the original four telepoint licences remained.

December HM Treasury offered for sale up to 1,350 million BT shares. This reduced the Government's ownership from 47.7% to 25.8%.

The Director General issued a direction to BT aimed at ending the unfair cross-subsidy of its apparatus supply business which included the sale and rental of telephones and other equipment.


January OFTEL began reviewing the controls on BT's prices. The RPI-6.25% formula was due to run out on 31 July 1993.

February 25-year licences were issued to Cognito Group Ltd (reformed as Cognito Ltd later in the year), Hutchison Mobile Data Ltd and Ram Mobile Data Ltd to run mobile data conveyance services and also for the conveyance of data between fixed terminals. They had previously held temporary licences, having been selected by the Department of Trade and Industry in 1989. A further company, Paknet Ltd, was licensed later in the year and Meteor Communications (Europe) Ltd was licensed to run a data service using meteor reflection techniques.

March Mercury PCN merged with Unitel, reducing the number of PCN licensees to two.

April The code of practice for multiline chatlines was revoked when the compensation fund ran out. These ceased to operate.

The introduction in May 1992 of an approval scheme for the metering and billing systems of public operators was announced.

The two national public access mobile radio (PMR - in Band III) operators, Band Three Radio Ltd and GEC National One merged into one company - National Band Three Ltd. A new long-term licence for the merged company was issued.

May The remaining telepoint operator, Hutchison, launched its 'Rabbit' service.

June The Director General issued a statement proposing a new price control formula of RPI-7.5% (from RPI-6.25%) from 1 August 1993. The Director General also set out proposals for accounting separation between different BT businesses.

On 13 June Sir Bryan Carsberg left OFTEL to become Director General of Fair Trading. Bill Wigglesworth, the Deputy Director General, took over until 1 April 1993.

The Competition and Services (Utilities) Act came into force.

July PhONEday was postponed from April 1994 to April 1995.

A new class licence, the Telecommunication Services Licence (TSL), was issued in July and came into force in September. A revised Self-Provision Licence (SPL) also came into force in September. These two replaced the Branch Systems General Licence. The vast majority of people run their systems under either the SPL or TSL. Only those offering services to third parties run their systems under the TSL, all the rest run under the SPL.

Eligible cable licensees were offered a licence modification which would liberalise the technical requirements of the systems they were obliged to install. Among the provisions was that cable operators would be able to offer voice telephony in their own right.

August BT agreed to the formula of RPI-7.5% for the basket of main prices, to run from 1 August 1993 to 31 July 1997.

October A driveround survey of quality of service on the cellular networks was launched. It was organised by OFTEL and funded by the operators, Cellnet and Vodafone. This was discontinued in October 1993 after three quarters' results mainly because of funding difficulties.

November OFTEL announced additional changes on PhONEday in Bristol, Leeds, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield which would become 'major city areas'.


February Agreement was reached with BT on the future control of BT's private circuit prices. Price rises were to be limited to RPI on three separate baskets: national analogue, national digital and international. The controls would run from 1 August 1993 to 31 July 1997.

Ionica L3 Ltd was granted a nationwide public telecommunications operator (PTO) licence to run a telephone service using short-range digital microwave links. This was the first post-Duopoly Review PTO licence.

BABT included a new condition in approvals of mobile handsets that alteration of the electronic serial number (ESN) would mean the handset was no longer approved.

March BT's licence was modified to include the RPI-7.5% formula controlling the cost of the basket of BT's main prices. An amendment requiring BT to publish details of interconnection agreements also come into force.

April Don Cruickshank took over as Director General of Telecommunications on 1 April.

May A feasibility study on the proposals to set up a specialised agency for handling emergency calls showed the benefits would be marginal. The decision not to proceed was finally made in August.

June OFTEL published a consultative document on interconnection and accounting separation setting out proposals on how BT's businesses should be divided for regulatory accounting purposes.

Another OFTEL consultative document looked for views on the use of numbers beginning 02 to 09 after the PhONEday change had taken all geographic numbers to 01.

July The first batch of broadband cable TV licences were modified to enable operators, among other things, to convey voice telephony in their own right.

August The new price control (RI-7.5%) period for BT's main prices began.

September Mercury One-2-One began offering a PCN service.

Vodafone started offering GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) digital services.

OFTEL published a consultative document on calling line identification (CLI) particularly seeking views on privacy aspects.

October The end of the cellular drive-round survey after three quarters was announced, mainly due to lack of funding.

OFTEL launched an awareness campaign for PhONEday.

December BT introduced its weekend rate.

OFTEL published the BT/Mercury interconnection determination.

Rabbit, the only telepoint system in operation, stopped offering service.


January BT introduced the Light User Scheme to replace SupportLine for customers with low use.

The Director General reached agreement with BT that for the remainder of the current price control formula (RPI-7.5%) price changes would be introduced in such a way as to be equivalent to a single price reduction on 1 November each year.

February Following a consultative review in 1993, the Director General proposed several changes in the operation of BT's Signatory Affairs Office (SAO) to encourage future competition in the provision of satellite services. The main objective was to obtain direct access to international satellite consortia for independent operators.

March BT abolished 'peak' rate for local and national direct dialled calls - all weekday daytime calls (8.00am to 6.00pm) would be charged at standard rate.

OFTEL set out its three-stage plan to introduce better interconnection arrangements.

April Orange launched its personal communications network (PCN) services.

June With the publication of the Numbering Conventions, OFTEL took over management of the UK Numbering Scheme.

July BT introduced opting-in, using a PIN number, for 0898 'adult' premium rate services.

August Parallel running began for the lead up to PhONEday in April 1995. Customers could now dial either 01 or 0 plus the area code for national numbers, and 00 or 010 for international numbers.

September Energis launched its service.

Cellnet launched its GSM (digital) service.

October The Specified Numbering Scheme was determined by the Director General. This completed the process of transferring responsibility for the Numbering Scheme from BT to OFTEL. The Scheme was put on the public record, for the first time, at OFTEL.

November BT launched its calling line identification services.

December OFTEL published 'A Framework for Effective Competition'. This was a wide-ranging consultative document looking at how the regulatory regime needs to evolve. It included four options for changing the interconnection regime and looked at other issues such as capacity charging for interconnection, regulating anti-competitive practices and universal service.

Mercury announced it would be stopping its public call box service progressively during 1995.


January The Telephone Preference Service was launched. Customers could register to avoid some unsolicited telephone sales calls.

April After PhONEday - 16 April - all geographic telephone numbers began 01. The period of parallel running ended.

OFTEL granted eight further access deficit contribution (ADC) waivers.

June OFTEL published a consultation document on the future of telephone numbers with geographic significance (the 01 and 02 ranges).

Industria Politechnica Meridionale Communications plc (IPMC) were granted a licence to provide a public call box service following their take-over of Mercury's public call box sites.

BT introduced per second charging to replace the unit system.

July OFTEL published a consultative document on the regulation of the interface between the customer and the public network.

OFTEL published a major policy statement 'Effective Competition: Framework for Action' following the consultative document published in December 1994. This policy statement considered the path regulation should take towards the goal of a competitive marketplace. Among the recommendations in the document are that: the RPI+2% constraint on online rental price increases (currently imposed on BT) should be lifted, and that BT should be encouraged to introduce a more flexible range of service and tariff offerings to meet the needs of different groups of consumers; OFTEL will improve its handling of investigations into complaints of anti-competitive behaviour; new arrangements for universal service provision and funding should be introduced; changes to the service provider regime and a move to incremental costs as the basis for interconnection charges will be further discussed. Full details are contained in the document.

October OFTEL issued a statement on numbering. This followed the consultative exercise on geographic numbering launched in June. There was overall agreement on introducing measures for conserving numbers in the 02 range and OFTEL is now taking steps to implement these. Generally people wanted a clear, consistent strategy for numbering and an overall scheme with built-in flexibility. OFTEL needs to know more about what information customers want from numbers and to gain a more accurate picture of the level of demand, taking account of new developments and technological trends. OFTEL is commissioning a study to find this out. In the meantime, Reading - the only code area where more local numbers are needed before an overall strategy can be put in place - will become a 'major city area'. The new code will be '0118' (with a 7-digit local number) to replace '01734' with 6-digit local numbers).

December The publication of a consultative document on Pricing of Telecommunications Services from 1997 started the process of public discussion on the structure of price controls after July 1997 when the current controls in BT's licence expire. At present only BT is subject to price controls, with a cap of RPI-7.5% applied to a basket of main retail services. The principal proposals in the document are to introduce a network charge cap to act as a broad control on the interconnection charges which competing operators pay to BT and to move some services out of the controlled baskets where there is a clear prospect that they will be subject to increasing competition. Only a light price cap would then be applied to them, in line with OFTEL's deregulatory approach.

Another document for consultation was Universal Telecommunications Services. Particular emphasis was given to looking at the telecommunications needs of educational establishments and of people with disabilities, eg hard of hearing or speech impaired. Views were sought on the possibility of a higher level of universal service for schools and, with the prospect of increased costs for delivering universal service, comments were invited on how a funding mechanism could operate.

History index