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The Directory Game

phone bookThis month 118 118, the mustachioed telephone number directory service, increased its prices to nose-bleed level. This is the headline from London’s Evening Standard

“Price hikes have left users of the well-known 118 118 directory inquiries service paying nearly £9 for a call lasting less than a minute.”

They tell us that calls to 118 118 now cost a minimum of £8.98 and if the caller says yes to the offer to be connected to the number he’s just enquired about, he’ll get a bill of £94.29 for a 20-minute call.
This was briefly discussed at the industry group for VoIP – ITSPA – the Internet Telephony Service Providers Association yesterday, in one of our many diversions from heavier matters like what to call the free bottles of beer we’ll be giving away at the next conference. (My offer was Internet Telephony Special Pale Ale – geddit?)

The consensus was that it was indeed Michael-taking. It was thought that a major revenue stream would be from business users on mobiles needing to get numbers quickly while out of the office. This would make the call even more expensive as it would also incur the mobile operators access change. But they’re not picking up the bill.

The heavy use of telly adverts suggests that they are targeting ordinary consumers and there is a concern that the elderly that don’t all have access to the internet may be particular vulnerable to this price hike. Isn’t this just the sort of thing that Ofcom is supposed to protect us from?

Voipfone only allows one 118 number 118 707 which we provide at cost. This is a one-off £1.45 plus our 7p access fee. Still expensive but not a total rip-off and not our fault

And of course, the best way is free – www.192.com.

A Little Heavy Reading

Oliver HeavisideThis month I went on long flight so bought a last-minute airport book at random from WH Smug at Gatwick to get me through it – Bill Bryson’s ‘The Road to Little Dribbling’. I remember giggling my way through a similar flight years ago reading his ‘Notes from a small Island’ so hopes were high.

It’s diverting but not as good – but the point of mentioning this here is that he visits the seaside town of Torquay where a guy I’d never heard of by the name of Oliver Heaviside lived. Bryson describes him as “short, ill-tempered and hard of hearing [with] a permanently crazed look” and “possibly the greatest modern British inventor of whom no one has ever heard”.

Despite being entirely self-taught he worked out how radio waves followed the curvature of the earth. He came up with the idea that they were bouncing off a layer of ionised particles now called the Heaviside layer. In the way of these things, his prediction was later confirmed by another scientist who got the Nobel Prize for it.

But more importantly for me at least, he was the guy that found a way of boosting telephone signals and do it without also boosting extraneous noise – an impossibility it was thought at the time. This invention – the transmission line theory or the “telegrapher’s equations” made the modern world possible – for the first time long distance, two way, real time telephony became possible.

Also in the way of these things – he patented nothing. AT&T grabbed his equations and became the world’s biggest telco. As Mr. Bryson says “Heaviside should have ended up a multi-millionaire but instead passed his last years living in angry poverty in a bedsit in Torquay with children throwing wine gums at his neck”. (This last allusion is explained in the book – but you’ll have to buy the book to find out more.)

It’s a bit late now, but thanks Mr Heaviside. I owe you a life-long living.

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