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This bespoke Perkins 145 kVA open diesel generator is on its way to be installed in a BT UK Communications Centre near Herefordshire where it will provide backup power.


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Few telecommunications companies are as iconic as BT (British Telecom). They’re the oldest telecommunication company in the world – the company’s origins can be traced all the way back to 1846 to pioneering telegraph service The Electric Telegraph Company.

Today, BT’s focus is on digital telecommunications and it now operates in 180 countries worldwide. They’re the largest internet provider in the UK and are one of the biggest operators when it comes to phone rental and TV.

British Telecom’s long and rich history has contributed to their success. Here is an in-depth look into how the company was formed, the types of products and services they have offered over the years and a glimpse into what the future holds.

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BT’s origins can be traced back to the first commercial telegraph service, The Electric Telegraph Company, founded in 1846. The telegraph was the first form of long-distance electronic communication and relied on encoding schemes such as Morse code – before this time, all messages would have to be delivered by post or by carrier pigeon..

A number of competing private telegraph companies were formed after this company including The British Telegraph company, The British and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company, The London District Telegraph Company and The United Kingdom Telegraph Company – all of which had a part in the forming of the General Post Office (GPO), which would later become British Telecom.

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In 1868, the Telegraph Act was passed, in which the government took control of all telegraph companies. This include The Electric Telegraph Company and its competitors. This national telegraph service was merged with the country’s postal service to form the General Post Office (GPO)..

At this time, the telephone was starting to come into popularity with a number of private telephone providers being set up such as the NTC. The GPO was one of the earliest telephone providers and it soon bought up many rival private companies including the NTC in 1896.

In 1912, it then became the monopoly supplier all of telephones in the UK (with the exception of a few local services). At this time, telegraphs were falling out of fashion and telephones were taking over as the main form of communication. The General Post Office shifted its main focus to telephones and mail.

In 1969, the government decided that the GPO should be split into two divisions – one for post and one for telecommunications. The division dedicated to telecommunications was named Post Office Telecommunications. It was operated from The Post Office Tower (previously the largest building in the UK and currently known to many as the BT tower).

The Post Office Act of 1969 declared that Post Office Telecommunications was no longer a government-run division but a public company instead. It’s focus was largely on telephone communication, although it also specialised in Giro and National Data Processing.

In 1980, Post Office Telecommunications was renamed British Telecom. This followed a report into the recommended further separation of telecommunications and post, which were at that time still under the umbrella of The Post Office.

Following this, steps were taken in by the government to privatise the company as well as bringing in competitors. This would allow other companies a share in the UK telecommunications industry, which was previously restricted largely to government ownership. Mercury Communications – a subsidiary of Cable & Wireless - became its first and biggest competitor..

In 1982, British Telecom became the private company we know today. The government announced that 51% of shares would be sold to private investors. This gave British Telecom the freedom to respond to competition in the UK – and also to expand globally.

Throughout the 80s, British Telecom began to branch out into other forms of communications technology that it previously hadn’t been able to tap into. The company built the UK’s first satellite coast station in 1983 and became heavily involved in pioneering mobile phone technology and electronic mail (e-mail). It also introduced an itemised billing service for phone calls.

British Telecom was rebranded as BT in 1991. During this year, the government sold much of it’s remaining shares, eventually selling all its shares by 1993. This gave BT full freedom to act as a private company.

It was during the 90s that BT teamed up with American telecommunications company MCI to launch Concert Communications Services – a $1 billion joint venture company. This was the first single source, broad portfolio of global communications services for multinational customers. BT eventually sold its stake to WorldCom.

BT made several other joint ventures during this time, including formation of a 50:50 business with AT&T called Concert. However, many of these other joint ventures were short-lived as BT many other companies at the time found themselves in deep debt. BT was able to get out of this debt by focusing more on working within and less on partnerships.

The 00's saw a greater focus on digital technology and international growth. It was during these years that Openreach came to fruition, whilst internet became a big focus for the company. BT connected its ten millionth broadband line in 2007 – smashing its initial target of five million broadband connections.

Having previously been banned from entering the digital TV market, the 00s also saw this ban being lifted, which led to BT making it’s first venture into TV. BT Vision was launched in 2006 and it has since amassed over 1.8 million customers.

Throughout the years, BT has released a number of notable products and services. Here are the company’s biggest innovations and developments since its privatisation in 1982.

BT’s first electronic mail service, Telecom Gold, was introduced in 1982. This allowed early forms of email to be transmitted between computers. BT Gold is known for hosting one of the first online communities with its real-time chat facility. This used mainly for business purposes by people in and around London.

In 1985, British Telecom teamed up with Securicor for joint venture BT Cellnet. The result was one of the biggest mobile phone providers of its time. BT Cellnet remained popular into the 90s until it was eventually turned into a separate company mm02plc. This separate company eventually transformed into leading mobile provider O2 (although it is no longer owned by BT).

In 1986, British Telecom helped to set up ChildLine, an emergency contact number for children in danger. BT helped to provide volunteers, hardware and office space and has continued to offer funding to this charity organisation ever since. They also helped to allocate the number 0800 1111, which is the only 8 digit 0800 number still in use.

Two services PhoneDisc and Phone Base were set up in 1991. PhoneDisc was an electronic phone book on a CD. Phone Base meanwhile was an early form of dial-up internet service that connected a user’s computer to BT’s database via a modem and telephone network. Both of these were important steps into digital technology that led BT to get further involved in providing internet service.

In 1995, BT.com was set up. Along with this website, the company set up The BT Shop – an online store for customers connected to the web. The website is still very much alive today (although quite different from its original form).

It was in 1996 that BT launched its first residential mass-market internet dial-up service. This allowed everyday people to access the internet via their BT phoneline on their personal computers. BT internet became popular quickly – although it wasn’t until BT started working with broadband that they really came to dominate the UK market.

BT made history in 1997 when it released the first online gaming service, Wireplay. One of the first Wireplay compatible games was Euro 96 – a football game based on Actua Soccer that coincided with the Euro 96 football tournament held in England. Popular games of the time such as Quake also got in on the action. Wireplay unfortunately didn’t stand the test of time as internet connection was still not great enough then for people to see the potential

The turn of the millennium saw BT bringing out a number of services and subsidiaries. These included BT ignite (the international arm of BT specialising in e-commerce), BT OpenWorld (an early precursor to broadband), BT Wireless (a division specialising in mobile technology) and Yell (today’s hugely popular online marketing platform that stemmed from the GPO’s yellow pages).

BT broadband was launched in 2002, allowing affordable access to high-speed internet. This service marks BT’s departure from traditional telecommunications to a greater focus on internet and media products. It remains one of BT’s most successful products within the history of the company.

The first move by a major UK player into the VoIP market, BT broadband voice was launched in 2003. Popular in many of today’s offices, this VoIP service allowed users to make phonecalls via the internet, making it possible to receive calls on multiple devices. This was later expanded on with the VoIP app.

In 2006, BT branched out into digital TV with BT Vision. Although at first slow to attract customers, BT TV has since amassed over 1.8 million customers. The company’s focus has been on sports, whilst also partnering up with other media providers to deliver cheap deals on services such as Sky movies and Netflix.

BT brought in Total Broadband Anywhere in 2008. This service allows users to use broadband internet on the go wherever they are from their phone or another portable device. It is still a popular product today.

In 2010, BT launched BT infinity, the company’s current super-fast fibre based broadband. The service currently offers download speeds of 40 MB/s and upload speeds of 10 MB/s.

MyDonate was set up in 2011 as a new online fundraising service for UK charities. Unlike many other services, BT’s service requires no commission fee when donating. MyDonate can be linked up to one’s Facebook page.

In 2013, BT launched its BT sport channels. These channels are free to all BT Broadband users and feature all sports from rugby to golf. BT sport is also available to Sky customers.

Smart Talk was also launched in 2013, allowing users to make calls via their BT phoneline using wi-fi and an app. The service has since been cancelled.

British Telecom has since moved away from traditional telecommunications for a greater focus on digital technology. As the UK’s leading internet provider, BT seems certain to continue its mission in providing faster and more comprehensive internet connection. Ultra-fast is already set to be the internet of the future, which could enable large downloads to take seconds.BT will also almost certainly continue its quest internationally, continuing to cater to the 180 countries that is currently operating in. With no data roaming charges in 47 countries, BT mobile is expanding and set to be the next big global carrier.


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