Computer/Embedded Technology


People throughout the UK are now able to surf the web and send e-mail - using a payphone

26 Jan 2000 Computer/Embedded Technology

Dubbed Multiphone, and based on QNX realtime technology, the new phone is the brainchild of BT Payphones, a division of British Telecommunications (BT). Already in its first phase of deployment, Multiphone will be handling calls and delivering a variety of multimedia services in over 1000 locations soon.

According to QNX Software Systems, for BT Payphones, reliability was everything: Multiphone had to work non-stop, 24 hours a day. Yet BT also needed to download new applications and device drivers to any phone, at any time. QNX's dynamically scalable, MMU-protected architecture provided the key.

"Multiphone's QNX-based software proved so robust that, try as they might, our test and validation team could not make it crash," said Tim Elsworth, Head of Systems at BT Payphones. "But just as important, QNX allows us to download new features, without rebooting the phone or removing it from service. That is absolutely critical, since the phone must be available at all times for emergency calls. In fact, we can update software even while a customer is browsing the web - without stopping delivery of data to the display. That simply wasn't possible with other solutions we looked at."

BT Payphones plans to upgrade Multiphone with several new features this year, including streaming audio and video, video conferencing, and video e-mail which allows one to take a photograph and attach it to an e-mail.

Since time-to-market was critical for BT Payphones, QNX said it significantly reduced development time by providing most of the software components - OS, GUI, web browser, virtual keyboard, drivers - that BT Payphones needed.

"Thanks to QNX, the Multiphone team met its delivery schedule, using just one software developer," said Elsworth. "In fact, because so much software came off the shelf, we really only had to worry about features specific to the phone: billing software, the smartcard interface, and so on. Almost everything else was provided."

Each Multiphone is connected to the BT network via an ISDN2 link, with two channels operating at 64k each. The phone itself looks similar to BT's existing payphones, with the addition of a 12" colour touchscreen. Users can set up a free personal e-mail address from BT's Talk 21 service and can surf the web on a pay-as-you-go basis, using a BT Phonecard. Besides web surfing and e-mail, Multiphone provides up-to-the-minute news, sports, travel and entertainment information. It will also soon offer local street guides - users will be able to specify a destination, and the phone will show them how to get there.





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