For Drivers — Car Phones

London Portrait Magazine — November 1983

Car Phones

By Christopher Long

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The whole business of in-car communications is nightmarishly complicated and confusing. There is also a huge selection of devices ranging from proper telephones which can ring round the world direct, to simple devices that bleep you to tell you to get out and ring the office, or tell your wife why you're late home.

For practical purposes, however, there are two basic systems in operation: direct dialling, which means the phone in your car is radio-linked to the normal British Telecom phone system, and operator linked systems, which means that someone else in the middle is relaying calls or information to-and-from your car.

Where it gets complicated is that British Telecom currently have a monopoly on the public telephone system. This means that anyone who wants to plug in to their system directly must, by law, be using British Telecom approved equipment. What's more, no-one may use a radio telephone without getting a transmitting licence from the Department of Trade & Industry. BUT, there are thousands of people sitting on waiting lists for a transmitting licence in London because there aren't enough available frequencies in the GLC area. So, while direct-dialling on radio telephones sounds the obvious ideal, growing numbers of private operators are offering the operator linked services that overcome the London problem and possibly have advantages all their own.

1985, however, will be an important year. By then, British Telecom will have lost their monopoly, and their competitors plan to be able to offer a cellular radio frequency system that will open the air-waves to all comers.


At present British Telecom have approved four manufacturers of radio telephones that can be mounted in a car and which can be used just like an ordinary push-button home telephone to make and receive calls almost anywhere in the UK direct to or from almost anywhere in the world. But not in London! Here you can make out-going but not in-coming calls because of the shortage of frequencies.

If you already have a London licence it's gold-dust. If you haven't you'll probably have to wait at least until 1985. But you can go ahead and buy the hardware from either British Telecom or one of its four approved manufacturers, get a licence, open an account with British Telecom and dial away to your heart's content. British Telecom can offer a good, basic, push-button radio telephone made by Marconi but without all the frills. It is the EMERALD1 or EMERALD 2 car radio telephone at £2,250 plus VAT.

Otherwise you can buy the equipment direct from the approved makers:

MARCONI MC25 UK — 908 4444

PYE Radio-telephone — 452 6411

STORNO Radio-telephone — 267 6707

Another way of buying a phone is to enter a rent/purchase arrangement with EXECUTIVE CAR TELEPHONES who offer a sophisticated Mobira set for £29 + VAT per week over 36 months which includes fitting, number, licence, aerial and three years' insurance and warranty. They supply an additional display pager which gets round the London licence by telling you which number is trying to call you. They specialise in luxury installations for Porshe, Mercedes and BMW cars as well as for Jack Barclay. Their hardware has 80-number memory, automatic re-dialling and an optional transfer dial head to another car.

Before long SECURICOR will be offering their own Vigilant radio telephone as well - approved by British Telecom - and Securicor itself will be linking up with BT in 1985 when the phone system monopoly is broken and Racal come into the business.

Whichever hardware you choose, however, you still have service and call charges to pay to BT. They include: A one-off registration fee (like a connection charge) £100; a service charge for London and South East area network of £105 per quarter; and additional, optional, area network charge for the Midlands, North and Scotland at £30 per area per quarter.

Calls are charged at 4.3 pence per 8 seconds (4.3 pence per 15 seconds during cheap rate periods).

There is no waiting list for equipment and no waiting list for radio licences outside the GLC area. Licences are granted to individuals, not cars, so are not transferable. London users are advised to join the South East area network (plus any others they need) and remember that they won't be getting in-coming calls within the Capital. They can also join the rest of the industry and curse British Telecom and the DTI for not having foreseen the demand in good time - and just wait for 1985. BT and the other manufacturers can all arrange installation to suit the client's convenience. Alternatively, there is the other option: operator linked services.


Among the large number of companies flooding into this expanding market are two nationwide operators, AIR CALL and Securicor's RELAYPHONE. In addition METROPHONE are rapidly expanding to cover the whole country and they already cover London and the South East like their major competitor, LONDON CAR TELEPHONES. Basically all these companies either sell or lease the hardware and offer a car phone linked by radio to an operator (or series of regional operators) who make calls, relay messages and often offer a secretarial/information service in addition. The advantage is that they avoid the London licence problem and can store calls you miss if you leave your car. They can connect calls you want or hold others back; make hotel or theatre bookings, for example, or put your calls through a telex machine.

AIR CALL provide a Marconi 600 Series system for £100 per month + VAT which includes the cost of all calls made within the UK. Installation costs from £30 to £75 (+ VAT) depending on the car. Nationwide coverage and immediate installation anywhere.

Securicor's RELAYPHONE equipment can be either rented for £72 per month + VAT or bought (price on application) with a £55 per month service charge. Installation costs £65 and they too offer a secretarial back-up service.

METROPHONE claim to be the first company to take on British Telecom. Their network covers London, the South East and Midlands and will be expanding to the North and Scotland soon. They sell their own equipment for £1,750 + VAT (installation £150 + VAT) with a £40 per month service charge.

LONDON CAR TELEPHONES supply a Simplex car telephone for £1,227 + VAT and full message handling/secretarial operator service and direct speech to all incoming and outgoing (UK only) calls for a £75 service charge each month. They also offer a Five Star Executive Service for £48 per month (plus 29p call connection charge and 9p per unit) which includes a world-wide direct speech connection and secretarial and 24 hour telex link. An added advantage is their optional (£230 + VAT) 'alerter' which the client carries with him and which warns to take a call if he leaves his car. Alternatively you can lease/purchase their duplexed car telephone and alerter for £65.12 per month over three years. Installation with London postal districts - £25 + VAT.

This article is included as an affectionate reflection on how quickly technology moves on! The phones described here were vast, complicated and very expensive toys for a small handful of the very rich. Ten years later almost anyone could buy a tiny cheap mobile phone that slipped into a top pocket or a purse. With the minimum of fuss they could then speak to friends throughout the world.

N.B. The above products, prices and information are all now obsolete!

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© (1983) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

Christopher Long

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