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Business Is Buzzing For Telecoms

Bits & Bytes


EVER SINCE THE TELECOMmunications Act of 1996 was signed last February, telecom companies have been knocked about by the shifting tides of deregulation and new competition. But despite all the challenges facing the industry, business has never been better. The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), a trade group, says in its closely watched review of the market that equipment and services revenues last year grew 11% to $298 billion, duplicating 1995's growth rate. In 1994, the year before the bill passed, revenues grew only 9.7%. The TIA projects that double-digit growth should continue through 2000.

As usual, wireless services showed one of the largest gains--a 23.3% increase in revenues, to $31.4 billion. But the once slow-moving local-calling business also had a good year: Revenues grew 7.6%, to $49.6 billion--the biggest increase of the 1990s for that industry segment. And toll-call revenues soared 6.2%, vs. 3.8% in 1995, to $89 billion. Most improved: the equipment makers that keep the service providers up and running. Phone companies readying for competition boosted spending on their public networks by 16.6%, to $10.2 billion, after a mere 2.7% rise in 1995.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top


AIRPORT SECURITY KEEPS getting tighter in an effort to foil terrorists. Now Visionics Corp. in Metuchen, N.J., has come up with a face-recognition technology billed as a foolproof system for identifying passengers and their luggage. Called "FaceIt," this combination of cameras and software is meant to ensure that only properly ticketed passengers will board the plane.

Visionics has licensed its technology to Malaysia's TL Technology Research for use in the first biometric airline passenger and baggage security system. During the boarding process, the system's video camera will automatically match a passenger's face to their picture encoded on a smart chip on the boarding pass issued at check-in. FaceIt's system also will make certain that only luggage from passengers who actually board the plane is loaded, by matching up baggage claim tickets and faces.

The first FaceIt system will be installed at Malaysia's Langkawi International Airport in July, according to TL officials. Visionics eventually plans to offer FaceIt in four other airports in the Pacific Rim.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top


ANYONE WHOSE CAR HAS broken down on a dark and empty highway knows how useful a cellular phone can be. But that's only if you know where you are: 911 dispatchers receive no info on the caller's phone number or location, as they do from traditional wired phone calls. So last year, the Federal Communications Commission issued a mandate calling on wireless carriers to have a system in place that will transmit vital information on 911 calls by Oct. 1, 1998.

The carriers are ahead of schedule. Vanguard Cellular Systems Inc. says it will offer the first enhanced 911 service on its Allentown (Pa.) network in June, using technology from Xypoint Corp. When a call comes in, the wireless phone number and the nearest cellular transmitter will pop up on a dispatcher's screen, giving emergency personnel a general idea of the caller's location. New Jersey just completed a 90-day trial of an even more sophisticated system called TruePosition developed by Associated Group Inc., which determines the caller's location within a half-block radius. TruePosition developer Kenneth Sanders says some 8,000 wireless emergency calls came in during the trial, and the caller was accurately located 67% of the time.

Why the hurry? A study from Strategis Group consulting firm predicts that the demand for wireless location services could reach $8 billion a year if extended to include truck fleet tracking and navigation assistance.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top

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