Bulletin: Telex not dead! (Teletalk) Corey Sandler.
Remember Telex? Sure you do--it was that clanky, cranky old teletype machine in the shipping department that would rumble to life every once in a while and laboriously churn out a few pages of orders from Knockemstiff (Ohio), Bustard Head (Australia), Flin Flon (Manitoba), or other such outposts of civilization.
Truth was you could grow a beard watching a Telex machine as it pecked its capital letters at 50 baud, a rate that can be pleasing only to a certified dyslexic. That's not a typographical error: 50 baud, as in one twenty-fourth the speed of your basic 1200 baud modem or one forty-eighth as fast as the 2400 baud models currently filling the shelves. That's 50 baud, as in about 2 minutes to print this column up to this point.
But the importance of Telex was that it served as a 24-hour link between nearly anywhere and anyplace, bridging continents and time zeros. In the days before computers and telecommunications were envisioned, Telex was the cat's pajamas.
But why concern ourselves with Telex today, now that we have worldwide telephone service, with such additional helpful offerings as electronic mail and point-to-point telecommunications from desktop microcomputer to microcomputer? Well, the truth of the matter is that telephone service is not always available, and time zone differences may make it all but impossible to make direct connection. And electronic mail and point-to-point telecommunications do not yet cross all international borders. And finally, there is not yet a microcomputer on every desktop, and not all of those that are in place are tied into telephone lines.
The fact is that the only fast way to reach Knockemstiff, Bustard Head, or Flin Flon may well be via a dusty old Telex in the back room of the post office/general store.
And so, old clanky, cranky Telex is not dead. It is chugging along at its boring yet reliable speed in the United States, and in some parts of the world, especially in lesser developed nations, Telex is still growing nicely.
A Telex True Believer
"I don't think Telex is dying," says Seth Blumenfeld, president of MCI International. "I think it's certainly a mature service as far as the U.S. market is concerned. But worldwide, the best guess is that Telex is still growing at a low double-digit rate."
Blumenfeld should know, since his company has just spent $100 million upgrading its facilities, including its Western Union International subsidiary. WUI, its Telex arm purchased in 1982, is not to be confused with Western Union Co.'s Telex system, with which it competes.
"I'd like to think we don't have our heads in the sand," he continued. "The U.S. market is flattening out, and we expect negative growth soon."
That flattening market is still a fat one, with worldwide revenues estimated at about $550 million and U.S. receipts of $150 million, with the largest market stream for Telex between Western Europe and the U.S. In the U.S. about half a dozen carriers--MCI, Western Union, ITT, and others--split the domestic market; overseas most European countries and many other countries have government monopolies called Postal Telegraph and Telephone companies running the show.
"Telex is flourishing in lesser developed countries, in places like Latin America, the Far East, and the Middle East," Blumenfeld said. "In some countries they have thousands of customers on waiting lists."
Why would developing countries want to install the pokey Telex system instead of going all the way and putting in state-of-the-art highspeed telecommunications networks?
"You've got to walk before you run. You wouldn't go from a bicycle to a supersonic jet. Telex is still an excellent technology and an excellent service," he said.
Blumenfeld also does not expect the U.S. market suddenly to dry up and go away. Many thousands of major accounts require the Telex machines to maintain contact with overseas points. There are also more than 100,000 smaller Telex accounts in the U.S., many of which are used for domestic point-to-point communication.
"The small Telex subscriber is not necessarily inclined to go out and purchase more costly equipment like personal computers," Blumenfeld said. "They don't have the volume."
But, you may ask, what about all of this talk about the electronic office, with a PC on every desk from the CEO to the cleaning woman?
"We've heard all the noise about the office of the future," Blumenfeld told me. "I think it's going to happen, but not as quickly as many of us in industry would have believed. I believe in the office of future, but I'm not exactly sure how we get there."
The Slow Boat from London
But speaking of getting there, it is the existing international Telext network that provides a desktop link from personal computers to the rest of the world.
I received an important letter from a British publisher recently--a letter I had been awaiting for a long time. In fact, I had all but given them up for dead, since it had been three months since we last had exchanged letters. But finally, a bedraggled package landed on my door-step, dated 90 days earlier. I've decided it travelled through all of the remnants of the British Empire en route, with a four-week stopover in Mandalay.
So I decided to reply more directly. That's a lot easier said than done. Have you ever figured out the business overlap between the U.S. and London? When it is 9:00 a.m. in New York, it is 3:00 p.m. in England, giving you two hours to track someone down. (You can also hope they don't try to call you at 9:00 a.m. London time--that's 3:00 in the morning in New York, midnight in California.) It is worse in a connection from the West Coast: when you arrive at work at 9:00 a.m. in San Francisco, the British work day has already been over for an hour or so.
The solution I chose was good old Telex, using the services of my trusty PC and MCI Mail. I sent a Telex one afternoon and received my reply when I signed on to MCI the next morning.
All you need is a computer, a modem tied into a phone line, A basic telecommunications program, and access to one of the services.
MCI Mail, which has been the most aggressive participant in the newly emerging electronic mail network industry, offers outgoing and incoming Telex service from around the world and across the United States. To use the service, an MCI registrant merely enters a Telex code as the address in the standard letter format for that service.
Telex subscribers worldwide, whether or not they are registered for MCI Mail, can communicate with you by directing their messages to MCI's incoming Telex number. The dispatches are placed in your incoming electronic mailbox.
MCI's Telex rates are based on a 400-character "mini-ounce." Some countries have three-ounce minimums. For a full listing of area codes and prices from Abu Dhabi to Zimbabwe, together with instructions on use of MCI Mail for Telex messages, contact MCI at 1900 M St., N.W., Washington, DC 20036, or send them an electronic message at MCI Customer Service. MCI will also contact as many as ten of your regular Telex correspondents for free and provide them with instructions on how to reach you in the U.S.
Western Union's EasyLink service is close to MCI Mail in range of services, including electronic mail, Telex, telegrams, cablegrams, and a business, news, and sports database on-line. Western Union operates one of the largest Telex systems in the world--its circuits are used by most of its competitors at one point or another in communication and the company provides its subscribers with the phone book-like Western Union Telex Directory. Contact Western Union Telex Directory. Contact Western Union/Easylink at One Lake St., Upper Saddle RiveR, NJ 07458.
ITThs Worldcom Telex includes access to real time "interactive telex." In effect, this allows you to use ITT's facilities for standard on-line communications. Ordinary store and forward Telex is available, as is an electronic mailbox for incoming messages. For information contact ITT World Communications, Sales Department, 100 Plaza Dr., Secaucus, NJ 07096.
RCA Global Communications offers the same range of services, and the company can be reached at 201 Centennial Ave., Box KC-8, Piscataway, NJ 08854.
Almost all of these services will work well with standard PC telecommunications software, and at standard 300 and 1200 baud communication rates, with 2400 baud coming on line here and there. You can, in most instances, compose your message directly on screen and then send it, or you can prepare it earlier with a standard word processor and then upload if once you are signed onto the service. EasyLink is offering a specialized communications package called Easy Link Mail Manager. This PC software includes a word processor, telecommunications link, and automatic sign-on procedure for that service. MCI has just introduced a new software product called Comdesk specialized for Telex purposes.
The Togetherness of the
But the tides of change don't merely run from the highspeed computer to the Telex machine. Now the world traveler need not leave home without his stock-broker or his daily newspaper.
MCI International introduced a few months back a link from the 2.5 million Telex machines around the world to an online stock transaction and information service. The new product, called Insight, allows worldwide Telex subscribers to obtain stock market quotations, interest rates, and other information, and to execute trades through a discount brokerage firm. Also included in the service are AP and UPI news tickers as well as specialized financial information including commodities trades, livestock prices, interest rate information, gold and metal prices.
According to MCI's Blumenfeld, principal users of the system will include foreign individuals and companies engaging in transactions on American and other major international foreign financial markets and exchanges, as well as traveling business people. U.S. Telex subscribers can also sign on directly to the system. There will be no charge for retrieval of the information in the database, with users paying only ordinary Telex communications charges. MCI would make its profit from those charges. Typical international rates are about $1 per minute, he said.
The Insight package, however, will be available through any Telex provider. And, travelling Americans can make use of the Telex booths that are fairly common in European airports and other public locations.
RCA Globcom has a system called FYI News Service that provides news, financial information, sports, weather, and other data for overseas subscribers all for the cost of a Telex link to the U.S.
The Direct Link to Come
It should be obvious to the PC user that even with the advances in Telex, the faster and simpler route would be the extension of electronic mail service across international borders. the U.S. providers, MCI Mail among them, are trying to do just that, although miles of red tape still block the way. ITT has made some headway with its Dialcom service, which allows limited international mailbox service.
MCI Mail has a laser printing site in Belgium that is used to produce paper copies of electronic messages, which are then placed into the European mails for delivery.
Sooner or later, the Global Village will be truly electronic. Net we'll have to figure out something to say.