Where are they now?

John C. Tanner
Telecom Asia

Videotex

Name-checked at CommunicAsia 1990 as a hot office information systems trend (along with voice processing and "electronic mail"), videotex was a data service that allowed two-way access to data via a video terminal (as opposed to a computer) or a modified TV set. France's Minitel was the most high-profile example (and arguably the most widely used, although subsidizing terminals arguably helped). In Taiwan, the DGT claimed it had 9,000 videotex subscribers, and that the service had stimulated the Taiwan stock market as farmers track their investments.

However, in other markets, teletext (a similar idea but one-way broadcast) was more common for info services like financial information. Teletext still survives today (for specialized usage), as does Minitel and a handful of other videotex services.

Pagers

Even as cellular phone services were in their infancy, pagers were a major growth item by 1990, by which time they could be used in wide area settings rather than just on-site (in a hospital, for example).

There were around 22 million pager users worldwide by 1990, and innovations like alphanumeric support and two-way paging would boost the user base above 60 million by the mid-90s. Cell phones and SMS eventually replaced pagers as a telecoms service by the early 00s in many markets, but pagers aren't dead yet. Motorola (who invented them) still makes them, and paging is still used by emergency services personnel, field workers and restaurants (i.e. those flashing coasters that let you know when your table's ready).

Dial-up internet access

As a consumer service, the internet was just barely out of the gate in 1990, but there was already work being done in developed markets like Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. As you might expect, connection speeds were around 2400 baud (or 2400 bps).

Dial-up speeds eventually peaked at 56 kbps in the late 1990s, and the growth of broadband has naturally pushed it aside, though not to the point of replacing it on a global scale just yet. The ITU puts broadband users at 500 million at the end of 2009, while the world's internet subscriber base sat at 1.7 billion as of September 30, 2009. However, with 600 million mobile broadband users also online (even accounting for the inevitable overlap), it won't be long before dial-up users are outnumbered.

Fax

Fax services aren't nearly as dead as you might think, if only because some organizations (particularly governments) still require documents to be transmitted that way. Like most other old-school services, fax has migrated to IP (FoIP), but the failure rate of FoIP transmissions is notoriously high - two out of every 10 pages fail to transmit, according to the SIP Forum. Part of the problem is interoperability - FoIP uses the ITU's T.38 standard for SIP networks, but many service providers still use VoIP gateways that support the standard G.711 fax standard rather than T.38. And even T.38 equipment from various vendors has interoperability issues. Last year, the SIP Forum launched an FoIP interoperability task force to tackle the issue.

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