Exclusive: CallNet's email for the masses

Forget about the £1000 barrier -- MailTV sets out to break the £30 barrier with TV based service

Email in Britain will no longer be tied to a PC with next month's launch of MailTV, a television-based online service "for the masses" from the company that launched CallNet.

MailTV uses a black box that attaches to the side of an ordinary analogue TV set to bring email, chat and simple text services -- akin to Teletext or Cefax -- to the millions of people in Britain without PCs. There is no browsing facility.

World CallNet plans to launch the service 2 December, ZDNet News has learned. Until the launch, details are thin. The company recently hit headlines with its launch of CallNet 0800, which promises unlimited toll-free Internet calls, but has struggled to keep the service operating.

The black box, which attaches to the TV using a velcro pad and employs a microprocessor from US company ZiLog, is aimed at the low end of the market and will cost a one-off fee of £30. There will be no rental charges. The service will make revenue through people's use of the interactive text services.

The move has been welcomed by users. "It's about time email was made available to the masses," said Tony Philip, a Web user at one of London's cyber cafes. "It breaks down the £1000-plus barrier of a PC and will get everyone kitted out just in time for Christmas."

Analysts point out however that interactive services are becoming more prevalent with the advent of digital TV, and question whether MailTV is aimed at the right end of the market. "I'm struggling with this," says Mark Riseley, e-business analyst at Gartner Group. "It's a very crude e-commerce model. Services like this exist in the US, and they are struggling to make money."

Riseley questions whether people who are not using email or other services through a PC will be easily persuaded to use the basic text services that MailTV relies on. "There's really a very little market for this", adds Riseley. "It doesn't seem like a viable consumer proposition. Maybe £30 is low enough to pull people in to buy the actual box but for the people who will be spending money using e-commerce, they'll be using PCs not basic text services."

World CallNet's chief executive operating officer Aaron Goodman-Simpson, remains confident. "People will buy this service and we are aiming at the low end because people who cannot afford a PC to do email and chat etc. We're expecting great demand for MailTV."

Coming up on Monday: an exclusive interview with World CallNet CEOO Aaron Goodman-Simpson.