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192 to 118 countdown - rival says BT more interested in "glamorous" areas

BT hits back at upstarts who say "We've got your number"
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

BT hits back at upstarts who say "We've got your number"

With the old 192 directory enquiries (DQ) number being switched off this weekend, the battle over who will be the post-regulation DQ winner is officially on – and The Number 118 118 is claiming BT will lose a far greater market share than expected. William Ostrom, director of communications at The Number 118 118, told silicon.com that while in other countries where DQ deregulation has already happened, the previous incumbent usually retained about 50 or 60 per cent of the market. However, in BT's case, customer share is more likely to be around 30 per cent. Although the switch-off isn't scheduled until Sunday 24 August, Oftel has announced 30 per cent of consumers have already tried one of the 118 services, while Ostrom said that The Number 118 118 is already enjoying 10-15 per cent of the DQ market – a figure they would previously have considered healthy at a stage after the changeover. He attributed BT's performance to both public opinion and internal issues over the importance of DQ within the company. "They're fighting a public perception that they're responsible for deregulation and the fact that 118 500 is a crummy number. "BT tries to do everything – directory enquiries is just a tiny wrinkle in its portfolio. They're happy to say 'Let's concede, let's let Oftel think they're doing a great job and we’re happy to lose the market', " he said. A spokesman for BT said that its 118 500 service had always expected to lose some business when directory enquiries were deregulated but the company expects to keep a minimum of a third of the market after 192 is shut down. Accusations have been levelled at BT's Retail division that its drive to publicise BT's 118 500 number was less than overwhelming as DQ services were eclipsed by efforts to showcase more glamorous offerings such as broadband. It's a charge that BT's spokesman strenuously denied, saying: "Directory enquiries have been a major part of what we've been doing for the last year." While other DQ providers have been pouring millions into their marketing for months, BT's publicity campaign has been a more restrained affair, with the bulk of promotion focused around the date of the switch-off itself. "As the incumbent, we've chosen not to spend money on advertising months and months in advance," he continued. "Other companies entering the market are starting from a zero base and have to build up brand recognition. It's all about spending money at the right time and we think this is the right time – until the switch over, people have still been largely calling 192 for their directory enquiries." Commenting on the future of DQ, Steve Milligan, marketing director at Responsa – a new service that will ring back callers looking for a business via DQ with three available suppliers – believes that as DQ services aren't looking at pricing as a differentiator they'll have to work hard to make an impact in the new market. "There's not a huge indication price will be a big driver…with Java phones, WAP and PDAs, basic 'give me a phone number' services are already available to consumers on the move. The major players in the marketplace have to look at how to stand out", he said. Heightening consumer awareness of the value-added services 118 options will provide is a lengthy process, Milligan said.
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