This article was authored by John C. Tanner, and was originally posted on telecomasia.net.
Here’s what the future of the Internet looked like to AT&T in 1983. One word: videotext!
It’s fun to watch with hindsight, of course. And sure, videotext only ever really took off in France, where Minitel was so popular that they only turned off the service a few months ago – and it reportedly still had around 600,000 subscribers at the time.
Still, when you look at the actual services being offered, all of them exist today on the Web, albeit in a much richer form. So in that sense AT&T was arguably ahead of its time.
All it really got wrong – like most monopoly telcos in the world at the time – was the idea that customers would see value in a closed system where even the terminals were made and sold by the same company that sold you the service. Because that’s how it was done back then.
Anyway, it’s a nice illustration of how hard it can be to predict what the Next Big Thing is going to be, or at least what form it will take – which is particularly relevant in these days when innovation cycles are happening faster and faster, driven by OTT players and developers, and operators need flexible network architectures that can cope not only with the coming era of Big Data and cloud-based services, but anything the OTT sector can throw at it in the next ten years.
Oh, one other thing. I’m not sure about Viewtron, but Minitel? Users were billed per minute for visiting sites.
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I ran a BBS with a group of my 12 yr old friends in 1983 – Videotex was AT&T’s half-baked failed attempt to commercialize/monopolize the BBS movement. Quite possibly, the greatest consumer product innovation introduced by AT&T/the Bell system from 1875 to 1996 was “call waiting.” What a joke. Of course since 1996, we have experienced quite possibly the most innovating and inventive time in human history. When historians write about our generation 200 years from now, they will credit the telecom industry for some of the most significant events to shape our future, the catalyst of course being the breakup of AT&T and telecom deregulation. I could make similar commentary about Comcast. You get the point. Let’s just hope the historians don’t write about the post 1996 period ending in 2012 as a result of the consolidation of the telecom industry.
How about this one Rob:
AT&T was great at seeing the future, not at executing on it: