Phone and cable TV companies are lining up to offer universities free telephone installations.
At the University of Birmingham, Ericsson worked with Birmingham Cable to provide a fully managed phone service to 6,000 student rooms in 15 halls of residence. Calls are carried over Birmingham Cable's city-wide cable network.
"Ericsson has installed all the infrastructure at no charge to the university. We make our return on investment from a percentage of the call charges," said Joanne Jones, business manager for managed services at Ericsson Ltd, the UK subsidiary of the Swedish telecommunications company. Around 3,500 students have signed up for the service and received the seven-digit personal code which they must enter before dialling an outside number. The code can be used from any phone on the system, so there is no need to repay a fellow student for use of their phone. Students can prepay for calls or be billed; either way it costs the same. Students who have a computer, a modem and an account with an internet service provider can dial into the internet as they could on any phone line. Network sockets are not provided but Ericsson says the cables can carry data, so the university network could be extended to student rooms at a future date.
Ericsson is installing student phones at St Andrews University, following a 300-phone trial which began in February.
Last week BT launched its own offer of free phones for universities, through a new company, Key Student Services. BT's partners in the venture are Key Business Communications, Unitel Communications and Lucent Technologies, owner of the world famous Bell Labs. Key Student Services will instal and manage a campus phone network at no cost, in return for the right to collect call charges. Students prepay by credit or debit card. Local calls are charged at 6.9 pence per minute standard rate and 3.4 pence per minute cheap rate. National calls are charged at 14.9 pence per minute standard rate and 8 pence cheap rate.
Students joining the scheme get a personal code which they can use on campus or, by dialling a special 0800 number, from anywhere nationwide. BT hopes to enlist them as lifelong customers by allowing them to continue to use the service when they leave university.