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North American Gateway comes gunning for BT

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A North American company that took on the might of Canada's ruling monopoly telco -- and won -- has come to Britain to go head-to-head with BT. North American Gateway (NAG), which boasted a turnover of $145 million last year, has teamed up with mobile phone retailer Phones4u, F1 Racing magazine and British ISP CallNet to offer "no catch" 24/7 0800 access to the Internet. It will also offer users 30 per cent discount on all calls -- including those made abroad and to mobiles. NAG claims that unlike other so-called "free access" deals there are no minimum spend requirements, no minimum contract period, no sign-up fees or additional line rentals. All users have to do is register their details. The company reckons it will have 200,000 users by Christmas. The new 0800 service, CallNet0800, is due to go live on 1 November and, unlike other services, it appears that people could use the unmetered service without ever routing their calls through NAG. "Then again, why would they want to?" said David Craddock, business development director at NAG. He said people would be mad not use the discount, considering the savings to be made. The "no catch" 0800 access to the Net could be enticing for Net users in Britain. Battle-hardened and suitably cynical about such so-good-to-be-true services, it will be interesting to see how British Net users react to the offer. Peter Gbedemah, North American Gateway's CEO of Europe, said: "We have the technology and financial muscle to offer a quality of service that rivals British Telecom, even if every single household in the United Kingdom registers for CallNet 0800." There's no need to read between the lines on this one. Gbedemah is having a pop directly at Britain's monster telco. It seems the 0800 service is its preferred way to create a customer base. But is this a flamboyant claim from an upstart happy to do anything to gain column inches, or one that could genuinely alter the landscape of the telecoms market in Britain? According to the blurb on its Web site, NAG took a leading role against the "monopolistic domination within the [Canadian] telecommunications industry" back in 1994. "Its efforts were rewarded in December of 1997 when the Canadian regulatory body reversed an earlier anti-competitive decision and liberalised the Canadian market to the benefit of the consumer. "North American Gateway is now poised to deliver on the opportunities this decision represents," says the Web site. It's assumed this now means Britain. A spokesman for BT said he hadn't heard of NAG but welcomed any competition "as long as it was fair". The BT spokesman was not alone; a telecoms analyst from a leading firm also admitted he had never heard of the company. Nick Gibson of Durlacher, on the other hand, was one of a few analysts who had heard of NAG. He said the 24/7 0800 service was an "interesting offer" but was unsure whether NAG would be able to make any inroads in the British marketplace. "NAG will find it more difficult here than in Canada," he said. ® For the full story on UK ISPs, check out The Register's Guide to Flat-fee ISPs

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