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Set-top box deal for U.K.

Cable & Wireless will use NCI's technology in set-top boxes that will offer Internet access, email, and other enhanced services to customers.

Network Computer (NCI) said today that Cable & Wireless, one of the United Kingdom's largest telecommunications and television service providers, inked a deal to use NCI's technology in advanced television set-top boxes that will offer Internet access, email, and other enhanced services to customers.

Cable & Wireless will use NCI's DTV Navigator platform for as many as 5 million set-top boxes in the United Kingdom, with Hong Kong and Australia slated for a later rollout of the technology. NCI's technology allows the set-top box to access applications such as electronic program guides and Web content that are stored on a server computer located at the cable company's main office.

Later in 1998, Cable & Wireless will begin upgrading current analog set-top boxes in the United Kingdom to newer digital set-top boxes with the DTV Navigator technology. While the devices are not as advanced as the systems being proposed in the United States by cable companies such as TCI or Time Warner, the devices will still allow most of the interactive services that U.S. companies have planned. Additionally, Cable & Wireless' network is already able to provide video on demand, something which many U.S. cable company networks cannot do.

When Cable & Wireless begins to roll out interactive services in Hong Kong and Australia, NCI said DTV Navigator will offer advantages such as a platform for developing applications such as program guides because it uses the standardized language of Web browsers--HTML and Javascript--instead of a specialized operating system. This means different set-top boxes can be used in different locales without rewriting the programs, saving time and development cost.

NCI's announcement follows a similar December 1997 deal with Scientific-Atlanta (SA) for use of the DTV Navigator technology in the Explorer 2000 digital set-top boxes being deployed by Time Warner in select U.S. markets.

The agreement with Cable & Wireless represents a significant move by NCI into foreign markets and may help NCI gain credibility and momentum in the United States, where a number of cable companies have yet to choose software technology for planned interactive services. NCI is facing competition from companies such as Microsoft, which is advocating its Windows CE operating system as the software of choice for digital set-top boxes.