Beltel

In the beginning there was Beltel, and it was not good, come to think of it,  it wasn’t really too bad.

Beltel Logo

Beltel Logo

Beltel was a text based BBS (Similar to the UK’s Prestel) which was operated by Telkom in the days before the Internet. Originally used with modems capable of the unheard of speeds of 75 Baud (and later 300 Baud), it gradually became more refined as the time passed. It used its own proprietary Dos based software called PCBel (which was available from Beltel sales in Roggebaai) and had a number of followers, especially as a chat client (FROGG) (these are the pre-internet days). Telkom also provided a dedicated Beltel terminal called a Minitel (possibly under licence) which came complete with VDU and fold down screen with an internal modem.

Ready Reference Card

Ready Reference Card

A Minitel

A Minitel

Besides being used as a chat client Beltel also boasted a very primitive form of electronic banking, as well as really handy things like postal code lookups, movie schedules, telephone directories, games and client “webpages” which were available. Naturally pornography was prevalent (in 8 bit format naturally) and a number of adult stores maintained primitive catalogues through Beltel (Score in Durban comes to mind).

At one point Beltel had 65000 active users and over 150 service and information providers, but as the Internet became more popular one of the service providers on Beltel (Interlink) offered a portal onto the Internet and it was through these pages that we had our first glimpse of the text only World Wide Web (through a Lynx browser).

Inevitably on 31 December 1999 Beltel was shut down as its user base left for the net and it was eventually replaced by Telkom’s Cybertrade portal. The PCBel V3 booklet/Ready Reference Card is dated 1992, and I expect that there was a version 4.13 (Windows version?) somewhere along the line too.

Beltel is long gone, but occasionally you can still find Minitel’s at fete’s and junk shops. And, surprisingly enough Telkom still has a webpage about Beltel. It served a purpose, and for many of us we cut our teeth on it. I made quite a few friends in the chat rooms, and we all migrated to the internet eventually. Somehow though I miss the simplicity of Beltel and the net before it became the haven for spam, porn, popups, popunders and rubbish.

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