PasTech 🍉 Episode 6: The Minitel, or the Internet of the 80s!

In France, in the mid-1970s, the President of the Republic was called Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, and many experts wondered about the emergence of “telecomputing”. CNET engineers (for National Center for Telecommunications Studies) then strive to refine their vision of the telematics “, portmanteau word composed of the terms “ telecommunications ” and ” computer science “. Considerable financial resources are invested in this experiment, which will lead to the creation of the Transpac network, and a few years later, to the arrival among millions of French people of a certain Minitel.

Because we haven’t always had a 4K screen in front of our eyes, an OLED HDR smartphone in our hand and wireless controllers on our knees, PasTech offers you a refreshing little return to the past, à la (re) discovery of certain emblematic products that have made (or not) the history of tech. So we say 5, 4, 3, 0, and then boom, PasTech!

3615 lemon squeezer

At the start of the 1980s, this good old corded telephone, generally installed on a small wooden piece of furniture provided solely for this purpose, and covered with a fabric ” so as not to damage it is present in many homes. Obviously, no Internet at the time, no mobile network either, no Facebook or other Google, and the Minitel then aimed to become an essential platform for information, but also for entertainment, while relying over the existing telephone network.

© Wikipedia

On this subject, we remember that the telephone sessions were much less confidential than today, the interlocutor being very often seated on the small chair installed next to the handset, certain dads with mustaches and pants of the type “flare” not hesitating to wear the earpiece (located at the back of the handset) to their ear to follow a conversation. You remember ? Good, well it is in this context that the Minitel is launched.

Initially, the tests organized by the PTT focus on a few thousand households only, one of the main objectives of the minitel being to replace this expensive (and thick) telephone directory. The oldest among you will no doubt remember the indispensable “Yellow Pages” and “White Pages” of the time, to be renewed each year. It was in 1982 that the Minitel was launched on the market, with production then reserved for three manufacturers, namely: Matra, Philips and Alcatel.

All are able to connect to the Télétel network (the Minitel first had to be connected to the wall telephone socket), with online services accessible from the telephone network, and a very specific command. The first use of the Minitel was 3611, which provided access to an online telephone directory service…and we have to admit that this was a small revolution!

Minitel directory

A minitel with an astonishing look, which obviously took various forms depending on the manufacturer and the generation. The first models were equipped with a “T” socket for connection to the telephone network, and a V23 modem, allowing downloads of 1,200 bit/s in reception and 75 bit/s in transmission. On the screen, the images are displayed in mosaic mode, some models being equipped with a color screen, while others had to be satisfied with a few shades of gray. Some had a fixed keyboard, while others took advantage of a sliding keyboard, which slid under the screen when the Minitel was not in use, or even a pivoting keyboard, which covered the screen.

Note that the first models were delivered with an alphabetical type keyboard. Later models quickly opted for “QWERTY” type keyboards, to the delight of regulars and neophytes alike. The procedure for connecting was rather simple, since you had to turn on your Minitel, dial 3615 (or other) on your phone, wait for the beep confirming the connection, and press the “Connection/End” button on your Minitel before hanging up combined.

© Wikipedia

Quickly, in addition to the directory, the service will provide access to many other features, and if some remember the family minitel for the purchase of train tickets, many are those who remember the few games available from the order 3615, without forgetting the “pink” services such as the unforgettable 3615 Ulla.

The Minitel revolution!

Gradually, the Minitel moved into many homes in France, and saw its range of features explode. It’s hard to forget, for example, the essential 3615 Dorothée at the end of the 80s, allowing you to interact with the hosts of the show Club Dorothée, but also to participate in games, to classify songs or even to directly influence on cartoon programming. It was crazy !

Of course, in addition to monopolizing the telephone line (and therefore cutting off access to the telephone), the use of the Minitel generated an additional cost on the bill. If the 3611 was free during the first three minutes (we all remember our parents doing their research at full speed to disconnect before the 180 seconds), this was not the case for 3615 type services, sometimes billed up to at 2.30 Francs per minute. Many are those who have taken advantage of the Minitel to find out the results of the baccalaureate, for example, or to register for university. A revolution we tell you!

3615 Batman, 3615 Asterix, 3615 TF1, 3615 Father Christmas, 3615 Hangman, 3615 3 Swiss, 3615 M6… Everything was good for exploding telephone bills, not to mention the fact that each page display was abominably long.

Like me, you may have taken part in quizzes on your Minitel, which allowed, after a session of around twenty minutes (billed at more than 2 Francs per minute, i.e. more than 40 Francs per quiz), to finally win this CD two titles that you coveted so much, worth… 30 Francs. That was also the magic of the Minitel.

The end of the Minitel, and the rise of the Internet

At the start of 1986, France had just under 1.5 million Minitels, installed in businesses, post offices and of course in homes. In 1993, more than 6.5 million Minitels were in circulation in France, with more than 25,000 services available.

Obviously, a few years later, a certain Internet will come to upset the situation, and make the principle of the Minitel old-fashioned. However, in 2009, France Telecom still recorded more than a million requests on the 3611. Not enough to prevent the group from closing the service definitively three years later (in June 2012), at a time when it was then estimated approximately 600,000 the number of Minitels still in circulation in our country.

For some years now, the Minitel has been a veritable relic of the “world before”, and if the majority of owners have got rid of their embarrassing Minitel, today many are looking for models in good condition, so, not not to access 3615 Ulla, but rather to transform them into small arcade terminals. And to shine at the table this Sunday, let us specify that the name “Minitel” is the abbreviation of “Interactive medium by digitization of telephone information“.

And you, what model of Minitel did you have?

We want to say thanks to the author of this article for this amazing material

PasTech 🍉 Episode 6: The Minitel, or the Internet of the 80s!


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