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ABACUS SOFTWARE: International Youth Hostel Federation pilots worldwide kiosk-based comms system
( M2 PressWIRE )

                    The International Youth Hotel Federation, the
                    organisation at the centre of some 4,500 hostels in
                    more than sixty countries worldwide, is piloting an
                    innovative kiosk-based international communications
                    network (ICN), which is believed to be the world's
                    first all-encompassing communications service for the
                    budget traveller. ICN will provide travellers with a
                    variety of communications and information-retrieval
                    facilities, including the ability to make low-cost
                    international phone calls, collect and send emails,
                    retrieve and send voicemails, send faxes, send
                    telegrams, view and book accommodation. The system
                    will be housed in purpose-built kiosks, located at
                    major youth hostels worldwide. 

                    The pilot system, which will run until a major review
                    at the end of this year, is being installed in twenty
                    youth hostels throughout Europe and the Pacific Rim
                    countries. The ICN system has been designed and
                    implemented by Netherlands-based Backbone Systems NV,
                    a consortium of which London-based Abacus Software is
                    the lead technical partner, responsible for all the
                    programming and management of the central servers.
                    all communications and billing software both across
                    the network and in the individual kiosks. 

                    Rawden Lau of the IYHF said: "The new kiosk system
                    forms the basis of our communications strategy for
                    the next ten years, and confirms the Federation's
                    commitment to the use of the latest technology to
                    provide flexible, easy to use, internationally-
                    seamless communications services to our members." 

                    In the early 1990s, the IYHF introduced the Inter
                    rational Booking Network, which enabled travellers to
                    book hostel accommodation around the world from any
                    other hostel. This proved to be very successful, and
                    was the only real-time accommodation booking service
                    of its kind, handling about half a million
                    reservations each year.

                    Mr. Lau: "The problems we encountered and hands-on
                    experience we gained with the booking system has
                    stood us in good stead when it came to designing the
                    new kiosk system. We are working closely with Abacus
                    Software and its partners at Backbone Systems, who
                    are very experienced in both worldwide communications
                    protocols, and in kiosk information systems." 

                    Travellers currently use a IYHF phone-card for the
                    new system, but it is planned to replace this with a
                    smart card when the system rolls out next year. The
                    kiosks contain a PC with a touch-screen and three
                    primary software components: the user interface
                    (written in Delphi), and the applications and
                    communications software (both written in Java, by
                    Abacus for the IYHF). 

                    Using the pre-paid card (which comes in denominations
                    of 40 or 100 units), travellers can make use of the
                    range of communications services at up to 30% less
                    cost than standard costs. The card-holder can set up
                    a special email address which can be reached via any
                    telecommunications network, meaning that friends and
                    family at home can always reach the traveller by
                    sending a message. This can be recovered at any
                    hostel kiosk on the traveller's route, without having
                    to worry about different or unfamiliar services in
                    foreign countries.

                    Each kiosk also provides a local home page at the
                    hostel site which offers information for travellers,
                    a 'what's on' guide for that particular region, a
                    bulletin board where travellers can leave messages
                    for each other and a link to the original hostel
                    booking network which shows bed availability for all
                    participating hostels. Hostellers can also access the
                    World Wide Web. The user inserts his card and then
                    enters his PIN number in order to access the network,
                    which is provided by SITA, the largest data network
                    supplier in the world, who also handle the network
                    management through their subsidiary, Equant. All
                    communications elements of the system, including
                    billing, email, voicemail, Internet links, and links
                    to fax gateways, are handled by Abacus, running on a
                    pair of Sun Netra servers (a not inconsiderable job
                    considering that the members require four and a half
                    million individual mailboxes). 

                    Steve Feigen, managing director of Abacus: "This new
                    system for the International Youth Hostel Federation
                    is designed to be resilient reliable and as easy to
                    use as possible for members, regardless of their
                    location anywhere in the world. Inevitably, the
                    apparent simplicity of operation for the user hides a
                    wealth of technical challenges. For example, we
                    needed to be able to incorporate a freephone
                    functionality for travellers who wish to take
                    advantage of the discounted calling facilities, but
                    who are not actually in a hostel. This meant
                    integrating our card billing system with one at
                    Worldport (who are based in Omaha), and at the same
                    time maintaining the minimum performance targets
                    essential to hostel kiosk users." 




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