For just Lm2.95 a month, fixed phone line subscribers may now get 100 minutes of free talk time and unlimited access to other "hello" subscribers, as Melita Cable yesterday unveiled its new telephone service.

In an initiative described by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi as "another milestone" for the local telecoms industry, Melita's new telephony system is designed to generate considerable savings on bills.

The new system enables households to communicate with every other local network plus more than 1,000 international telephone operators at a fraction of the costs they are used to pay on their current phone bills.

Customers need a cable modem, the same equipment that is used to connect to the internet, and a phone. Thanks to the EU's portability agreement, residence phone numbers may remain unchanged if one chooses to transfer the service from Maltacom to Melita, but the 21 prefix is replaced by 27.

Melita Cable chairman Joe Gasan told those present for the launch that the most significant improvement that consumers will experience through the new service is that all calls between "hello" users will be completely free regardless of time and duration, while they can also communicate with all other fixed line, mobile and international operators.

Another important benefit that the "hello" system will provide is billing for every second. Moreover, the Melita service comes to the market with six calling features - more commonly known as star services - at no extra charge.

Melita chief executive Philip Micallef said the new service will also provide good benefits to business customers requiring more complex solutions.

With the launch of "hello", Melita has officially become the first triple-play operator in Malta, providing customers with the option to buy high-quality TV, internet and telephony services all at once.

In the coming weeks it is likely that Melita will put all three services in one package.

Dr Gonzi said the liberalisation of the telecoms market has brought about tremendous changes to the industry.

The government has been proven right in investing heavily in the technology, as benefits are relayed to consumers and foreign investors, he added.

The service launched yesterday has been long in coming. The "hello" telephony system was launched on a smaller scale in 2005 and served as a test bed for the full telephony system that Melita launched yesterday. Since October the company has been handling over 3,000 calls a day.

Maltacom and Melita Cable signed an interconnection agreement last month at the end of a bitter three-month long feud after the national telecoms provider refused to sign the interconnection agreement.

The decision landed Maltacom in hot water after the Malta Communications Authority imposed an administrative Lm10,000 fine and a daily penalty of Lm200. Interconnection basically enables two separate networks to link up to transmit calls from one network to the other.

A Maltacom spokesman told The Times last month the national provider had every intention to retain its customers and will be announcing a revision of its tariffs shortly.

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