bbs . / sa-bbs / drw-beltel


- by Derek Walker

In the beginning there was Beltel, and it was not good...

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. 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 and client "webpages" which were available. There were also extensive telephone directories. Naturally pornography was prevalent and a number of adult stores maintained primitive catalogues through Beltel (Score in DBN comes to mind).

At one point Beltel had 65 000 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 below is dated 1992, and I expect that there was a version 4.13 (Windows version?) somewhere along the line too.

PCbel user guide

Beltel is long gone, but occasionally you can still find Minitels at fetes and junk shops.
And, surprisingly enough, Telkom still has a webpage about Beltel.

Beltel Ready Reference Card A Minitel

This page last updated: 13-07-2011 | Original page (copied with permission)