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Hewlett-Packard Corp. and Vitalink Communications Corp. announced Tuesday they...

By
SYDNEY SHAW

WASHINGTON -- Hewlett-Packard Corp. and Vitalink Communications Corp. announced Tuesday they will market a high-speed data communications satellite network to connect HP computers nationwide without using the phone company.

The joint venture puts Hewlett-Packard, which has traditionally aimed its products at the scientific and engineering markets, in the same arena as the office communications systems giants -- International Business Machines Corp. and American Telephone & Telegraph.

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'This is a major shift in our market presence,' company president Jeff Williams said.

The system, designed to operate with the HP 3000 minicomputer, includes a satellite link and a $120,000 satellite dish that is installed on the customer's property. Users, expected primarily to be businesses with distant offices that want to exchange data and files, can operatythe system as if they were employing a standard phone link.

Communications costs, however, will be $1,800 a month compared to the $8,000 to $9,000 phone companies charge for a microwave link, Vitalink President George Ward said.

At the same time Monday, a Vitalink spokesman said his company is also working on 'joint technology development' with Digital Equipment Corp., a Concord, Mass.-based computer manufacturer. He would not reveal details of the venture.

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Because there are 12,000 HP 3000 minicomputers now in use, the Hewlett-Packard deal with Vitalink represents a vast potential market. And because the HP 3000 can be programmed to be compatible with IBM computers, companies using IBM machines could send data over the new network.

Ward said the network could be expanded to include voice communications as well as data transfer, giving companies their own private telephone network.

Recent government rulings stemming from the breakup of AT&T, including a hefty $6-a-month access charge on each business phone line that starts April 3, are driving many big businesses to look for ways to bypass the phone company.

Under the venture, Hewlett-Packard representatives will be the point of contact for sales and service, passing orders along to Vitalink.

Major shareholders in Vitalink, a 3-year-old company based in Mountain View, Calif., include Western Union and General Electric.

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