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Postal service thriving in the face of new technology

Doom merchants have been predicting the death of traditional postal services since the advent of the fax machine. But letters continue to thrive as a means of communication, despite growing competition from e-mail and mobile phones.

This content was published on February 4, 2000 - 14:01

Doom merchants have been predicting the death of traditional postal services since the advent of the fax machine. But figures from the Swiss post office show that letters continue to thrive as a means of communication, despite growing competition from e-mail and mobile phones.

The Swiss post office is still toting up the volume of letters it handled last year so exact figures not yet available. But one thing is clear: the postal services are thriving.

In 1998, the post office transported around 300 million pieces of mail - a rise of three per cent over the previous year. And the evidence suggests the trend is here to stay.

Post office spokesman, Etienne Habegger, says the figures make a mockery of predictions that sending letters is a dying practice: "When fax machines came onto the market, people predicted the end of traditional postal services. They were wrong."

The advent of email and mobile phones has similarly failed to dent letter use, even though both these markets are soaring.

Switzerland's biggest phone operator, Swisscom, says around 25 million calls are made monthly using mobile phones - an astronomical increase over 1998, when that number was four million.

Equally, Internet use has rocketed. By 1998, Internet connections in Switzerland had reached 350,000. A year later, that figure has doubled to 700,000.

The post office is confident it can hold out against email and mobile phones in the foreseeable future. But in the longer-term it expects its business to stagnate in the face of more sophisticated communications technology.

That view is sensible business practice. But before a new wave of obituaries starts pouring in, it's worth remembering that most of us are still reading newspapers, listening to the radio, and waiting expectantly for that long-promised "paperless" world which has so spectacularly failed to arrive.

By Jonas Hughes

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