Generaldirektion Postgasse 8

Telephone: (43) 1 515 510
Fax: (43) 1 512 8414

State Owned Company
Incorporated: 1866
Employees: 55,044
Sales: Sch47.90 billion (US$4.49 billion)

Company History:

The title of the Austrian Postal and Telegraph Department, Österreichische Post- und Telegraphenverwaltung (PTV), understates the range of this company's services. As well as providing postal and telegraphic communications for a population of 7.5 million in a territory of 84,000 square kilometers, PTV holds a monopoly in the country's basic telephone network, is the main supplier in the rapidly expanding area of telecommunications, and maintains, in cooperation with Austrian Railways, its own bus service that in 1990 represented sales of Sch1.32 billion and 111.8 million passenger journeys. PTV, the largest service industry in Austria, employs more than 57,000 people--including trainees and apprentices--and, via its suppliers, pays further large sums into the national economy. The modern identity of Austria's postal services has emerged from a long and much interrupted process.

Österreichische Post- und Telegraphenverwaltung dates from 1866, when a special department for post and telegraph was set up under a director general, within the Ministry of Trade of what from 1867 to 1918 was to be the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Service in the early 1990s constitutes section III of the Federal Ministry of Public Economy and Transport. Its director general since 1985, Josef Sindelka, is responsible to the federal minister, Rudolf Streicher. The directorate, in Vienna, comprises three divisions: post and postal car services, telecommunications, and organization and personnel. Telecommunications is divided into six branches--transmission, satellite, power supply, and radio technology; switching systems; cabling; operations; legal and executive; and text and data communications. There are five regional directorates, an inspectorate based in Salzburg, and a central telecommunications engineering establishment, the Fernmeldetechnisches Zentralamt (FZA). The PTV cooperates in some telecommunications services with Radio Austria A.G., a state-owned private operating agency, as distinct from a PTO, or public telecommunications operator. PTV is responsible for radio and television transmitters and for collecting license fees, while Radio Austria is licensed by PTV to supply international telex, teletext, and public fax services to countries other than Germany, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. The PTV also cooperates with the legally separate Postsparkasse (Post Office Savings Bank), which offers counter and computerized services in post offices. There is also the Austrian Telecommunications Development Company (ÖFEG) that was set up in 1978 to develop a fully electronic switching system for the country. The state owns 51% of this company, and the rest is divided equally between the four major Austrian manufacturers: Alcatel Austria (formerly ITT), Kapsch AG, Schrack Electronic AG, and Siemens AG.

Although three-quarters of its territory consists of mountains and forests, Austria, like neighboring Switzerland, has always been at the hub of Europe's messenger routes. The history of Austria's postal communications have, in general, followed the usual European pattern, although affected by Austria's eventful history and frequently altered identity. An overall view shows a postal system of imperial splendor and Byzantine complexity eventually replaced by an efficient, logically organized industry, small by international standards and tending to follow in areas that it once led. Postal systems began in Europe before the Christian era, in the form of an official Roman messenger service, the cursus publicus, which disappeared in the Dark Ages. In the late 15th century, organized services, as distinct from ad hoc personal arrangements, reemerged, owned by rulers and institutions and gradually extended to the carrying of passengers as well as of private mail. State and commercial systems began to compete with one another, and by the late 18th century, this fragmentation had produced high charges and complicated, unstandardized procedures. With a marked increase in the political, social, and economic significance of postal and allied communications as well as the size of the investment required, there has been a tendency in different countries and at different times for postal services to be taken under varying degrees of state control.

In the 19th century, the harnessing of electricity and the new inventions of telegraph and telephone, together with developments in road, rail, and water transport, changed the traditional notion of the message as an object transmitted bodily from sender to receiver without change of form, by a human intermediary, and telecommunications was born. With the electronic and aeronautics revolutions that followed the two world wars, post and telecommunications technology took off again and continued to gather momentum. In the 20th century, as well as being an essential part of every country's infrastructure, telecommunications is in itself an important sector of the economy it supports. Domestic and international cooperation becomes increasingly indispensable, and the general European movement, led by the European Community Green Paper of 1987, which outlined proposals tending toward Europe-wide competition, is now moving away from state monopoly and toward deregulation.

In 1866, the year in which Austria's postal history became allied with PTV, the country was still the heartland of the vast, though by then diminished, territories ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty. These lands extended beyond Austria and Hungary to the Balkans and the Levant. Although Austria is now land(c)locked, from 1833 to 1914 it had its own mailboats sailing to its own post offices along the Adriatic and the eastern Mediterranean coasts.

A state postal service had existed in Austria since 1722, when Emperor Charles VI retrieved the day-to-day operating functions that had been delegated, since 1624, to the von Paar family, one of the family businesses that ran the commercial postal services that preceded the modern state systems in various European countries. Empress Maria Theresa, daughter of Charles VI, and her son, Emperor Joseph II, had continued Charles's structural and organization reforms. A central postal administration was set up in Vienna, which was to be renamed and reformed several times, and there was state supervision of charges as well as tighter timetable discipline. From 1749 new services were introduced, such as regular mailcoach and mounted messenger links between the main cities of the empire, a parcel post in 1750, hand-stamping of letters with date of origin in 1751, and, from 1788, a registered post; the system, however, was still far from perfect. The piecemeal reforms brought about by Empress Maria Theresa and her son left some private operators. In the first decades of the 19th century the organization of posts within the Empire was disrupted by the detachment and fragmentation of the German part of the system, lost to the Hapsburgs at the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. Censorship and interception of the mail, especially during Metternich's chancellorship of Austria from 1809 to 1848, had become frequent, and there was a tendency for the state monopoly to be used for the benefit of the state, with high charges imposed to maximize revenues. However, between 1829 and 1848 the chief postal administrator, Maximilian Otto von Ottenfeld, had modernized the Austrian posts by coordinating regional services and establishing an inspectorate. In 1839 he began the practice of issuing printed guideline documents to employees and set up a post office library that was to evolve into the present Section 03 of PTV administration, information, and documentation. In 1847 the telegraph service came into being and in 1850 soon after von Ottenfeld's retirement, Austria followed Britain's 1840 example and introduced the adhesive prepaid uniform rate postage stamp, becoming the 16th nation in the world to do so. The year 1866, however, was a turning point, and when in 1975 PTV abandoned the official eagle and chose for its modern logo a simple stylized posthorn, the new symbol completed a transformation of the postal service. An unwieldy arm of state, conceived and organized over centuries to serve a vast imperial power, had become a streamlined, high technology, market-oriented service owned and run by, and for, the country's citizens.

By 1866 the era of post and telecommunications supported by electricity, fast transport, and international cooperation was already underway. The Austrian telegraph service was nineteen years old and a series of bilateral treaties for postal cooperation with other European countries was preparing the ground for Austria's participation in the Universal Postal Union, the Austro-German organization of 1850. Another progressive step was taken in 1869, when women were admitted to employment in rural post offices. In 1991 they constituted 23% of PTV's work force.

In 1881 five years after Bell's first public demonstration of his invention, the telephone came to Vienna, but the idea was slow to catch on. The first telephone exchange was run by a private company, the Privat-Telegraphengesellschaft, under government license for a total of 154 subscribers, and the first public telephones appeared in 1882 in the Vienna Stock Exchange. The new device was soon used in other Austrian cities, with various private companies joining in its exploitation. However, these services were not keeping up with developments abroad. In addition to being expensive, they were also ill-equipped, unreliable, and confined to cities, and PTV began to move toward a takeover. In 1886 it inaugurated the first Austrian interurban telephone link, between Vienna and Br&uuml--, and followed it with others. The government started buying in the concessions it had granted, and in 1895 the telephone service was nationalized. The Post and Telegraphy Department was able to keep its name unchanged since it had decided to classify telephony as telegraphy using acoustic apparatus.

New technology was also affecting traditional mail service. In 1875 a pneumatic tube post started in Vienna; it lasted until 1956 when it was overtaken by high costs and competition from the telephone. Many of the developments that followed up to the end of World War I were necessary extensions of, or improvements to, existing postal, telegraph, and telephone services. One new departure, however, came in 1883, when PTV's cooperation with the P.S.K. (Post Office Savings Bank) began. Money orders had been available from post offices since 1850. In 1903 coin-operated telephones appeared. In 1907 General Director Friedrich Wagner von Jauregg embarked on the motorization of PTV with the inauguration of the post office's automobile passenger service, for which the lead had been assumed by Bavaria in 1905 and Switzerland in 1906. Another step forward was taken in 1910, when PTV began the long process of automating its telephone exchanges. This was completed in 1972 and led, in 1978, to plans for digitalization. Austria's digital network, in which speech is converted to electrical pulses, initiated in the 1980s, is scheduled to be completed by the end of the century.

World War I and its aftermath naturally set back the economics of the defeated powers, and the progress of PTV was limited until the early 1920s. Nevertheless, from 1918 PTV operated in the service of a republic. Early that year PTV gave Austria the world's first civilian airmail service. Suspended almost at once by the end of the war, it was resumed in 1921. It began as an inland service, but was extended overseas in 1928. From early in the 19th century the Austrian postal service had operated in neighboring Liechtenstein, but the link was severed in 1921 when the principality entered into a postal union with Switzerland. In 1922 PTV introduced franking machines for automatic mail handling. A new field of activity opened in 1923 with the start of the ongoing partnership between PTV and Radio Austria A.G. Initially, PTV owned 30% of Radio Austria's shares, but in 1956 the republic became the sole shareholder. In 1991 Radio Austria belonged effectively to PTV, was able to use the latter's cable and satellite installations, and was licensed by it to operate some international public telecommunications services.

The 1930s saw a series of growth-inhibiting disasters for PTV, beginning with the years of the Great Depression. More significant for PTV was the seven-year break in its identity that followed Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938, when the Austrian postal services were simply absorbed into the Deutsche Reichspost until 1945 and the end of World War II. Not only did the war almost eradicate Austria's postal and telecommunications infrastructure, but under the Allied occupation that followed, the country was divided into four administratively separate zones, in which the remnants of the mail, telegraph, and telephone systems had to reckon with control and censorship imposed by the occupiers. Under Karl Dworschak, PTV's general director from 1945 until 1955, the resuscitated company began to recover. Postal operations covering the whole country were resumed in October 1945. The next objective was to begin catching up with the technological progress made in the outside world during Austria's troubles. The task was formidable, but was undertaken against a new background of economic growth and political stability. Great strides were taken in technology, and work was immediately resumed on the gradual mechanization of telephone exchanges.

By 1957 Austria was making use of international satellites for radio, although it was not to get its own earth station until 1980. In 1966 PTV introduced postal codes. These had previously been used in Austria under the German Reichspost. Mobile communications were launched with precellular carphones in 1974, and a radio paging service followed in 1975. In 1979 experiments began on optic cables, and these have been part of PTV's wire transmission infrastructure since 1986. Optical fibers offer greatly increased capacity; systems under trial in 1991 could transmit as many as 8,000 calls in both directions at once on a single fiber. In 1971 Austria entered the expanding satellite communications field in its own right, deciding to build an earth station to connect with the existing international information satellite systems. The location chosen was Aflenz in the Alps, and construction, which in the first 10 years cost Sch650 million, began in October 1977 under PTV general director Alfred Schlegel. Aflenz came into service on May 30, 1980, providing domestic and international links for telephone, radio, television, and data transmission, together with increased possibilities for development. By 1988 there were four antennae at Aflenz. Antenna 1 links in to the Intelsat Atlantic region, and Antenna 3 to the Intelsat Indian Ocean region. Antenna 2 operates within the framework of the Eutelsat systems covering Europe, and Antenna 4 is used for high-speed transatlantic data transmissions, including videoconferencing, within the Intelsat (International Telecommunications Satellite Organization) Business Service System. A new antenna was planned for 1992. From 1989 the Aflenz Intelsat antennae have been progressively digitalized in preparation for completion of the ongoing digitalization of the Austrian telecommunications network. By 1990 Aflenz was providing satellite links to 52 countries.

The range of telecommunications services offered by PTV mushroomed in the 1980s with a major drive to modernize the network starting in the middle of the decade. However, there was still some catching up to be done, and limiting technological idiosyncrasies were still waiting to be removed from the system. Videotex (Bildschirmtext or BTX), based on and named after a German version of Britain's Prestel, went on trial in 1981, and in the same year, Telefax and Telepost, a facsimile service, began. Packet switched data network services (PSDN) became available in 1982. In July 1985 Telebox was launched by PTV with RadioAustria A.G., as a joint public electronic mail and gateway service, providing easy multilingual access to public data banks worldwide. Telebox can also translate documents into a number of languages.

Since 1945 PTV has foregone considerable amounts of revenue through concessions on fares, charges, and license fees made to students, the handicapped, and the elderly. However, its finances are generally in good shape. In 1990 postal services accounted for 28.6% of PTV sales, 41.9% of expenditure, and 55.4% of employees. Telecommunications services accounted for 68.4% of sales, 52.2% of expenditure, and 32.1% of staff, while the bus service took 5.9% of expenditure and produced 3% of sales, using 7.9% of total personnel, of which management represented 4.6%.

The telegraph has inevitably been largely superseded by telex, private fax machines, and other more modern forms of data transmission. On the other hand, at the end of 1990 there were 3.22 million exchange telephone lines in Austria, representing a penetration of 41.8%, compared with 30.7% in 1981. In neighboring Switzerland, neighboring penetration in 1990 was 88%. Nearly 18% of PTV's telephone subscribers were linked to digital switching systems, and it is expected that by 1992 there will be 211 digital telephone exchanges serving 1.3 million subscribers. By the turn of the century PTV plans to have 4.5 million telephones in use, a penetration of 60%.

Mobile communications have become more sophisticated with three mobile telephone systems in use. By the end of 1984, the original 1974 pre-cellular Network B was fully subscribed, boasting 1,800 users, and was supplemented by a cellular system for portable telephones--Autotelefonnetz C (Network C)--which by the end of 1990 had 63,244 subscribers and is used to provide a public telephone service on some Austrian trains. An interim cellular system, Network D, employed to bridge the gap before PTV's mobile communications go digital starting in 1993, had 9,163 subscribers at the end of 1990. By then there were 79,650 subscribers to the expanding public paging system, which in 1991 the PTV plans to develop to the tune of Sch160 million.

In the early 1990s, data transmission services were sometimes hampered by technical anomalies in PTV's PSTN (public switched telephone network), but the PSDN (packet switched data network), introduced in 1983 and called Datex-P, has links to most European PSDNs. Datex-L, a circuit-switched data network, was introduced in 1983. Subscribers to these and other high-speed Datex networks totaled just under 14,000 in 1990. Affected by an increase in the use of fax machines, the fully automatic inland telex service showed a drop of nearly 25% in 1990, while use of the only partly automatic foreign Telex, operated by Radio Austria, fell by 17.3%. Teletex, a telex service with high data rates and graphics, launched in October 1983 and connected with the German system, also saw a decline in subscription, while PTV's videotex service, Bildschirmtext, started in 1981 and the object of a current sales drive involving relaxation of PTV's monopoly on terminals, saw the number of its subscribers rise to 11,668 from 9,717 in the previous year. The United Kingdom's Prestel, on which it is based, had 110,000 subscribers at the end of 1990. PTV is piloting an ISDN (integrated services digital network) along German lines in order to develop broadband ISDN for broadcast distribution, videoconferencing--two-way sound and vision link--and video telephony.

The FZA is responsible for PTV's research and development. A sum of Sch70.3 billion, 90.1% of total PTV investment in Austria, will be spent on telecommunications development between 1991 and 1995. FZA also performs a regulatory function, and its approval must be sought for telecommunications equipment supplied to subscribers or attached to the network. This function, like the PTV's monopoly on services other than basic telephony and the network infrastructure, is likely to be modified in view of Austria's hope of becoming a full member of the European Community, where telecoms policy is moving toward liberalization, with markets being opened to domestic and international competition, and separation of operative and regulatory functions. PTV maintains a close relationship with the German PTT, particularly in technical matters, through the DBT (Deutsche Bundespost Telekom). The two networks interconnect, and PTV's text services provision often follows the German lead. On telecommunications reform policy, too, PTV is likely to go along with the German move to liberalization. PTV already admits it has requested approval of terminals equipment from foreign-based companies, although it still favors suppliers who manufacture in Austria and buys its public exchange systems and much of its other equipment from the Austrian subsidiaries of the Alcatel group--Alcatel Austria--and of Siemens as well as from Kapsch and Schrack, both Austrian-owned.

In addition to being a flourishing national business and a popular public service, PTV is clearly mindful of further obligations. It serves philately and art by issuing around 35 beautiful new stamps a year and by taking measures to reduce air and noise pollution--using lead-free fuel in its fleet of vehicles, piloting the introduction of electrically powered vans, providing transport facilities for passengers' bicycles--it meets its responsibilities to a wider environment.

Further Reading:

Die Post auf dem Weg ins Informationszeitalter, Vienna, Generaldirektion für die Post- und Telegraphenverwaltung, 1988. Aus Österreichische Postgeschichte--500 Jahre Europäische Postverbindungen, Vienna, Generaldirektion für die Post- und Telegraphenverwaltung, 1990.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 5. St. James Press, 1992.