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Similar functionality was available to most mainframe users, which might be considered a sort of ultra-local BBS when used in this fashion.
Commercial systems, expressly intended to offer these features to the public, became available in the late 1970s and formed the online service market that lasted into the 1990s.
In the early 1980s, message networks such as Fido Net sprung up to provide services such as Net Mail, which is similar to email.
Many BBSes also offer online games in which users can compete with each other.
Examples of direct-connecting modems did exist, and these often allowed the host computer to send it commands to answer or hang up calls, but these were very expensive devices used by large banks and similar companies.
With the introduction of microcomputers with expansion slots, like the S-100 bus machines and Apple II, it became possible for the modem to communicate instructions and data on separate lines.
Low-cost, high-performance modems drove the use of online services and BBSes through the early 1990s.
Info World estimated that there were 60,000 BBSes serving 17 million users in the United States alone in 1994, a collective market much larger than major online services such as Compu Serve.
This made the BBS possible for the first time, as it allowed software on the computer to pick up an incoming call, communicate with the user, and then hang up the call when the user logged off.External modems were available for these platforms but required the phone to be dialed using a conventional handset, making them unable to accept incoming calls without manual intervention.