Ed Lambright – SKC Avaya Engineer
I was recently asked to write a blog about my 30 years in the telecommunication industry and reflect on the changes I’d seen over that time. Until this happened, I thought a blog was a swampy patch of ground where peat moss was mined. Someone ruined my belief by pointing out peat moss came from a bog, not a blog. Oh well I guess other things have changed too.
I came across a company called Southwestern Bell in June of 1981 while looking for something to replace my real estate sales position that hadn’t been too successful. I guess only earning $5500 dollars the previous year when the home mortgage rate was as high as 17.5% wasn’t too bad all things considered. At any rate, there was an ad in the local paper offering the position of “Communications Consultant” with Southwestern Bell in St. Joseph, Missouri. I was in luck. I lived in St. Joseph which met half of the criteria and even though I didn’t know what a “Communications Consultant” did, I figured that I could do that job.
I went through their interview process which was about a five stage event. It’s no wonder the phone rates were what they were in those days. They must have in fact invented the word bureaucracy. Anyway, after I got the job they decided to send me to Dallas for training. Because of all the high tech products being offered at the time, the training was five or six weeks long.
We covered everything from 1A Key systems to 1200 BAUD modems. For those that don’t know, a 1A Key system was a multi-line phone with six or more buttons on the phone. They lit up like a Christmas tree when calls came in on the outside lines which appeared on every phone in the system and had a big RED hold button. It turns out that many businessmen liked being able to see all the lines illuminated and it gave them a sense of how the business was doing. This was a common complaint as the telephone systems changed from key type systems to PBX (Private Branch Exchange) systems. The decision makers wanted to know how a PBX would let them know if their lines were busy or not.
The other feature most key systems possessed was an intercom button. This also turned out to be a big deal as technology changed. When using the intercom button, the receptionist or secretary could announce a caller, “John Smith on line two for you, Mr. Doe”. It got to be such a big deal that often times the first PBX users wanted a key system installed behind the PBX just so they could have line appearances and intercoms. The one thing most customers did not like was that depending on the number of buttons on the phone, the wire to the desktop was either $25 or $50 per cable. Lots of money to be made in wiring in those days.
Just prior to divestiture, that was the end of Ma Bell as it had been known for about 100 years, Western Electric introduced the ComKey product line. There was a ComKey 718, 1424 and 2152. This was a rather weak attempt at providing key systems with a few features and was the predecessor of the electronic key systems in the mid 80s.
Also in the mid 80s, AT&T decided to offer fax machines, personal computers and Unix based mini computers. By this time I had become an account executive covering Northern Missouri and Northern Kansas from about Marysville, Kan. to Kirksville, Mo. I’ll never forget the objections I used to get when trying to sell the fax concept. On more than one occasion I’d hear “Why should I buy a fax machine? In order to use it the guy on the other end has to have one too and I have no control over whether or not he’ll buy into the idea.” Well we all know how that story turned out. In fact, even today we run into customers that still depend on the fax machine and because of IP being the transport media need to take special precautions to support them. At some point in the late 80s, AT&T came to their senses and went back to their core business of long distance and providing customer premise equipment doing away with fax and computer products.
In the very late 1980s and early 90s, AT&T introduced the software-driven PBX as we’ve known it for the last 20 years or so. Prior to the Definity series, any upgrade to key systems or PBXs like the Dimension or Horizon pretty much required a full fork lift upgrade, everything got replaced. I remember going to training in Hopewell, New Jersey on the new Definite G3V1. The instructor had the nerve to stand there and tell us that this product would revolutionize the telephony industry. He said, “For the first time ever, we are offering a PBX product that will reuse 90 percent plus of the original purchased equipment and will offer software only upgrades.” Now some 20 years later I can see that it was true. It’s possible to upgrade from an older Definity product to the current release, convert to IP phones and reuse many of the existing circuit packs.
I guess things have changed a little bit over the years. The method of voice transport has gone from an amplitude modulated analog signal to IP packets, fax has been mostly replaced by email and scanners, key systems with their multi-button telephones and 25/50 pair cable are displaced by IP phones with an 8 conductor cable, and of course busy indicators have turned into server-based presence systems like Microsoft Office Communicator. While the method of delivery has in fact changed the end result is the same… I select some device to communicate with another person by voice or in writing. Well maybe things haven’t changed all that much after all.