When I first started working in the telecommunications industry, thirty-odd years ago, the telephone exchanges used a mixture of the electo-mechanical Strowger system – which had stood them in good stead for many years – and the newly emerging electronic systems such as System X, System Y and TXE4.
The exchange I first worked in was still running mainly on Strowger. Suites of racks took up all the floor space and it was a very noisy place to be, as banks of relays and uniselectors chattered and clunked away directing calls to their destination. Such was the size of this equipment that, if the exchange fed a large town, it would generally take up several floors, with hundreds of interconnecting cables running through multiple risers between each.
After a few years though, Strowger had mainly died out, replaced with British Telecom’s electronic system of choice, System X – though, as I mentioned earlier, they also used several others. I remember visiting the System X floor for the first time. What had once been three floors of noisy activity was now just one floor of blue racks, all humming away so quietly that it was almost silent.
It was a revolution. It was smaller, it was cheaper to run and to maintain and it did a lot more than the old electro-mechanical system ever could.
And then I moved into the cable industry. Being the new kids on the block, the Cable TV companies obviously chose the latest equipment for their telephony switches and I remember again being amazed when I saw their switch, which fed a comparable sized town to where I’d worked previously, but was only half the size.
Today, I found myself looking at the latest incarnation, which has just been installed down in Plymouth. I won’t go mentioning manufacturers or anything, as it wouldn’t be prudent for me to advertise such information on the internets, but, I can tell you this: it takes up less than 4² metres of floor space! I know this, because I measured it. That’s about the size of my bathroom and it feeds not only Plymouth but the surrounding towns also. Admittedly, it works in conjunction with a similarly sized piece of equipment based in London, but even so!
I’m reliably informed that the next version will fit under the table, in place of my foot locker.