Private Lines
About Private Line

Private Line covers what has occurred, is occurring, and will ocurr in telecommunications. Since communication technology constantly changes, you can expect new content posted regularly.

Consider this site an authoritative resource. Its moderators have successful careers in the telecommunications industry. Utilize the content and send comments. As a site about communicating, conversation is encouraged.

Writers

Thomas Farely

Tom has produced privateline.com since 1995. He is now a freelance technology writer who contributes regularly to the site.

His knowledge of telecommunications has served, most notably, the American Heritage Invention and Technology Magazine and The History Channel.
His interview on Alexander Graham Bell will air on the History Channel the end of 2006.

Ken Schmidt

Ken is a licensed attorney who has worked in the tower industry for seven years. He has managed the development of broadcast towers nationwide and developed and built cell towers.

He has been quoted in newspapers and magazines on issues regarding cell towers and has spoke at industry and non-industry conferences on cell tower related issues.

He is recognized as an expert on cell tower leases and due diligence processes for tower acquisitions.

« January 2005 | | March 2005 »

February 25, 2005

IEC Annual Review of Communications

The IEC has just published their $300 Annual Review of Communications. The summary of this overpriced work points to more wireless industry myopia: "As customer behaviour changes and technology evolves, companies must focus less on the network and more on the services that their customers demand." No. Wrong. As more services are provided and more money demanded the network must become more robust and reliable. It's easy to provide services, much more difficult to fix dead spots, extend coverage, or keep calls from getting dropped. Infrastructure may not be exciting but it is essential.

February 20, 2005

Illegal Cell Jamming Equipment

The New York Post's online edition reports that illegal cell jamming equipment is now being sold throughout New York City. Blocking cell phone calls also means blocking emergency services such as 911. Expect this equipment to proliferate throughout the country, with new devices jamming other wireless networks such as WiFi hotspots. If not checked, our mobile networks might become as undependable as CB radio, frequencies lost to abuse. This had better stop soon, perhaps issuing large fines based on disrupting emergency communications would be one idea.

Angela Montefinise reports in "Shut The Cell Up" that these devices are being used for many reasons. Some of them sport. One user told Montefinise, "I use it on the bus all the time. I always zap the idiots who discuss what they want from the Chinese restaurant so that everyone can hear them. Why is that necessary?'"

"He added, 'I can't throw the phones out the window, so this is the next best thing.'"

"Online jammer seller Victor McCormack said he's made 'hundreds of sales' to New Yorkers."

"'The interest has gone insane in the last few years. I get all sorts of people buying them, from priests to police officers.'"

"Jammers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from portable handhelds that look like cell phones to larger, fixed models as big as suitcases."

"Their sole goal is to zip inconsiderate lips. The smaller gadgets emit radio frequencies that block signals anywhere from a 50- to 200-foot radius. They range in price from $250 to $2,000."

The link to the story is here. Warning, this link may only last a few months:

http://www.nypost.com/news/regionalnews/40168.htm

February 17, 2005

New Telephony Magazine

Communications is going to IP networks (internal link), mostly, eventually, and this on-line magazine covers that revolution. The format New Telephony uses is very different, I think it comes closest to the look and feel of a real magazine than anything else I've seen. You'll need an up-to-date browser and a broadband connection but with those two caveats, give it a try. Click here to go there (external link)

http://www.newtelephony.com/

February 16, 2005

Old books but good ones

Interested in 1970s telephony? Who isn't? Hayden book author David Talley penned three good titles back then: Basic Carrier Telephony, Basic Telephone Switching Systems, and Basic Electronic Switching for Telephone Systems. I have the first two. You can probably find them all at http://www.abe.com (external link.

How many telephones are in the world? I have no idea. AT&T's Long Line Division was the only group who had a good estimate. Each year they published a thin book on world telephone statistics. It was called, with variants, The World's Telephones. I think the last was published in the mid-1980s. You can also find it at abe.com. Some interesting figures from the 1975 consensus: Japan increased its phone tally from 12,250,841 in 1965 to 41,904,960 in 1975. That was a 242% increase. The U.K. more than doubled their phone population in the same era. 9,960,00 in 1965 to 20,342,457 in 1975. Quicker computerized switching and automating operator duties made higher call volumes possible. I say that because I doubt Japan or England doubled or tripled the amount of their physical plant during that time, rather, it was the efficiencies of the computer age that caused the increase.

February 14, 2005

Qwest and Operator Services

Q. I'm a Qwest customer and I am always impressed with its operators. Who are these people, what equipment do they use, and where are they located?

A. (From J.R. Snyder Jr. (internal link) They're probably long time employees using long developed technology. There's an alphabet soup of abbreviations to discuss here, so if you get confused, go to my pages on operator assistance. (internal link)

"Automating operator assistance duties dates back to the late 1950s, with most telcos finishing this process by the late 1970s. AT&T's Traffic Service Position System combined dedicated consoles and custom written software to handle most operator duties."

"For a technology that took many years to develop, TSPS was short lived operationally. Western Electric, now Lucent, developed TSPS consoles for well over a decade and it was in wide spread use for all practical purposes only from 1976 to 1985. Western Electric was totally focusing on it while Northern Electric, now Nortel, was developing Toll Operator Position Systems to replace TSD consoles (Toll Services Desk). They put those in operation in the late 60's and early 70's in over half of their Toll Centers. Although Northern had placed them into service earlier than TSPS, they were more manual than TSPS but far less manual than cord switchboards. TOPS was a PC application as opposed to a console using a dedicated UNIX system and U S WEST placed them into service in 1984, immediately after Divestiture. In fact they were installed in 1983 and sat in waiting until Divestiture."



Early TSPS consoles (click to enlarge)

"What evolved out of that was a Windows based software that handles toll (long distance), Directory Assistance, "Agent" calls (calls from other telcos that use U S WEST (Qwest) as their operator services company) and answers each states main U S WEST (Qwest) switchboard number and other numbers for U S WEST (Qwest) itself (employee locator, general questions, etc.). U S WEST is now Qwest but they are the same employees and centers."

"More than likely the operators your visitor is referring to are in Midvale, UT and they use the PC based Nortel system that replaced TOPS. On occasion the calls may overflow to Tempe AZ, Pueblo CO or Helena MT. Tempe handles primarily Arizona, Pueblo handles primarily Colorado and some of NM and WY, while Helena handles the eastern Qwest states and is a back up to all the other centers. Midvale and Helena are the top performing centers, known for their efficiency and courtesy, and as the traffic decreases they are the two most likely to remain. Many of their employees are 15-30 years operator service veterans who started out on cord Toll and Assistance switchboards and paper Directory Assistance." For more information, see this page (internal link).

Telecom grows by cutting back

Telcos and wireless carriers continue to increase profits by reducing expenses. Mostly this means people. The industry grows, employees become fewer. Be careful if you are going into this field as a new career. It is a growth industry but not one creating jobs.

I suspect that Verizon will wind up firing or laying off twice what's estimated; figures like this are always set low for public relations. The AP reports: "Verizon Communications Inc. agrees to buy MCI Inc. for $6.75 billion in cash and stock. The deal could result in about 7,000 job cuts from the combined Verizon-MCI work force of about 250,000 employees."

February 13, 2005

11 mile round trip walk

I took an 11 mile round trip walk yesterday to the top of 2,819 foot tall Mount Vaca, located about 60 miles east of San Francisco. It's the highest point in Solano County, California. On a clear day you can see the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the east. Mix Canyon Road was my path to the top.

Twenty to thirty different antennas dot the top of the ridge on Mount Vaca. Amateur radio groups, the United States government, and many, many commercial communications companies all maintain equipment on this high ground. The locals call the ridge "Top of The World" and while it is not, is a grand place to be. The hazy photograph immediately below is looking east toward the great central valley of California. On a clear day the Sierra Nevada would be visible beyond.

February 10, 2005

Text to Speech Technology

Text to speech technology is getting better. Or perhaps broadband connections produce bigger and better sound files. Click here to go to the AT&T Labs Research site (external site). The voices sound much improved from years past, especially the American English speakers. I miss the old coffee drinker voice, I wish that were still on line. Don't want to go off site? Click here for a speech to text greeting from me and a joke. I answer the vital question: What do you call a frog who is up to its knees in water? You may have to repeat this 374K .wav file (internal link) a few times to understand it.

February 09, 2005

Tower Sales

Question for Ken Schmidt (internal link):

Q. It's rumored Sprint will sell the 6,500 towers they own and then lease them back. Why? I thought it was better to own than lease.

A. "The sale of Sprint's towers at this point makes a lot of sense to me. (But then I am a lawyer -- not an MBA). The market for communication towers is red hot right now -- many players chasing few portfolios. Towers are sold on the basis of a multiple of annual net cash flow. The multiples when I was in the business 1998-2000 were great -- up to 14x. Rumor is that the current multiples are up to 16x in some cases. I'm not sure if Sprint will get that but they were not hurt by the recent values being exchanged for towers."

"The multiples being paid are not tied to reality -- people thought the tower companies were crazy then as even the MBA's could not figure out how the market would reward companies that bought towers at such a rate. And look what happened to Pinnacle, Spectrasite -- both went bankrupt. Crown and ATC were rumored to be close as well."

"So, Global Signal (Pinnacle in different clothing) is back again looking to buy some towers. They are willing to pay because they believe the upside over the next two years from the various wireless technologies will be great. And the carriers are backing that up. BBE (broadband equivalent) lease rates are up and they are loving it. Sprint on the other hand has significant debt with the Nextel purchase and significant expenses coming up with network expansion and 3G overlays, so they need the cash. Selling now at or near to what may be the peak of the market was smart."

February 08, 2005

Musings on the digital age

From Broadcast Engineering come these interesting observations. (external link) Read the article before they pull it down. We're going back to circuit switching?! (internal link) After I thought everything was going to packet switching, done over all IP networks? Hmm. And note the word essence. An essence stream. Fairly flowery language for engineers:

"Program elements in the broadcast domain are continuous signals in real time. IT in broadcasting deals with compressed media files transferred at greater than real time rates. Continuous essence streams do not require buffering."

"Gigabit means one billion bits per second. In the IT realm, this is a theoretical number where the number may or may not specify a certain bandwidth. What transfer rate really takes place on a so-called gig pipe? Is it 500Mb/s or 700Mb/s? What about collisions? In other words, it may not really be a gig’s worth of bandwidth. On the other hand, as of 1997, the SMPTE 292 standard specifies sustained, real-time transfer rates of 1.5Gig HD signals as commonplace. For broadcasters, 1.5Gb/s means 1.5Gb/s."

"On the other hand, IP-based file transfers give one the freedom to route any signal anywhere. Packets can arrive out of sequence or be delayed and then be reassembled at the other end. Unfortunately, video signal transfers are intolerant of any variable delays. To improve video delivery, the IT world is moving toward switched circuits and away from routers. This is exactly the kind of composite and SDI routing that has been done for years in a broadcast infrastructure. It seems that video router methodologies are where the IT network world is finally heading."

"There may be a dozen or so essence transfers, video or audio, moving around the broadcast infrastructure at one time. How will this traffic be segmented? If file transfers are at four times real time, will it only take six hours to move a day’s worth of programming? On the negative side, one hour down means four hours of real time content lost."

February 05, 2005

More on Sprint/Nextel, T-Mobile

This is a nice summary of the recent Sprint/Nextel merger. It was written by Jason Hornik, Senior Research Analyst at Wireless Capital Partners:

"Sprint Corporation and Nextel Communications, Inc. have agreed to combine in a merger of equals. Assuming the transaction closes in the 3rd or 4th quarter of 2005 as expected, the new entity, Sprint Nextel, will have the following characteristics: approximately $70 billion in equity value, over 35 million subscribers, a nationwide network covering over 262 million people, the highest wireless industry ARPU (average revenue per user), a strong market share of business users, and over $40 billion in annual revenue. The transaction values both Sprint and Nextel equally, with each shareholder group receiving 50% of the combined entity. At the announcement, Nextel shareholders were expected to receive approximately 1.28 shares of Sprint Nextel and $0.50 in cash per share, which Sprint shares will remain outstanding. Sprint’s local telecommunications business will be spun-off by the combined entity. Numerous synergies and cost savings are expected as a result of the business combination. These include: reduced network operating expenses through reduced cell sites and switches, reduced capital expenditures, migrating Nextel backhaul traffic to Sprint’s long haul infrastructure, consolidated backoffice operations, reduced sales & marketing costs, reduced general & administrative costs, and the development of a nationwide IP-based multimedia network."

"As soon as the Sprint Nextel merger was announced, there has been public speculation that either Verizon Wireless or T-Mobile would attempt to derail the transaction. Either company could feasibly entice the Sprint or Nextel management or shareholders with an alternative business combination opportunity which would be to difficult to ignore. Specifically, many analysts believe that Verizon could make a bid for Sprint. However, Verizon would need the support of Vodafone plc, Verizon’s financial partner in the Verizon Wireless joint venture. Vodafone has most recently stated that it has no plans to make a bid on either Sprint or Nextel. As for T-Mobile, the company currently desires additional spectrum and would significantly fall behind its competitors in total subscribers should the Sprint Nextel merger close. T-Mobile would arguably be much better positioned by acquiring Nextel, even though their networks would be difficult to integrate. However, Kai-Uwe Ricke, chief executive of Deutsche Telekom, has ruled out making acquisitions or stepping up investments. Mr Ricke told the Financial Times he believes that the US market is large enough for four players, and that T-Mobile USA will have the opportunity to grow without needing to change its strategy or raise its already considerable investments."

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