Media Gateway – a hardware defined box to convert “cyber” signals from VOIP to old world signals such as PRI, BRI, ISDN FXO or FXS (analog) trunks. Despite the move to SIP trunking, there’s still a need for failures, fallbacks and those “storms in the clouds”

Media Server – a server that runs on a personal computer architecture, as opposed to the traditional processor networks that would use closed hardware that resembled partially of a PC – on the inside. Media Servers in the 2000s moved from the switchroom to the data center running on almost off the shelf servers from HP and Dell and now is sold as software and the customer provides the servers – off the shelf. Media Servers have the same reliability as a PC, as good as the technology allows. Reasonable reliability from a processor based PBX has gone down a point, and now systems can only run at 99.99% of the time.

Merlin – A Key phone system originally made by AT&T later Lucent and later supported by Avaya. The system looked very futuristic with a fancy headset and the only hard keys was the dial pad. Everything else used membrane and other integrated circuits.  Regardless of its sex appeal, it had its dissents. People bitched about how the phone only had a one way, listen only speaker, and one would had to get a $300 “adjunct” to do two way, another was the TUI, and getting used to the membranes, and the destandardized wiring.  AT&T fixed some of these issues by issuing a series of BIS telephones or Built In Speaker with the change to hard buttons. These original systems were still in use well into the mid 2000s, now they are becoming more and more antiques. Succeeding systems after was the Merlin Legend and Merlin Magix – but those systems worked much differently than the Classic Merlin.

In the mid to late 1980s, AT&T marketed various versions of the Merlin system. Of those were Merlin 206, a Key system that ran 2 analog trunks and 6 “voice terminals”;  Merlin 410, a Key system that ran 4 analog trunks and 10 “voice terminals”; Merlin 820, a Key system that ran 8 trunks and/or 20 “voice terminals”. This model had interchangeable slots to mix and match modules if one wanted more trunks or more phones.

Larger models also included the Merlin 1030 – A hybrid Key/PBX system that could run up to 30 lines with a mix and match setup of terminals and trunks. This model would be the foundation for the Merlin Legend and Magix. The largest of the original series was the Merlin 1070. A hybrid Key/PBX that could handle up to 70 lines with a mix and match setup of terminals and trunks. This model would be the foundation for the Merlin Legend and Magix.

In the late 1980s, AT&T introduced Merlin II – a newer version of the Key PBX system made by AT&T with more modular boards, then Merlin Plus followed by Merlin Legend (and Magix.) This system was next generation of key/PBX hybrid system made by AT&T, later Lucent, supported by Avaya. The system had significant improvements, such as digital switching and support for ISDN and later T1 support and some interoperability with their enterprise systems.  This system was much, much different than the original Merlin. The telephone sets changed from the futuristic ones to a more solid form factor, though it had similarities to the 8400 and 8500 ISDN telephones. But what was really lame was the keys for the line and menu keys clashed with the color of the set! If you had a black set, these keys were black and if you had a misty cream set, these same keys were misty cream! The 8400 and 8500 had grey colored keys – a real design flaw that was fixed after Lucent took over. The signature ring tones were eliminated with the Partner-like ring tones among the many oddities of diverting from the original Merlin platform. The system went through 7 major versions from 1990 to 1999, when the Merlin Magix platform was released by that time. The Magix system would be discontinued in 2006, to transition users to the IP Office system, to favor Avaya focusing on a consistent platform for all their offerings.  Something AT&T should had done 20something years ago.


A slide from a promotional material from Northern Telecom promoting the Nortel Meridian’s data PBX abilities. From Flickr:PanelSwitchman, used without permission (but appropriately cited though)

Meridian – A PBX that is made by Nortel Networks (now Avaya, dammit!) The Meridian is the PBX of choice for the rest of the world.

Meridian Norstar – a common branding issue from Nortel in the early days of the Norstar, leaving customers confused.

Meridian 1 – A platform made after 1990, replacing the legacy SL-1 hardware and software package. Meridian 1 was built from the ground up with digital switching and future abilities such as ISDN, T1 and later IP Telephony. Different Meridian systems ran on different hardware for the spectrum of scaleability. Option 11 would be used as a Norstar replacement, maxing to near 200 ports (similar to an Avaya CMC), Option 21 was larger peaking at 2,000 ports, Option 41, 51 and 61 would be used for moderate enterprises ranging from a thousand to near 5,000 and the Option 81 was the largest, maxing to about 20,000 ports. The Meridian software was common throughout the hardware

Meridian SL-1  – Unrelated to the SL100, the Stored Logic PBX was Nortels first digital PBX, or even the industry’s first starting in 1975. Instead of moving parts, calls were made and placed on digital circuit boards and the telephones at the desktop acted as terminals because all the action was taking place in the switch room. This eliminated excessive wiring and enabled the systems to do data switching (popular in the late 80s) This system was depreciated when Nortel would roll out Meridian 1 in the late 1980s. It was not a surprise to see SL-1s still running into the late 90s.

Meridian SL-100 – This system was a different from the Option hardware of the Meridians, from research this PBX ran on DMS hardware, was used as a high capacity PBX. Typical uses were in the government, or an operation that needed complete five-nine (or even six-nine) reliability. Max ports was 100,000. The IP replacement is the Communication Server 2100, still available through Avaya.

Microwave – short wave radio signals used in a form of a straight line. Basically a cheap satelite dish without having to go into space. Was used for the old AT&T Long Lines, now typically used for networking PBX systems,  cell networks. Microwaves was used to deliver network’s broadcast signals to its affiliates likely though hub and spoke connections. By 1984, with the breakup of the Bell System and the lower cost of broadcast TV through space, the microwave TV side went away almost immediately. Today, most “live shots” in local TV news are done in microwave signals, replaced slowly with satellite trucks as a dish can now fit into a mini SUV an provide native HDTV quality, something a microwave can’t really do.

Mitel -Mitel was an acronym of Mike and Terry’s Electric Lawn mowers, founded by Mike Copeland and Terry Matthews. two former Northern techs in Canada wanted to sell the idea of electric lawn mowers. The problem? The orders of the electric lawn mowers never came. Then came the long Canadian winter. The fallback? Sell phone systems. In the 1970s and 80s, Mitel had competitive solutions in the enterprise. Systems that were in fashion were the SX series systems and the Superswitches. They made hideous operator consoles that looked like the Japanese made sets. Despite a “super” star status between the Superswitches, the Superset, the Superconsole and it’s menu key for the Superset known as the Superkey; Mitel was sold to British Telecom, which almost killed the company. Terry Matthews would buy back the telecom and trademark part of the company by that point being owned by a venture capital firm.Mitel IP Phone 5224 for SIP purposes. it's a lovely looking phone! Since his 2001 acquisition, Mitel (known as Mitel Networks from then on or about a few years ago) has done pretty well for a struggling business. Some people may not know the name because Mitel sold phones and services to mid sized service providers which were able to rebrand the phones of the service providers offerings, some would call “whitebox” in todays standards. They also market digital and IP telephones, and also embrace innovation and change  but separates them from the crowds by not alienating their existing customer base. In 2014, Mitel acquired Aastra (a spinoff of Nortel’s analog and consumer telephone unit from 2000) and have since swiftly merged both offerings under the Mitel brand name.

NEC – NEC is a Japanese IT company. It’s American telephony roots goes to acquisition of Nitsuko which bought TIE from Connecticut in the late 1980s. TIE systems were installed in many places, including the municipal offices and schools of town I grew up. Popular systems made by NEC (or its acquired assets) are Onyx,  DS200, etc.

NEAX – In order to fulfill the Equal Opportunity Policy (and being part Japanese), it’s probably best to define this PBX that’s made by NEC. Some NEAX systems are in the American markets. This is similar to Meridians or Auras with the multi ten thousand extensions. The most recent digital versions was NEAX 2000 and NEAX 2400. Sphere Communications made a software based PBX, and in fact NEC bought this company as well to build upon their software based PBX system.

Nelson, Lorraine – the woman behind the voicemail prompts most noticeably for Avaya Red’s AUDIX, as well as Partner and Merlin Messaging. In 2016, your humble curator had done a special profile on her. She also did marketing mimicking Audix, especially for a CNBC promo stating their then Larry Kudlow’s show would return after the 2008 Beijing Olympics ending with the infamous Please Wait.  (see Barbe, Jane and AUDIX)

Norstar – Northern Telecom’s key system for small business or enterprises. This was Nortel’s territory for most small shops in the U.S. Places like TGI Fridays, K-Mart, Staples, Kinkos, TJ Maxx are (or were) among the many users of the Norstar system.

A Picture of a Norstar 7310 taken at the NH Telephone Museum in Warner, NH

A Picture of a Norstar 7310 taken at the NH Telephone Museum in Warner, NH. Such sets are still used to this day with Nortel’s industrial design of solid casing.

The system was based on a modified version of the SL-1 PBX – the PBX of the rage of the 1970s and 80s by that point micro version of the large beast while both systems had shared common code. By this point, the ability to put that power in a small business (which was a big deal in the 80s) was unprecedented. At the same time their PBX systems, the Meridian became Meridian 1 and had much more feature. This also confused the branding and compatibility. Known as Norstar, the system was known as “meridian”, “Meridian Norstar” and probably “Norstar Meridian”. By the 90s it was called Norstar.  Norstar has now been declared EOL by Avaya now, after the Nortel acquisition. The Norstar can run as an app running on hardware such as Avaya’s IP Office. Many places still use Norstars regardless of vendor support.

The Norstar came in 3 types, a non expandable, analog only 3×8 (supporting 3 lines and 8 extensions), a Modular Integrated Communications System or MICS (pronounced as an acronym) that supported up to 24 extensions and over 12 trunks, ether or could be interchangeable, but could not be expanded. That was solved with CICS (again an acronym) for Compact Integrated Communications System that supported multiple expansion units that went to a maximum of 250 plus ports. (extensions, lines or trunks.) The IP equivalent was the Business Communications Manager or BCM. BCM 50 was like the 3×8, BCM 200 was like the MICS and the BCM 400 was similar to CICS. Both were heavy duty PCs, closed off from the end user to provide mission critical telephony services, especially with the ability to do VOIP.

Norstar Meridian – a common branding issue from Nortel in the early days of the Norstar, leaving customers confused and giving VOIP integrators ammo to confuse customers in pushing potentially inferior services while not caring to know the actual facts in the 2010s.

Northern Electric – See Nortel

Northern Telecom – See Nortel

Nortel – Also known as Northern Telecom, Northern Electric and Nortel Networks. The company began after the U.S. Justice Department ordered AT&T to get out of the Canadian markets. Northern Electric was

These Nortel/Aastra 5300 used to be for the front desk, this was taken in a room that used to be a sales office for luxury properties around the Mount Washington Resort. It's been since scrapped by Omni.

A Nortel/Aastra 5300 Digital Centrex Telephone

a direct descendant of Ma Bell, though the rebels came out very quickly, their telephones looked like Western Electric, but with a artsy/progressive look. The company made another progressive move by renaming themselves in 1976 as Northern Telecom.  The company allegedly made the first digital PBX, the SL-1, they also owned the industry making the first digital central office switches, the DMS series. The company was renamed to Nortel in the mid 90s and became Nortel Networks after buying Bay Networks for a huge price. The company fell apart after the 2000 stock market crash of the dot-com bubble. The company started to pull strings such as financial shell games and declared inaccuracies of their accounting by the mid 2000s. They declared bankruptcy in late 2008, while they have finished their Going out of Business sale of their properties as of 2014. Their phone system division (including the Norstar and Meridian systems) was sold to Avaya and other properties were ether sold (such as patents) to companies like Apple while other units (such as carrier systems) were sold to Genband.

Networka part in an old telephone where different wires throughout the phone would interconnect. Essentially this was an early form of a Central Processing Unit for the telephone.

NT – Northern Telecom See Nortel

Octel – One of the innovators of the modern voicemail. Octel developed one of the first major commercial voice mail systems that would be come tried and true technology. Others were yea-close, but wasn’t marketable. The company was later bought by Lucent and was spun off to Avaya, which stopped innovating the product and now runs essentially as an app in their proprietary Modular Messaging system for their PBXes. More can be seen on this post on voicemail.

oIP – over Internet Protocol. This is a self-made phrase is the idea of type of packet/service that is getting transmitted over the open Internet. Just add a letter before “oIP”. Obviously VOIP is one example, VOIP can also be Video over IP. A lot of times, phrases are just known as IP instead like “IP Surveillance” The danger is that if everything at one point does go oIP, the vulernabilities of hacks can be significantly higher. While IOT is used for consumers, the idea of the Internet of Things for enterprises have existed for almost a decade as ether “IP [phrase]” or  [x]oIP.

Oryx/Pecos – The proprietary operating system for the AT&T (later Lucent and later Avaya Red) systems. The OS was developed in the late 70s from scratch as a fully digital telephone solution. Names of systems that used it included the System 75, some versions of System 85. Definity Generics 1, 2 and 3, and it ran on CPUs including the 8086, the 80286 and the Motorola RISC chips. The first PBX that used the OS was the System 75 released around 1984, the last system was the Communication Manager Release 3.0 (G3r v13) circa 2003 as Avaya moved to a software with a Linux backend.

The Oryx/Pecos was rumored for years that it was based off Unix or Unix-like. The system never was or is based of UNIX, despite AT&Ts fingerprints at the creation of that operating system. The mission of Oryx/Pecos was to design the system for real time telephony and nothing else. No 3rd party integration, no user access to the operating system directly, etc. Just to process, make and receive telephone (and data) calls.

The release of this operating system came with the System 75 and served as AT&T’s first digital PBX offerings, behind Nortel and ROLM (both were at the party in the mid to late 70s). Oryx acted as the kernel (hardware: switches talking to circuit boards, talking to phones) and Pecos ran the processes (software: phones contacting to the outside world through the switch or calling your coworker.) According to previous accounts, the name was derived at the street locations at the two development plants in Colorado and New Jersey. Most of all the enterprise systems were developed in Westminster (just out of Denver, Colorado.) Now its at some indiscrete location in India.

The system was completely closed to any third party developers to ensure the system could be as reliable as possible. The PBX can heal itself, and if you have special logins you can mess up the system. UNIX based systems were used to interoperate for voice mail, call routing, ACD like setups. Documentation is limited, in fact the only known geekey of all geeky technical discussion was in an 1985 Bell Labs Technical Journal around the time of launch. The Definity series of PBX systems (and systems using Oryx/Pecos) made prior to 2003 and after 1984 is End of Life, so any information on this system shouldn’t be a security threat. Just Sayin’. The Museum’s long term goal is to shed light on this once great PBX solution that Avaya should be proud of (but with the marketing bias) forces them to think only forward. See Avaya, Avaya Red, Definity, DCP, Digital Communications Protocol


PBX – Private Branch Exchange. a PBX isn’t just a system that resides on site. Its a system to handle more phones and use less trunks to handle better efficiency of telephony. PBXes can handle a 100 to 30,000 telephones and a finite amount of trunks. The advantage of a PBX is to better handle costs for telephone service. Traditional PBX systems has intelligence such as detecting a telephone number and routing it to a trunk for the least amount of cost to be billed from the Phone Company.  Original PBX systems were replicas of the switches found in the phone company. Modern electronic ones appeared in the 1970s. Some PBX systems only provide basic phone service for tons of users. Many can handle multiple lines per station, handle multimedia, link separate PBXs and run as one large voice network, and can do call center services for customer service or support. Just like any other technology, a PBX has to fit their needs, and many vendors provide different types for different people.  The terminology has been blurred since smaller Key Telephone Systems have emulation modes to run as a PBX, and many VOIP punks think a phone system is in house – so therefore its a PBX, even when an Asterisk system can’t handle 10 users on one server!

PRI – Primary Rate Interface is a telecommunications interface standard used on an ISDN for carrying multiple voice and data transmissions between the network and a user. In the US it is based on the T1 line, carrying 23 digital channels (voice or data) and 1 signaling channel. Along with SIP and POTS, it’s a primary method to trunk between a PBX and the Central Office.

Party lines – back in the day before bridged appearances or call appearances or even a dedicated line, customers, i.e. neighborhoods would share a single line among the neighbors. The phone company would have “distinctive ringing” so the member of the respective household would know the call was for them. The disadvantage to party lines was the lines were hot, so if you would spread gossip someone could overhear even when customers were told to not eavesdrop on the other callers. Party lines were cheaper than having a dedicated line for the obvious reasons of using less copper and less of a burden for the switchboard operator.

Partner – A communications system produced by AT&T, later Lucent and later Avaya. Released in 1990 (with an announcement on September 13th of that year), the system succeeded the Merlin system (even though that lasted well into 2000.) The system went End of Sale nearly 2 decades later, citing the lack of parts by the supply chain and Avaya’s push to VOIP to the mum and pop stores. Partner  systems were well deployed in many chains and the sets still run to this day.

The advent of the Partner began a breakdown in backwards compatibility. After realizing many enterprise customers were buying Merlin phones in lieu of higher priced 7400 sets, instead of purchasing a Merlin system then upgrading to a System 25 or a System 25 shop would get an small System 75, AT&T closed this loophole and isolated the boundaries between the large and small systems. This also included the Merlin Legend and Magix systems.

The UI of the Partner was similar to the Merlin, basically used on top of a larger PBX or Centrex (think of this as the “cloud”) and the Partner could be used to do intercom, paging and voicemail and other departments could use plain ol Centrex phones. Partners were spotted in the NY broadcast networks like CBS and ABC, where one newsroom could be using Partner, another production room could use Merlin and the local TV station could use a Meridian, but the larger network could make all systems interoperable by calling the 4 or 7 digit number, and if you want to page your colleges, you could hit Intercom and 2 digit numbers.

As mentioned, the Partner systems stood the test of time from the original 206 to the Advanced Communications System in 1997 to support T1 and DSL data lines. There were three generations of phones, all reversed compatible, the MLS series in 1990, to a “european” looking set in 1995, to another series looking like the 2400 and 4600 sets a decade later. You could use the newer generation on the original Partner 206 and use an MLS on ACS Release 8. These same sets were compatible with the Merlin Legend and Magix by using what Avaya called the “Enhanced Tip/Ring” or ETR circuit boards. These sets were also called by Avaya techs “hybrid” sets that used digital and analog communications – whatever that is.

Polycom – Polycom is best known for the conference room telephones with the triangulation shaped set sometimes called “starfishes”. Polycoms were popular in remote conferencing for “full duplex” communication. Prior to Polycom, vendors like Nortel and AT&T had some conferencing abilities (like AT&T’s Spokesman) but it could only work with a handful of people, larger rooms wouldn’t work; and listening was horrible. Papers shuffling or people talking over each other would take several seconds for the far end to rebiuld (or just the person themselves.) Per to FCC regulations, only half duplex communications can be used on a PSTN.

A Lucent private label POTS SoundStation

A Lucent private label POTS SoundStation

Polycom found the way to make full duplex work by developing the SoundStation –  providing high end acoustics with external power provided on the user end and plug-in ability to use external sound systems in larger setups, and external microphones for large 20 person plus conference rooms. This became an overnight success, by the mid 1990s, most Fortune 500 conference rooms would have these equipped. Polycom made SoundStations for proprietary protocols for Avaya (dating the tail end of AT&T IS, Nortel, Cisco) and made a desktop version called the SoundPoint. In the late 1990s, they acquired Picturetel, that did video/voice conferencing. By the early 2000s, Polycom went into VOIP and sold SoundPoint IP, generic SIP based IP sets, that act as IP Centrex terminals.

“R” Handset – the proprietary style of  the handsets used by AT&T for the 7400 and Merlin telephones made from 1983 to the late 1990s (for refurbished sets)

Rotary dial – the precursor to Touch Tone dialing, featuring a dial that would allow a user to make a telephone call automatically by rotor controlled wheel (known as a dial). The user pick up the set and take their pointer finger (or an equivalent there of) and move the wheel to the right, by doing this it would make clicking noises to indicate to the remote end what number s/he was dialing. If one dialed 1, it would click one way, dial 2, would make another type of click. Western Electric made this line called the 500 series from the early 1950s to the end of the 1980s. It was allegedly invented by an undertaker so his wife wouldn’t be awake ringing to an operator.

ROLM (or Rolm) – A company founded in the late 1960s originally to make computers specific to military standards. They later would go into the phone system business. Taking the reliability of their military grade computer systems, they built and sold a CBX or a Computerized Branch Exchange. Their CBX was their answer to a “solid state” fully electronic PBX system. By the mid 80s ROLM was at the top, until Big Blue came in. IBM acquired ROLM in 1984 and quickly vanished in the marketplace. The #1 fight of PBX market share quickly was assumed to AT&T and Nortel. IBM did not like their laid back, creative (read: innovative) style. As the IBM PC was starting to eat their own due to clones disrupting their business, one of the first things IBM did was to kill ROLM’s PC telephone Basically an office phone with a 10″ CRT display with a full keyboard and floppy drive. They feared their PC would eat away from IBM’s market. Layoffs would occur near the end of the decade and thanks to the computer guys running the show, they missed out on ISDN and Signaling System 7 and when they did get to it it was ridden with bugs.

ROLM should also be credited for the innovation of modern day voicemail. The telephone sets came with integrated voice messaging such as message waiting lamps and the designation strips showed the user how to navigate the voice mail prompts out of the shrink wrap so to speak.

Regardless IBM would sell the assets to Siemens, whom of which would continue technical support. Many local Sears Robuck stores, NASA offices, and some of May Department stores (now owned by Macy’s Federated company) still have various ROLM PBX systems. These systems are literally bullet proof and a major thunder storm or a severe surge would likely kill a ROLM PBX. I do not know a lot of ROLM systems, so there are some resources out there to learn more.

SEP – In all Cisco IPT setups, these initials acts as the identifier for Cisco IP Phones known as the Selsius Ethernet Phone. Selsius was a company that made basic office telephones connected to IP networks. (They made similar sets like the one here, but the difference was it was tied to an IP network.) Cisco acquired this company in 1998. Selsius also wrote the Skinny Call Control Protocol (IP Port 2000) and at least the first two versions of a software PBX known as CallManager, the idea of a PBX running on a Windows NT server. Despite the acquisition 18 years ago, the initials lurk around a generation later just like how you see NeXTSTEP identifiers probably in OS X El Capitan –  like ol’ flames – they never go away! (Why did I bring that up? It’s also refers to a woman the Curator had feelings for at one point of his life that refers to the same three letter initials.)

Session Initiation Protocol – known by its acronyms as SIP. SIP and Skype are similar, the former being open and lightweight and the latter being closed and bloated.

SIP is pretty old in age wise, as it was developed in 1996. It became a standard as RFC 4543 in 1999. SIP’s basic premise is being an application over the Internet Protocol. It is one of the popular variants of VOIP. SIP basically acts like an instant message client – literally that also included the ability to use voice and video. It basically became an instant standard to make inexpensive VOIP telephones and basically SIP phones is the modern version of the 2500 tip and ring set, on IP that is. Making a telephone call on SIP is much like going on the Web and getting a stock quote or reading up on the latest gossip. Similar to the Web, SIP requests, pulls and spits out information. SIP also uses servers similar to a Web server to place calls to send messages like an IM or fax or even video.

SIP has evolved quite remarkably and now has gone so far to displace traditional digital trunking. It has been used for also push to talk radio services like what Cingular offered in the mid oos.

SIP is an application, so basically if the network administrators properly give open ports for 5060 and 5061 (the secure port) and make sure all routing is going to the right places, the real responsibility is to make sure the SIP server is well configured on the server side (accessing it via GUI or TUI) and the system being locked down and designed with proper capacity to prevent jitter (such as giving the server as much RAM as possible and limit calls to what the server can handle.)

By 2015, most unified communications (UC) providers and manufacturers of hardware have since settled on SIP. In short you can have an Avaya phone running on an Asterisk and a Mitel SIP set running on a Cisco UCM or have any of those sets running as a modern Centrex phone by a SIP trunk provider (basically a PBX in the cloud.) See more by clicking here

Smartphone – A smartphone is a computer running very lightweight versions of computer operating systems designed to do tasks on a small device. The BlackBerry was one of the first commercially successful smartphones for the good part of the first decade of the 21st Century. The BlackBerry would then be eclipsed by Apples iPhone (literally running Mac OS X as a modified version) and Google’s software based Android operating system.

Starfish set – Most likely referring to a Polycom telephone, known for years by it’s shape of a starfish.

Step By Step – a form of an electromechanical switching system. It was used mostly from the 1960s to the early 1990s (smaller markets.) By that time most switches were replaced with electronic and digital switching.  Also known as SXS. You can see this class of switch in action by clicking herSee Crossbar, as that was also used during that time period.

Switchboards – One of the most oldest terms that is still widely used to this day. Switchboards back in the beginning acted as both the carrier switch and the operator console. This technology would not go away until the telephone’s 100th birthday, in some cases it was still used by AT&T for international Long Lines up to the early 1990s. Each customer would have a dedicated line hardwired to the switchboard. To get the operators attention, one would hand crank their set (mostly mounted on a wall) to then create an electrical signal. Early boards had a metal thingy pop out like it was blown out, later sets had actual lamps. The operator would take one pair of cable to that customer and the customer would asked to be patched to another customer. She would then take the other pair of cable, then hand crank or use a knob to create the ring (if it was a party line, “distinctive rings” would require a different pattern. Remember, this was human controlled so the operator had to have some perfection to the rings.

Long distance telephone service was around in those days, but would take a long time to reach to other switchboard operators. It was not abnormal for a customer to request to talk to another customer on the other side of the country at a said time so the operators start to prepare routing the call to be ready by then.

As electronic switching became the norm, and the move to automated dialing with electromechanical switching, the need for an operator to be on site 24x7x365 was not necessary. Such use has been well featured in the 1970s show aired on CBS called The Waltons. I learned a lot about this when visiting to the NH Telephone Museum in 2015.


Telephone Pole – In the United States, they are wooden poles that are about 100 feet apart from each other. The poles are owned and maintained  by the telephone company, hence the emphasis on name. Any damage must be reported to the telephone company and it is their responsibility. As the mainstream media in the name of political correctness wants you to know its a “utility pole”;  despite a pole carrying electrical, cable and telephone lines, media outlets should refrain from this inaccurate word and should be damned if they say “utility pole.” (See Utility Pole, Insulators)

Tip and Ring – this the type of conductors used for telephony. In other parts of the world its just A and B.  This goes back to the days when the telephone company required an operator to place the calls. The tip was for grounding, and ring was what provided a direct current. Back in the day, for reliability, it would peak at 130 volts to ensure the call would to be clear.  Wiring was important for 500 sets for party line service and for the set to ring properly. The phrase is mostly outdated.

Time Division Multiplex – TDM. Also known as Digital Telephony. TDM transports voice, video and data into bits of code and transports it to a large multimedia network. Think of a PBX for an example as a Grand Central Terminal and imagine that the PBX is coordinating the traffic between the various subways of voice, a commuter rail of data and buses of voice. The information is almost entirely data, and unlike analog systems where things are encoded by actual electrical waves, it is being encoded through various processors and signaling chips. If you make a call on a PBX, what really is happening is your voice turns into bits of data turned back into what appears to be “voice”. The PBX acts as the middlemen to ensure the data is a a set speed limit of 64 kilobits a second.  TDM is not IP specifically, though many multimedia applications are based on TDM. TDM was flawed in the beginning but has become a “tried and true” technology, part of it because of its reliability, and lot in due to the hardware dependence with having reliability. TDM also brought things like the Caller ID (that spits out data like whose calling), E-911 (similar to the former), Digital Subscriber Lines, to ISDN and lastly the Internet Protocol.

Undertaker – A man who used to burry bodies invented the rotary dial to prevent the wife to know he was making calls late in the night.


A Nortel IP Phone at an Elliot clinic in Manchester, NH likely to be using Nortel/Avaya’s UNISTIM protocol

UniSTIM – an IP protocol developed by Nortel (ahem, Avaya) to internetwork their IP telephones. The protocol has been reversed engineered and such phones can be used on systems like the Asterisk. Newer sets like the 1100 and the 1200 can run via SIP, from what I know.

Utility Pole  – This is an inaccurate phrase used by the mainstream media in the name of political correctness. Despite a pole carrying electrical, cable and telephone lines, the poles are owned and maintained  by the telephone company. Any damage must be reported to the telephone company and it is their responsibility. Any media outlet should refrain from this inaccurate word refer it to what it is a “telephone pole”

VOIP – Voice over Internet Protocol. Also known by the mix caps as VoIP. Basically it’s to carry any type of voice conversation over the standardized TCP/IP network that was used for virtually all data uses.

VOIP is a very broad terminology that means a lot to many people. VOIP can be as simple as a “Digital Voice” line by your cable phone company that uses your cable modem but processes the calls as VOIP at the “headend” while other providers give you other boxes to make calls on an analog telephone over an IP connection. It is also used as a commercial two way radio using IP instead of digital radio signals and it can also be used as an intercom or even some fast food joints to take customers orders at a drive thru to a central contact center then presses some buttons heard by the customer back to the joint to make the order. (Saw that on a History Channel Modern Marvels episode.)

VOIP had a bad reputation in the beginning given how data people had no clue or even interest in voice. Traditionally data transfers on the Internet didn’t matter what order it went, but when real time communications became a standard it wasn’t friendly. When I’d say “I pahked the caahh in the garahge” the other person on the other line with bad voice quality may have heard me say “garrahhge the cahh… in the…. I pahked.” Latency to this day is a problem and often it occurs in Skype calls when someone has too many apps running or is doing too many things at once on a wireless connection. VOIP in itself is no different than TDM, where the minimum voice traffic peaks at 64 kilobits a second – the problem is on how the “packets” are being transmitted.

Voice Terminal – “A pretentious AT&T term for a Telephone” says Harry Newton from Harry Newton’s Telecom Dictionary. ATT would counter and say “A voice terminal can do a lot more than a regular telephone”, quoting loosely on an AT&T Merlin documentation. I say AT&T wasn’t crazy or strange to use that term, only that they (and their predecessors got lost into describing this.) A terminal is a device that requires communication from a central system. A computer terminal can be plugged in on one jack and be in a Cisco console session, plug it into another jack and be on a Linux TTY session. This same logic can be applied to telephones.

A visual representation on how “voice terminals” could be set up can be viewed here.

See Avaya Red, Avaya, Definity, Communication Manager, DCP, Digital Communications Protocol, Oryx/Pecos


Wireless – A type of cordless communication that requires a radio network (such as a “main base” and “repeaters” to extend the signal.) This is used indefiently for cell phone service and “cordless” telephones in enterprise setups. Cordless uses a single radio signal to make or receive calls.