2000s – Telephony’s Destruction by Computers and The ‘Net

This is the last installment to the history of the Telephone. It has a definite end because people have failed to understand and respect the history. It was more than just to make something ring and talk or listen to.

In the late 1990s, the world was all a rage of the rise of the Internet, short for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, a driver that enables a computer to connect to other computers; whether it was across the desk or across the planet or to the moon.

Better known to geeks as TCP/IP, it’s “killer application” (you know the product that becomes the rage) was the World Wide Web. As you are seeing with this site, there is graphical elements, and you are most likely using a mouse to point and click to words and pictures. This similar thing that made the Macintosh special was what really got EVERYONE on the Internet bandwagon.

The Internet was invented by the US Government’s Defense Advance Research Agency, better known by it’s acronym as DARPA. DARPA wanted to build a low fi technological network that would work better over the telephone service. If say a Cold War impacted the US’ telephone network, calls would automatically fail because despite that time, when AT&T used electronic switching, routing calls automatically was not widespread. The Internet is a technically a “mesh” network, where basically if say my iPhone is in the basement and my Mac is upstairs, for you and me, it’s far way, but they see themselves as if they are a foot away.

This type of network is not physical. So don’t say your Ethernet cable is an “Internet cord”, what makes it work is software on the computer, on the modem, the router and your Internet Service Provider. You can have a computer not have an Internet driver and not be able to connect.

Another hidden secret is how the Internet is so dependent on software. The IP “stack” as its also known is cheap, and free in many instances. For something to resemble like telephone service, would require reliable hardware, like high class servers and networking hardware. But for so many, costs come before reliability. And to make it as reliable as possible would be your responsibility as vendors want to do away with expensive product development so they can please consumers who don’t even care to pay for pennies. This sets a dangerous path if not enough IT workers that don’t understand infrastructure in case of a sudden flow of internet traffic or telephone calls. And sadly so many don’t because they choose not to.

However in late 1990s, so many companies got on the bandwagon from networking hardware vendors, to sites like eToys.com, to the PC industry and trade workers feeding in fiber optic cabling around the nation.

As the millenium turned around, the country was spared from the “Y2K bug” in short many lower end computers of that time had the possibility to not compute any date after 1999 and such machines were in critical environments, ether causing a total disruption or complete annoyance. A new season came in the spring of that year, causing the stock markets to fall like a cliff. So many people threw in so much money on companies that started a new industry that no one could compare it to another industry, seeing the NASDAQ Composite index starting in 1999from about 2,000 points peaking to 5,000 that March and back below 2,000 points in the end of 2000.

A recession loomed and on September 11th, 2001 terror attack hit lower Manhattan, the Pentagon and in suburban Pittsburgh, PA. All these were suicide plane crashes deliberately attacking major physical figures of America.  On that atrocious day,  3,000 lives were lost, the World Trade Center could hold about 50,000 people on the peak of a business day. At that time critical communications were disrupted in New York and D.C. and according to AT&T, the switching systems at the World Trade Center did survive despite total damage to the Twin Towers, while wires were severed which caused outages. This caused a 4 day trading halt for the major US stock markets till the wiring was redirected.  The testament to carrier class switching systems to handle very major damage shows how great carrier class technology that would soon change.

While America (at least for the most part of the citizens) got over September 11th, the innovation continued. The Web prospered, some companies survived the crash; and the US had a problem. They put in so much fiber. What to do with it?

In 2004, Facebook was created in dorm in Harvard University for the uppity snobs to connect to their fellow full name snobby peers.  The following year, saw YouTube beginning from a local pizza joint in California. Around the same time, Skype, once a peer-to-peer VoIP service, was common amongst the younger people. Cell phones were on the rise, while wirelines were declining. While consumers benefitted,  public safety answering points would have a harder time finding people who were calling 9-1-1 from a cell phone.

The BlackBerry 8300 handheld smartphone. Better known by it’s slang name as “CrackBerry” given how “addicting” checking email was back in the day.

While smartphones like Research in Motion’s BlackBerry were the rage (the rebels would flaunt their Palm Trios), Apple Computer, Inc in 2007 made a surprising announcement. On the very same day in the very same keynote where Steve Jobs said “Computer” would be dropped in it’s corporate identity, he introduced a device that worked like an iPod, but was also a phone. The iPhone was first smartphone to be released to the masses, giving consumers similar feature functionality to the BlackBerry devices.

The phone was not introduced to market till that June, and had exclusive rights to AT&T for about five years. This phone also defined “carrier subsidies”. This was done so Apple and AT&T could split the sale of the phone so AT&T could build out a network that could handle mobile broadband. The first iPhone did not have 3G service, and was mocked for a few years.

In the first decade of the new Millennium, there was a rise of consumer Internet services, a rise of more connected devices, and more uses of IP devices.

The Device that Destroyed Office Telephony: the Cisco 7900 Series IP Phones. The only things it can do is the MANY flavors of call forwarding, Do Not Disturb, handsfree calling, and juggle a handful of lines. Paging, priority calling, a lamp based DND activity or forwarding was too much for Cisco coders.

This could also mark the end of the history of the telephone as so many had came to rely on for so many years and decades. In the 2000s, voice over IP became another technology all of the rage. All it is continuous feed of voice talking back and listening over the network. While VOIP is considered to be “Internet Telephony”, the sad truth is so many of the programmers and coders alike kept this simple thing very complicated.

Network administrators are not familiar with telephony language or technology, and this lead the rise of VOIP in the enterprise lead by companies like Cisco. In it’s early years, Cisco had a bad track record of making office phone systems and even ones for carriers. While Cisco  finally adopted the “phone guy’s” way of doing things, they continued to preach the “networking way” as the “efficient way”.

Between the different technological skillsets and the businesses cutting down on expenses, understanding the deep knowledge of the Internet has been offset by not adapting simple features like paging, priority calling etc., with marketing types stating that YOU would benefit with plugins to a Salesforce.com data on your telephone.

Digital telephony in the office while it’s peak was in the 1990s went down in the 2000s due to the aforementioned reasons. Today on the telephone front, it’s back to the 1960s as opposed to the 1990s, just that the office phones are like smartphones, it can do everything but place a call. Don’t be surprised to see if a call doesn’t go through because the phone’s “provisioning server” went down due to a DDOS attack.

Rotary phones still work. But they want them to be obsolete! Why? Because it’s old and it works; and coders to VOIP systems doesn’t want to be bothered writing code for a driver to support a phone of their grandmothers age!

Many small businesses are now adopting VOIP faster than say the enterprises and given the differences between small offices and larger businesses; and given that smaller enterprises outnumber larger ones; the complexity and confusion and worse reliability may very well have harder consequences then Fords or the Bank of Americas of the world had to deal with over a decade ago.

The telephone, invented in the 1800s was a  device that was to assist hard of hearing, and the technology blossomed for everyone but the deaf. With the rise of the Internet, some of the population has become less sensitized to society and the world around them. The smartphones are now instructing people, instead of assisting. Most people use their “smartphones” to do everything but make a call. Worse is on businesses. People now make fun of office telephones, because these wired devices are so old fashioned. And those 500 sets, some may go so far to say they should go 6′ under with their mother or grandmother.

IT professionals do not understand socialization and human and customer  relations, they care about their own technologies they like and force it upon others. They also don’t care about “end users”, many are well known to talk them down. And these same people treat the phones as such. More phones are more beat up, handset cables over stretched, and often needing TLC. The only ones who care are ones with telecom backgrounds, and those careers are dying. But the skillset shouldn’t die as well, but so many hate those skills to begin with, and therefore, this is the new normal.

I hope you have learned something in this series and on this site. I put a lot of work because this technology is so under appreciated. Until there’s an emergency.