Sunday, June 19, 2011

Telephone wires?

In an episode of Big Bang, Sheldon, in a feud with Penny, gets her underwear (left unattended in the laundry room) onto nearby telephone wires.

Got me wondering: it's been donkeys years since I've seen any telephone wires in any country. Do they still have them anywhere in the Western world?

BTW, I remember a comment in a periodical: originally when telephone wires went up, there were many protests about them ruining the landscape and being ugly. Then many years later when they started to go down when they put them in the ground (I guess that would always be fiberoptic, yes?), everybody by then had paintings on the wall of streets or landscapes with telephone wires hanging there gently, so then people felt regretful that they went away! I suppose it's a lesson about beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

(Hmm, I wonder why they were put on poles instead of in the ground originally. I doubt it can have been much easier.) (See comments.)

(Thanks to Bert for the link to this amazing picture.)

18 comments:

Steve said...

I think I've seen them around in some rare places, but mostly you see power lines.

Bert said...

Hmm, I wonder why they were put on poles instead of in the ground originally. I doubt it can have been much easier.

The very first telephone wires had no insulation, just bare copper, so there was nothing else to do! Then there were cotton and/or oiled paper insulation, hardly robust enough to be buried.

Highly flexible thermoplastics came only after WWII, and that was the real game changer, with telephone lines now bundled in hundreds of pairs in a single low-cost, rugged and small cable.

In any event, burying cables is still no simple feat. Underground electricity distribution is tricky at best, and a lot more costly. In your typical North-American burb, like this place where I live, everything is still above ground except on major arteries which have been "cleaned up".

Of course, equipment and methods have changed over time, and today's aerial infrastructures are a lot less obtrusive than they have been.

Newer developments often have their infrastructures planned for underground deployment, but that comes at a real cost. Especially here, where the ground freezes solid two meter down every winter. Ever heard of the crushing and shearing power of ice?

I know that the development of the telephone was radically different in Europe, where the early days were... chaotic?

"The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys." ;-P

A phenomenal forward leap however occurred by the late '70s and well into the '80s, which has led to today's state-of-the-art European telephone network. The thing is, by that time all of the most important modern goodies were available for deployment, be it the Digital Multiplex Switch or the optical fiber.

This means that Europe pretty much bypassed a lot of the intermediate (and oft awkward) development steps which have formed the basis of Telco operations here... I could therefore not comment on the situation across the big pond, for there is very little common ground between the two.

eolake said...

Thanks, Bert!

I have not seen telephone cables anywhere I've been in Western Europe for at least a couple decades. It's interesting that it's different in North America.

Hmm, are you saying that most of Europe did not get telephone wiring until they got fiberoptic in the seventies? That surprises me.

eolake said...

"Of course, equipment and methods have changed over time, and today's aerial infrastructures are a lot less obtrusive than they have been."

Hmm, how so?

Timo Lehtinen said...

Just about everything in this post is incorrect. Yes, there are still over-the-ground telephone wires all over western Europe. And no, what gets put underground is not always fiber.

You need to understand the difference between the core network vs. subscriber line. And how they are implemented in rural areas vs. urban settings.

All this is adequately described in Wikipedia.

eolake said...

OK, I stand corrected then.

Often I don't see this blog as having Formal Articles, but more like a relaxed tea-chat with friends. I fling out an idle thought, wondering about this or that which pops into my head, and a couple of people answer me if it pleases them. It's just a pleasant, unserious activity.

Alex said...

My neighbourhood - built in '68 is all underground, but around the corner, and the rest of town even TV cable is overhead.

Bert said...

Well, blogger just flushed a half-hour of writing... sure cools off any enthusiasm.

[...] are you saying that most of Europe did not get telephone wiring [...]

No, no, I did not mean anything such. But while we had automated telephone service in every house in the '60s, many Europeans still had to walk to the Café and ask an operator to set up their call.

By the time Europe stepped in high gear and decided to provide service to everyone, digital electronics had made it possible to move the Central Office from a brick & mortar building to progressively smaller boxes, which are now commonly hung onto phone poles or buried in distribution tunnels.

One might thus say that Europe has "slept through" the entire phase of massive analog telephone deployment, much to their advantage might I add. That is what I meant.

Bert said...

Sorry for the serial postings, but I don't feel like being flushed again.

Now, as Timo mentioned, optical fiber was initially used only on the trunk side of Telco operations (i.e. between central offices), but he is wrong in implying that this is still the case.

Commercial fiber hookups have been widely available for years now, and residential fiber service is now offered in many communities as well. And in many areas, direct fiber hookups are now mandatory for new buildings.

And even before fiber was deployed right up to the end user, is was a key element in the decentralization of the network, leading eventually to the advent of broadband internet services over wide coverage areas.

Anonymous said...

Got me wondering: it's been donkeys years since I've seen any telephone wires in any country. Do they still have them anywhere in the Western world?

What, are you serious? Yes they still exist. I'm sure in the bleak industrial landscape of your area they must be plentiful, but you never go outside...

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bert!

Yes, thanks Bert. Next you'll be telling us the sky is blue, and what goes up must come down...

Anonymous said...

That is what I meant.

You shouldn't have tried to clarify. You seemed like an idiot before, but your attempt to clarify just made everyone realize how much more wrong you were than it at first seemed.

Paul Bradforth said...

Eolake, where I live in Cornwall they're ALL above ground for a good reason: just below the ground where we live is solid granite … which, luckily, gives rise to China clay, which is what your favourite inkjet paper is probably coated with.

Bert said...

You ask me how can utility cabling be less obtrusive than it has been? I really can't help myself, I just have to answer with a question: if they are not less obtrusive, how is it that you no longer see the wires? Because I can pretty much assure you that they are still there, for the most part.

Another question for you: are you sure that you could correctly identify aerial cables? What's telephone, what's cable TV, and what is power? I spent some time once to identify all the stuff running on the poles across the street in front of this house. There are three separate optical fiber runs (one of which is actually buried but follows the same path), obviously cable TV stuff with broadband cable internet access, standard copper pairs for telephone distribution originating from a concentrator not 100 meters from here, 220 Volt mains power, and 25kV high tension distribution. All on the same poles!

The thing is, it's all part of our normal environment to a degree that is hard to fathom. Sometime during the '90s I went touring San Francisco, photographing the painted ladies.

It wasn't until I got back home and the film was processed that I realized how badly some of the houses were disfigured by the utility cabling. In context, I simply hadn't seen it.

Make an effort on your next stroll, and you will see the wires.

eolake said...

All right then.

"Sorry for the serial postings, but I don't feel like being flushed again."

That works.
Or for more than a couple paragraphs, one could write first in a text app and save like normal as one goes along. (Actually I don't know how many people have that habit, but I acquired it early on.)

Timo Lehtinen said...

Often I don't see this blog as having Formal Articles, but more like a relaxed tea-chat with friends. I fling out an idle thought, wondering about this or that which pops into my head, and a couple of people answer me if it pleases them. It's just a pleasant, unserious activity.

I understand. This reminds me of a problem I've been having recently: anyone know the name of the King of Spain? It used to be Franco, but who it is at present just escapes me. What do you think? Can we get a friendly chat going over this subject matter? If you guys can solve this problem, maybe we can then extend the discussion to the names of the Kings of some other countries? There is so much to remember here. ;-)

eolake said...

Yes, I understand your position. And I remember you have gently dinged me before about being lazy about looking things up myself.

But I think there's grey tones. "The king of spain" has a simple, short answer. The questions here don't. And look at the interesting data we got out in the process and not just for myself either. I didn't realize that plastic insulation for wires was invented that late, or that they used oiled paper before that, or that NYC used to have *that* many phone wires hanging in the street! Now I know, and any interested readers know, and it was faster than reading a wiki article, and more pleasant because it's conversation between friends.

Dave Nielsen said...

Timo, you've got to remember Eolake isn't a working stiff like the rest of us. This is the kind of thing people do when they've got nothing but time.

I think, Eolake, that you should really get into Twitter. It was made for this kind of thing.