(Source: arstechnica.co.uk)

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If you think BT has a hard time keeping up with customer demand and maintaining its infrastructure today, you should tune into Dial “B” for Britain: The Story of the Landline on BBC4 tonight at 9pm, which details the first 100-odd years of the UK’s telephony network, from Alexander Graham Bell returning to Britain in 1877 and wowing Queen Victoria with his newfangled device, to the nationalisation of the phone network in 1911, to the emergence of British Telecommunications Plc in 1981 and its privatisation a few years later.

Further Reading

A rare look inside a telephone exchangeDid you know that, at the turn of the 20th century, when the first nationwide telephone networks were being built, female switchboard operators were preferred because they were cheaper to hire and were perceived as more courteous to callers? Modern telephone exchanges, of course, are even cheaper but perhaps not quite as courteous.

Did you know that, even at the end of the 1970s, the UK’s telephone network didn’t have enough capacity for everyone in the country to have a phone line, and so multiple customers had to share a single “party line”?

Did you know that, way back in the 1800s, the UK’s telephone networks were mostly owned by smaller local companies? They were slowly brought together by the National Telephone Company (NTC) between 1881 and 1911—but then, after it became a monopoly, it was nationalised by the coalition Labour and Liberal government and folded in under the General Post Office. Notably, the municipal telephone system in Kingston upon Hull was one of the few telephone networks not acquired by NTC and escaped nationalisation, and it lives on as KCOM/Kingston Communications/KC today.

Further Reading

The secret world of microwave networksDid you know that BT Tower in London is actually a communications tower, and was constructed in the 1960s as the centrepiece of a nationwide microwave network that would eventually give the UK enough trunk bandwidth to satisfy demand? (Though it would soon be augmented and mostly replaced by optical fibre in the 1980s.)

Eventually, of course, providing a telephone network became less of a service and more of a business, and BT was privatised in 1984. But what’s next for the humble landline? Will it be winnowed by fibre-optic networks and mobile 5G, or will new DSL standards like G.fast allow those spindly copper wires to hold on a little longer?

Further Reading

How the Internet works: Submarine fibre, brains in jars, and coaxial cablesIf you want to learn about all of these things and more, watch The Story of the Landline on BBC4 tonight at 9pm. It’ll be available on-demand from BBC iPlayer for 30 days after it airs, too.

In the mean time, you might want to read our in-depth explainer of how the Internet works.

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More Info: arstechnica.co.uk

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