Telecoms in the modern world – as seen from 1969

I’m sure I’ve posted this video before, but it really is interesting. It was filmed way back in 1969 by the GPO (the General Post Office) and shows some of the ideas and expectations of communications in the 1990’s.

The Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill shows how the future GPO network, which became British Telecommunications in 1980 or “BT” as we know it now, might work.

Now, I remember a time before mobile phones became commonplace. This is even before that, in 1969 when man first set foot on the moon, and they were guessing how the telephone network would operate in the decades to come.

What get’s me is just how right they got it. They discuss a “wide band coaxial cable” going to street cabinets from the exchange. In reality this “wide band cable” eventually became a fibre connection used in FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet) connections, but they also mention how the shorter final hop to your home would be performed by normal coaxial cable or “millimetric radio links” – microwave connections basically.

Their new network would also allow worldwide video communications with something called “Viewphone”. This used “digital transmission with pulse-code transmission”. An identity code (effectively an IP address) is mentioned, and “document transmission” too – effectively fax machines, scanners and email attachments. It also shows an early version of auto-redial, answerphone and paging technology.

The acting is pretty terrible, especially in the first few seconds of the film and the item mentioning the endowment mortgage. However, that talk about mortgages also shows a “wide range of computer services” available to everyone via a computer terminal. Of course, this eventually became the internet that we use daily. It also shows remote working. Fantastic foresight for 1969..

If you want more, check the BT “Let’s Talk” YouTube channel. There’s a look at the “new” X System in telephone exchanges and how things looked in 1975. Did you know that there was over 50,000 operators in the UK alone?!

Also, if you’re reading this far, have a look at this System X demo from 1979 when the “*” and “#” keys were added to telephone keypads as part of the new “Pathfinder” testing which enabled users to enter shortcodes to access certain services.