In 1958 the telecommunications world was a much different place than it is today. Back then you didn’t own your phone you leased it from the phone company. Party lines were fairly common and in rural areas there was a community phone located in a general store or post office or other public gathering place. If something was wrong, you called the telephone company and they came out and repaired the phone. Technicians’ tools were much different too. Back then screwdrivers, needle nose pliers, diagonal cutters, a wiggy or kickmeter, butt set, and a trusty can wrench were the tools of a telephone tech. Today phones are private property, party lines and community phones are all but extinct, and the technician’s tools bag have many more items in it. The convergence of Voice, Data and Video (VDV) has forced the technician to become much more sophisticated, and the tools he uses have changed as well (although some tools such as the Can Wrench are still true workhorses).
Entering into the 60’s the first touch tone phones were introduced. The changeover from the letter number system to all numbers was in full swing and things were starting to get more sophisticated. However, telephony was still connected through the trusty twisted pair. The late seventies and eighties brought huge change to the telecom industry. The telephone company monopoly was broken up and you no longer needed to get your physical phone from the phone company. The connections on the old main frames were starting to switch from wire wrap to punch down and digital started to play a more important role as the switching technology changed over from relay to electronic. The phone system was still separate and run on twisted pair technology. Things were about to change.
In the mid 1990’s the internet started to become more mainstream. Connecting to the internet required the use of a modem and a telephone line and ˗ compared with the data speeds of today ˗ was incredibly slow . However many of the tools used back in the 50’s were still being used. You still need your handy can wrench, diagonal cutter and needle nose pliers. The test equipment required is a different story. While still needing a handy butt set you now needed test equipment with the ability to check data accuracy as well as data speed.
The 2000’s brought about faster and faster change; we no longer talk telephony, its VDV, its IP telephony, and now cable providers offer telephone service. The twisted pair is being replaced with fiber optic cable to the home (FTTH) or fiber to the neighborhood (FTTN). Most technicians are now armed with very high-tech pieces of test equipment, and other tools such as fiber optic strippers, compression tools for cable, and even satellite finders for those using satellite TV service.
In the next decade where will communications go from here? We see the convergence of VDV and the next generation of connectivity in process, with fiber and satellite. Add in cellular telephony and the role it plays in communications and you can see that the future is filled with endless possibilities. While many of the tools have changed and advanced I can think of three that will remain; the trusty can wrench, the diagonal cutter, and the needle nose plier.