SHARE



ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Andrew Prokop
Andrew Prokop has been heavily involved in the world of communications since the early 1980s. He holds five United States...
Read Full Bio >>
SHARE



Andrew Prokop | May 26, 2015 |

 
   

Ancient Modern Communications

Ancient Modern Communications Even something as newfangled as SIP carries with it the mustiness of ancient times.

Even something as newfangled as SIP carries with it the mustiness of ancient times.

I live in what has been called the last eastern city in the United States -- Saint Paul, Minnesota. Our houses are old (I live in a 109-year-old Victorian), our roads are curvy (we have avenues that intersect avenues), and quite a few of our garages began their lives as horse barns. Still, despite the turn-of-the-last-century charm that can be found throughout the city, we do have electricity, indoor plumbing (albeit not always the best water pressure), and paved roads.

portable

However, come spring and the winter thaw, potholes open up across the city that shed light on the city's less sophisticated and not too distant past. Take a look under the multiple layers of asphalt that blanket our streets and you will find red clay bricks or better yet, glacier-rounded cobblestones. While the tires on my car aren't particularly fond of these archeological finds, I love the seasonal glimpses we get into our city's past. I am reminded that what we think of as new and exciting today, will be seen as out-of-date and archaic tomorrow.

Take a good look at modern communications systems and protocols and you will uncover similar relics of history. Even something as newfangled as SIP carries with it the mustiness of ancient times. For example, every SIP request or response ends with a blank line. While this may not look all that odd if you were to visually inspect a SIP message, a packet tracing tool such as Wireshark shows you that a blank line is made up of two ASCII characters -- the carriage return (hexadecimal 0x0D) and a line feed (hexadecimal 0x0A).

Those of you old enough to have taken a typewriting class in high school will remember that when you reached the end of a line you would take hold of the return lever and throw it to the left. Not only did this bring you back to the margin (carriage return), it advanced the paper to the next line (line feed). This means that inside every single SIP message you have something that dates back to a mechanical procedure that originated in the early 1800s. So much for being cutting edge.

Dial Tone

This 'old meets new' aspect can be found in a number of other components of communications. Consider the sound you hear every time you lift a telephone receiver from its cradle. Dial tone was invented way back in 1908 as a way to tell the telephone user that he or she had successfully connected to the phone company. Although it took a while to gain widespread adoption across the world, by the late 1940s and early 1950s, dial tone was the norm for all telephones.

Well, here we sit in the year 2015 and dial tone is still the "comfort sound" of analog, digital, and IP telephone systems. We have managed to learn to live without it on cell phones and soft clients, but it's expected everywhere else. You pick up a handset or press hands-free, and that 1908 hum still comes out at you.

While some new IP telephones create dial tone within the telephone itself, many rely on older media resources within the communications system to do it for them. Those resources are engaged when the handset is lifted and stick around until a media stream is established with the called party. So, even SIP phones sometimes need a little old fashioned TDM boost to get the ball rolling.

Pennsylvania 6-5000

Everyone is familiar with the fact that dial pad buttons on telephones have both a number and three-to-four letters. The letters "abc" are assigned to the number 2, "def" to the number 3, and so on.

Long before electronics and software, telephone exchange buildings were dedicated to circuits that began with the first two or three digits of a seven-digit telephone number. When I was a kid growing up in Scottsdale, Ariz., my telephone number was Whitney 5-2497 where "Wh" mapped to the numbers 9 and 4. I am not sure when letter and number combinations ceased to exist, but for many years that was the "number" that was printed on the telephone itself and the "number" I gave out to my friends.

For reasons dating back to rotary telephones and pulse dialing, the number 1 has no letters. A single pulse could be a disturbance or noise spike on the line and they didn't want the exchange that served 1x to be inundated with erroneous calls.

Despite the elimination of the hard-wired local exchanges, those letters stuck around, but these days we employ them in a way that was never intended. Instead of telephone prefixes, the letters are now used to create clever mnemonics to help us remember numbers. For many people, 1-800-Got-Junk is a lot easier to remember than 1-800-468-5865.

Of course, with the advent of directories and click-to-call interfaces, the notions of remembering and dialing telephone numbers (mnemonics or not) are quickly becoming obsolete. These days, we open up a contacts list, select a name, and press "dial." In fact, it has gotten to the point where I no longer pay attention to telephone numbers. I have worked at the same company for over five years, and I doubt I know more than two or three of my coworker's telephone numbers. Why should I memorize numbers when the tools are so easy to use? There is enough clutter in my brain as it is.

The King is Still Not Dead

Who remembers the old Saturday Night Live sketches about the never-ending death of the former dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco? I have been in telecom long enough to know that despite all the changes we've gone through, there are skeletons in the closet that refuse to go away. We now have instant message, WebRTC, video chat, and the omnipresent cloud, yet we still hang onto technologies pioneered by Alexander Graham Bell. We have Unify Circuit, and we still have 100-year-old dial tone. We have wide-band Opus, but the 1972-developed G.711 is far more common.

If there is one lesson to learn from this it's that every step forward carries with it many of the steps we've previously taken. Some technologies supplant the ones that came before them, while most simply build upon a well-established base. Knowing where you came from will make you more aware of where you are and where you want to be. Keep that in mind the next time you take a phone off-hook and hear that time-worn hum.

So, who's up for a little tip and ring?

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.

Follow Andrew Prokop on Twitter and LinkedIn!
@ajprokop
Andrew Prokop on LinkedIn





COMMENTS



August 16, 2017

Contact centers have long been at the leading edge of innovation in communications technology, given their promise of measurable ROI and the continual need to optimize customer interactions and sta

July 12, 2017

Enterprises have been migrating Unified Communications & Collaboration applications to datacenters - private clouds - for the past few years. With this move comes the opportunity to leverage da

May 31, 2017

In the days of old, people in suits used to meet at a boardroom table to update each other on their work. Including a remote colleague meant setting a conference phone on the table for in-person pa

August 16, 2017
World Vision U.S. is finding lots of goodness in RingCentral's cloud communications service, but as Randy Boyd, infrastructure architect at the global humanitarian nonprofit, tells us, he and his team....
August 11, 2017
Alicia Gee, director of unified communications at Sutter Physician Services, oversees the technical team supporting a 1,000-agent contact center running on Genesys PureConnect. She catches us up on th....
August 4, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, has lately been working on integrating enterprise communications into Internet of Things ecosystems. He shares examples and off....
July 27, 2017
Industry watcher Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares her perspective on this acquisition, discussing Mitel's market positioning, why the move makes sense, and more.
July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular BlogGeek.me blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.