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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Now For Something Completely The Same (#1AESS Retirement)

I just got word that on or about right now, the last active AT&T/Western Electric #1AESS telephone switches (generally confined to the former SBC territory) are being taken out of service.  This matters because the railroads are currently speeding towards the completely sterile, 100% digital environment that the telecoms have apparently just achieved.  Unlike railroads, which still have a few instances of electro-mechanical interlocking machines and hundreds of relay plants in service, the teleco's banished the last electro-mechanical switch from their network back in 2002, with the majority of the work taking place between 1970 and the 1990.  Back in the day, there was an entire scene of people who would go from place to place, listening to all the strange ways that the phone system functioned.  Today this sort of task would be a fools errand because everything is the same across the entirety of North America. 

Until recently, the #1ESS and #1AESS were the only exceptions.  Sort of like the 3400 series L cars or the NYCTA R68's and their cam-controlled DC propulsion systems, they were analog machines build in a digital world.  While the higher order functions were computer controlled, the actual switching was carried out using reed relays.  It's basically the N-X CTC panel of telephone switches with a computer bolted on to handle some of the route selection functions.  Even then, the attached were old school enough to fall into the "cool" category. 

Like with classic railroad signaling surviving on out of the way branch lines, the #1A aand #1 switches held on due to the recent wholesale divestment in copper wire / landline telephone services.  Still, the economics eventually because just too lopsided in favor of replacement and AT&T canceled its support contract with Western Electric successor Lucent in 2015, with an expected retirement date of 2017.  

This is why it's so important to get out and capture the classic technology before its just collecting dust in the corner of a museum.  In a few decades just about everything will be software running on some bog standard processor mounted on a raspberry pi.

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