Four Decades of Telecommunications Evolution: A Personal Journey by Steve Bryant
In 1983, the realm of telecommunications was starkly different. In my four-decade-long career, I’ve bore witness to a dynamic transition from age-old mechanics to the digital era, from voice to data, and from traditional telecoms to the ubiquitous mobile phenomenon.
The Days of the Strowger Exchange
My early days with BT were in the Strowger electro-mechanical exchange as apprentice maintenance engineer. This system, dating back to 1891, seemed almost eternal, having remained largely unchanged for almost a century. But soon, with BT’s privatisation and a shift to digitalisation, the Strowger exchange maintenance teams, once over 20-strong, dwindled to just one engineer, singlehandedly maintaining a digital exchange.
Transition to Digital and Computer Advancements
My move to BT’s new computer centre (NACC) coincided with a new digital management era, which saw the introduction of itemised customer billing and BT introducing its first NOCs. I distinctly remember the time when upgrading the storage disks on our Dec Vax (Digital) computers to 1.2 Gb seemed outlandish. The mere idea of our modern PCs were a fantasy? These were times when Windows needed to be uploaded on to a SUN workstation due to the processing power required. Oh, how the tides of tech have turned over the last decades!
The Orange Wave: Mobile Revolution
A shift to Orange after its launch in 1996 transported me to the frontline of mobile telecommunications. I got the opportunity to hone my skills and knowledge in a wonderfully innovative environment. Working in network design, I ultimately headed up the Core Network Design team. In the early 2000s voice ruled the roost in those days. Despite being the new kid on the block, Orange’s meteoric rise to the top demanded rapid network expansion. The once underestimated SMS/Texting evolved to become the torchbearer of mobile data services, redefining communication. I never thought it would catch on! I recall visiting Helsinki during that period and speaking with my Nokia account manager, mocking his assertion that teenagers leaving school were at the forefront of a paradigm shift to SMS/Texting. How wrong I was!
The Data Service Surge and Apps Era
With the introduction of HSCSD, GPRS and 3G, mobile usage underwent a metamorphosis. Initially, data connections were corporate luxuries. But with improved speeds, the common user embraced browsing. The PAYG system democratised mobile phone ownership, circumventing the strict credit checks for contracts, and the advent of mobile apps amplified mobile utility, converting the mobile phone from just a communication tool to an indispensable life accessory.
The Global Orange Umbrella and B2B Innovations
With France Telecom’s acquisition of Orange, a global rebrand ensued and I moved to their innovation centre in Paris (Technocentre) focusing on B2B services. This period saw mobiles become an integral part of business, and we worked on strategies to embed them even further into a company’s communication infrastructure. Initiatives like virtual PBX and Fixed Mobile Convergence were launched globally, making mobiles an extension of existing office systems. As mobiles became ubiquitous, Orange explored exporting items from our wallets onto our phones!
From Contactless to Multifunctionality
My next move was to head up the Transport and Ticketing team at Orange. Here we focused on transport and ticketing transformation across Europe. With many countries’ transport systems having already migrated from tickets to cards, mobiles took this evolution the next step, removing the need for a separate card at all. This, alongside contactless payments, set the stage for a world where our phones replaced both wallets and computers, becoming the ultimate single communications device!
The Cloudcell Technologies Chapter: Embracing 5G
Finally, my long career journey has taken me to Cloudcell Technologies, where I occupy the role of Technical Director. It is the perfect environment to leverage the experiences and knowledge I have accumulated over the last 40 years to help businesses truly capitalise on this digital era we life in.
Our focus on wireless connectivity over 4G and 5G, ensures every business can access reliable, high-speed broadband. Essential in today’s world.
In retrospect, the telecommunications industry has not just changed; it has metamorphosed. I’ve been privileged to witness this incredible transformation firsthand. It’s clear that we’ve evolved from an era of simplicity to a dynamic age where communication transcends boundaries, devices, and imaginations.
I am just excited to see what is next…