A free-lance writer residing in Evanston, he has published stories and articles in The Saturday Evening Post, Scholastic, and the Chicago Sun-Times. He has also published two children's books.
Science fiction becomes fact

Bell Labs

Working on the site of an ancient Indian signaling hill, Bell Labs' scientists at Indian Hill are building electronic equipment which has and will revolutionize telephone service. Having achieved universal phone service, researchers are developing more useful phone services such as three-way calling and abbreviated dialing

NAPERVILLE, ILLINOIS can be reached by driving 25 miles west on the East-West Tollway. It's not a large town, 26,000 souls in ail. From Naperville, Chicago's largest buildings look fake, like toys in some science-fiction movie, and the city's pollution is just a distant arch of haze. The Naperville area is farming country— corn and soybeans — and on Naperville Road you will pass farm houses and weather-beaten red barns crumbling with age. But then you will come to a huge, five-story concrete and glass building that seems like a mirage on the countryside. This is Bell Telephone Laboratories' Indian Hill facility, a center for work on sophisticated switching systems used nationwide to make communications faster, easier and cheaper.

Picture, teletype and amplifying phones
There are 18 Bell Labs locations in the United States, and all have the same basic purpose: research and development which will improve telephone service. Indian Hill is the only Bell Lab location in Illinois, and it is the only one of the "Big Four" labs located outside of New Jersey.

The telephone has come a long way since 1876, when it was patented by Alexander Graham Bell. The first commercial telephones were installed in 1877 when a Boston banker connected his office to his home. The banker had to shift the telephone from his mouth to his ear, for in those days transmitter and receiver were not separate. In the past hundred years there have been improvements on the telephone which would probably make A. G. Bell's long white beard fall off. There are now picture-phones®, so that you can view the person you are speaking to; conference phones, so that many people can converse at once; teletype phones and amplifying phones, so that the deaf and hard of hearing can communicate; and touch-tone® phones, so that busy dialers won't tire their fingers. You can now talk to someone 5,000 miles away without the assistance of an operator, and you can have your calls automatically transferred to another number if you're going to be out.

Today, there are over 140 million telephones in the United States and over nine million in Illinois alone. But keep in mind that Bell Telephone, although titanic, is not the only telephone company. There are 1,700 other telephone companies in the United States, 60 of them in Illinois. These independent telephone companies, which connect with the Bell system, serve some of the largest communities in Illinois as well as some of the smallest. In fact, they cover a greater geographical area (more than 80 per cent of the land area) and more communities in Illinois than Illinois Bell. These "independents" serve 1.6 million of the 9.1 million phones in Illinois.

The telephone, to a great extent, has become an institution which we take for granted; actually, Bell Labs, which was begun in 1925, has accounted for many of the major innovations and improvements in the telephone system.

Bell, Western and AT&T
An explanation of the Bell family tree is in order. The parent company of the entire system is the AT&T corporation, which is often called "Ma Bell." (AT&T is a direct descendant of the partnership which paid for A. G. Bell's research.) AT&T has 23 Bell Telephone operating companies throughout the United States of which Illinois Bell is one. Another child of AT&T is Western Electric. A wholly owned subsidiary of AT&T, Western Electric manufactures items for the entire system. But now the family tree gets confusing. Bell Labs is half owned by AT&T and half by Western Electric.

March 1977 / Illinois Issues / 9

Bell Labs Bell Labs

Joe Grier, who is head of Personnel and Public Relations at Indian Hill, said: "This isn't just a blue sky company. You've got to remember that we get lots of pressure and demands for innovation from Western and AT&T." To give a prime example of Bell Labs' work, the transistor was invented at the Murray Hill, N.J., laboratory in 1947. The transistor has made it possible to miniaturize telephone equipment, thereby making telephone service faster and more reliable. The transistor has also revolutionized our entire society. Electric heart pacemakers, radar systems, calculators, portable tape recorders, pocket radios, hearing aids, communications satellites and countless other products are all based on the transistor.

Talking movies, solar cells, Telstar
Other well known inventions which have come out of Bell Labs' research are the talking film, the laser, the radio telescope, the solar cell, and communications satellites. Telstar was designed by Bell Labs, which is something to think of the next time you watch a live broadcast of ballet from the Soviet Union, or the Miss Universe pageant from Hong Kong.

The Indian Hill Lab at Naperville is built on the site of an ancient Potawatomi signaling hill. On the prominence where Indians once sent up smoke signals, Bell Labs' scientists are building electronic equipment which has and will revolutionize telephone service. It is doubtful that Indian Hill developments will produce anything of such generalized use as the transistor. At Indian Hill, work is focused on one aspect of telephone service: switching. Since 1966, when Indian Hill opened, engineers have been working on Electronic Switching Systems (ESS).

Switching is often defined as the interconnecting of any two telephones. You have a switch in your telephone. When your phone is resting in its cradle, the switch is off. When you pick up the phone, the switch is released and you have a complete circuit between yourself and the phone company. In your parents' or grandparents' time, the operator at the phone company then had to connect you to the number you desired. Now, this is all done automatically at the phone company. The first three digits that you dial connect you to the central office of the phone you're calling. The last four digits connect you to the particular phone you want. In the case of long distance you dial ten digits, with the first three automatically connecting you to the area long distance office.

Since the 1920's, electromechanical equipment has made possible direct dialing of local calls. But ESS is a recent development that allows it to be done quicker, cheaper, and more reliably. Joe Grier put it this way: "Think of ESS as a giant computer. Because of its electronic memory, ESS can do millions of tasks in a few seconds. And the key to ESS is the transistor. The transistor allows the equipment to be kept down to a reasonable size."

Public Relations Representative Ted Behne has worked for the Bell system eight years, and has spent the last two at Indian Hill. "Since the invention of the phone in 1876 the emphasis in the industry has been on providing universal service," said Behne. "That has been achieved in the sense that anyone can have a phone and it works. Now the emphasis has changed — the drive is to make the phone more useful. ESS makes possible all kinds of custom calling services. The customer can purchase three-way calling, so that he can talk to two other people without the benefit of the operator. He can have a transfer system in which he punches a coded number to have calls automatically transferred to another number. And there is abbreviated dialing, by which the customer can have frequently called numbers reduced to three digits."

Electronic Switching Systems
When you think about something like ESS, there is a tendency to forget that it is real, concrete equipment. At Indian Hill they have ESS equipment set up for experimentation — the same kind of ESS equipment that is used at the operating offices. Visually, the ESS equipment looks like something out of Orwell's 1984. There is a central control as well as corridors of panels 100 feet long. The panels are interconnected by a maze of multicolored wires, transistors, and memory banks. Simply put, the ESS is composed of a computerized brain and a switching system which carries out the orders of that brain.

There are four basic types of ESS's already in use, and all are set up for experimentation at Indian Hill. Number 1 ESS can handle 110,000 telephone lines and is used in large metropolitan areas

10 / March 1977 / Illinois issues

The Number 4 Electronic Switching Systems will keep long distance calls relatively low in cost and save Bell $1.5 billion a year

such as Chicago and Aurora. Number 2 ESS, first used in 1970, can handle up to 38,000 lines and is used in suburban or small metropolitan areas, such as Naperville. Number 3 ESS, just completed last year, is now serving Springfield, Neb. It can handle up to 4,500 lines and is designed especially for small town use.

Cost reduction, flexibility
Also completed in 1976 is the crowning achievement of the Indian Hill Lab. This is Number 4 ESS, which is the result of five years of engineering work. Number 4 ESS was designed for long distance calls, and it can automatically handle up to 550,000 long distance calls per hour, which is about 150 per second. The first Number 4 ESS began operating at 10 S. Canal in Chicago in January 1976. There now are Number 4 ESS in Kansas City, Mo.; Dallas, Tex., and Jacksonville, Fla. "Only about a dozen employees work at the 10 S. Canal facility," Ted Behne explained. "At 150 calls per second, can you imagine how many operators that would take?

"The Number 4 ESS costs more than $450 million to build, which makes it one of the largest development costs ever undertaken by private industry in this country. But we estimate it will save us $1.5 billion annually by 1980." This makes Number 4 ESS a terrific centennial birthday present from Bell Labs to AT&T. And these savings are also passed on to customers. Says Behne: "The consumer price index has increased 90 per cent since 1960. Phone rates in general have increased less than 40 per cent in that time. The consumer cost for interstate long-distance calls has increased by only five per cent."

This is an interesting statistic, considering that more of us are upset about the recent 20-cent cost for local calls on pay phones. The surprising fact is that the Bell system takes a loss on pay phones, even with the 20-cent call. One reason for this is that pay phones require an operator. The Bell system makes most of its money on long distance calling, even though that type of call has gone up only five percent in 16 years. So the Number 4 ESS should make everyone happy. It will keep long distance calls relatively low and it will allow Bell to save its $1.5 billion a year.

"There is another good aspect to ESS," said Ted Behne. "It is adaptable to change, so obsolescence is no longer a factor. There are all kinds of interesting possibilities for the future. For instance, in 1976 the transaction phone was first put to use, thanks to ESS. This is a phone which connects a store to a bank or credit bureau. The customer puts in a credit card and his credit can be immediately checked. So, ESS may do different things in 20 years without our having to change equipment. That is another factor which should help keep telephone costs down."

Indian Hill has one of the largest computer complexes in the Middle West. One interesting project of use to researchers is the "audio response system," a talking computer. Scientists can dial a coded number on a special phone and an eerie, computerized voice will tell them the status of the particular project they are working on.

Alexander Graham Bell once said, "Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds." A lot of brainpower went into developing the Number 4 Electronic Switching System. Indian Hill has a staff of more than 2,000, and of these about 700 are technical people — engineers, various kinds of scientists and electronics and computer experts. Of the technical people, about 460 have their master's degree and about 120 have their Ph.D. There are also 400 people at Indian Hill who are under the direct employment of Western Electric. There is a Western Electric plant in nearby Lisle. The total payroll for the Indian Hill Lab is more than $31 million per year.

Although there are no official statistics, Naperville Mayor Chester J. Rybicki says that close to half of the Lab employees live in and around Naperville. Says Mayor Rybicki: "It's truly a great company with great people. Any community where a Bell Lab is located will have nothing but advantages. The company officials are among the most cooperative of any people you could associate with. They've also involved themselves with Naperville civic events. There are Lab people on the City Plan Commission and on the Economic Development Commission which is trying to attract other industry to Naperville. The Lab even held an open house so that the people of Naperville could see what's going on."

Long term goals
What does the Indian Hill Lab hope to accomplish in the future? Of the 776 telephone prefixes in Illinois, 168 are served by ESS. Yet, in 1976, only 20 per cent of Illinois Bell customers have access to the service. "One of our long-term goals," said Behne, "is to have a national all-electronic network sometime after the year 2000. We also plan on making the phone even more versatile and we hope to do the best we can with telephone costs."

The experimentation and refinements of ESS at Indian Hill would certainly meet with Alexander Graham Bell's approval. It was 100 years ago that he predicted: "In the future wires will unite cities, and a person in one part of the country will communicate with another in a distant place."

March 1977 / Illinois Issues / 11

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