Monday, September 5, 2016

"The technology has changed quite a bit"


     Thousands of Chicagoans pass this nondescript building near the Loop every day and never give it a second glance. That is intentional. Made of beige grooved concrete, it is identified only by a single small plaque: “AT&T.” But don’t let its modest exterior fool you.
     “This building touches every single resident of the city,” said Jim Wilson, AT&T’s Area Manager Network Services.
     Those who do pause might notice something peculiar: no windows on most floors. Why build a 538-foot-tall building where only the second and the top seven floors have windows? The short answer is, because what’s inside isn’t able to look out and nobody outside is supposed to look in. Those at AT&T refer to the place only by its address, which is . . . well, they’d rather I not say. Security.

   A bit of online sleuthing will turn up the Holabird & Root-designed building easily enough, but you can understand their caution. Not only does this center handle much of the city’s phone and internet traffic, but all the 911 calls come through here. Pressed for something to call the place, AT&T officials say they refer to it as an “Office” or a “Mega-Office,” one of three in the city.
     “This is one of the key switching stations for AT&T,” said Warren Salek, assistant vice president of the company’s Radio Access Engineering division, guiding a tour of the facility never seen by the public. “Some of the first electronic switching systems were installed right here in this building.”
     Built in 1970, the building actually has just 27 stories, though it is tall as a 50-story building because each floor is double height, built to accommodate enormous banks of telephone....

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  1. I remember when it was called Canal East & Canal West, as each side of the building was independent of the other side.
    Once there was an A/C failure on one side & they brought in fans & portable A/C equipment to keep it all running.

  2. So now corporate toady Warren Salek is telling people AT&T invented fiber optic communications in 1984, that's too funny. Here is the wikipedia page of the fellow who invented it in the early 70's, Forrest M. Mims III. Note the section "Using LEDs as narrow band light sensors", specifically the second in-text citation. In 1973 he sent a letter to Bell Labs outlining his work, and a suggestion they could cooperate in further development of fiber optic communication. A letter in response informed Forrest that his idea was impractical. The scientist who later claimed to have invented fiber optic communications worked two doors down from the letter writer. Forest Mims' wrote a book "Siliconnections: Coming of Age in the Electronic Era", here is an amusing 12 page excerpt from Forest Mims' book that tells the story of Mims versus Bell Labs. He won a sizable settlement, and an agreement not to divulge certain details. I guess that agreement didn't stop AT&T from claiming they invented it first.

  3. When I was very young AT&T was referred to as "The telephone company." How quaint that now sounds.

    And less long ago one of the advertising agencies I worked with had the AT&T account and made an award winning commercial titled "Joey Called." It featured a father telling his wife that their son, away at college on another coast, had called. Seeing her look of alarm he said soothingly,"He just wanted to say 'hello.'" It was intended to counter the notion that a "long distance call" was a great expense, incured only to announce some life-changing event. Now we chat with frinds in countries around the world for a pittance. Not giving it a second thought.

    And it is good to be reminded that this shrinking of the world didn't happen by magic.

    Tom Evans

  4. Very informative column today. We've come a long way since party lines and rotary phones.

  5. Very interesting and informative, I love these field trip we get to go on with you.

  6. "“There’s no true wireless,” said Wilson. “Everything starts here then goes out to cell towers. You’re walking down the street with your cellphone, you’re still being serviced from here, still starting and terminating out of here.”" This blows my mind. I guess I'd always figured it was going from my phone to some satellite somewhere, rather than to a big building with lots of wires in it.

  7. How has the technology changed in the seven years since this was written?


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