It’s a common enough Hollywood trope that we’ve all probably seen it: the general, chest bespangled with medals and ribbons, gazes at a big screen swarming with the phosphor traces of incoming ICBMs, defeatedly picks up the phone and somberly intones, “Get me the president.” We’re left on the edge of our seats as we ponder what it must be like to have to deliver the bad news to the boss, knowing full well that his response will literally light the world on fire.
Scenes like that work because we suspect that real-life versions of it probably played out dozens of times during the Cold War, and likely once or twice since its official conclusion. Such scenes also play into our suspicion that military and political leaders have at their disposal technologies that are vastly superior to what’s available to consumers, chief among them being special communications networks that provide capabilities we could only have dreamed of back then.
As it turns out, the US military did indeed have different and better telephone capabilities during the Cold War than those enjoyed by their civilian counterparts. But as we shall see, the increased capabilities of the network that came to be known as AUTOVON didn’t come so much from better technology, but more from duplicating the existing public switched-telephone network and using good engineering principles, a lot of concrete, and a dash of paranoia to protect it.
Continue reading “AUTOVON: A Phone System Fit For The Military”
Here is a great introduction to a practical application of electromagnetic theory—the field telephone. It’s a training film from 1961 that covers the sound-powered, local battery, and common battery systems along with the six basic components they use: generators, ringers, transmitters, receivers, induction coils, and capacitors.
Clear illustrations and smart narration are the hallmarks of these Army training films, and this one begins with a great explanation of generator theory. The phone’s ringer uses electromagnetic attraction and repulsion to do the mechanical work of striking the bells. Similarly, the sound waves generated by a caller’s speech move an armature to create an alternating electrical current that is transmitted and converted back to sound waves on the receiving end.
In the local battery system, the battery pushes pulsating DC to carry the voice transmission. An induction coil increases the capabilities of this system, but capacitors are required to filter out the frequencies that would overload the receiver, passing only the higher speech frequencies.
In order for several stations to communicate, the use of a switchboard is required to patch the calls through. There are many advantages of a common battery system with regard to call switching: no local battery is necessary, nor is a generator needed at each station. Calls are easier to place, and communication is much faster.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Basic Telephony In The Field”
The SIP protocol is commonly used for IP telephone communications. Unfortunately it’s notorious for having issues with NAT traversal. Even some major vendors can’t seem to get it right. [Stephen] had this problem with his Cisco WRVS4400N router. After a bit of troubleshooting, he was able to come up with a workaround that others may find useful.
The router had built in SIP ALG functionality, but it just didn’t work. [Stephen] was trying to route SIP traffic from a phone to an Asterisk PBX system behind the router. The router just couldn’t properly handle these packets regardless of whether SIP ALG was enabled or disabled.
[Stephen] first tried to change the SIP port on the external VOIP phone from the default of 5060 to something else. Then he setup port forwarding on the router to the Asterisk box to forward the traffic to the Asterisk system on the original port. This sort of worked. The calls would go through but they would eventually drop after about 20 seconds.
The only thing that [Stephen] could get to work completely was to change the SIP port in Asterisk’s sip.conf file using the “bindport” directive. He changed it to some random unused high port number. Then he setup port forwarding on the router to forward incoming UDP packets on that port to the Asterisk system. This worked fine, but now all of the original phones behind the router stopped working because they were configured to use the default port of 5060.
Rather than re-configure all of the phones in the organization, [Stephen] made one change on the Asterisk system. He setup an iptables rule to forward all incoming traffic on UDP port 5060 to the new SIP port. Now all of the phones are working with minimal changes across the organization. It’s a lot of hassle to go through just because the router couldn’t handle SIP correctly, but it gets the job done.
Really. As this wonderfully narrated talkie picture from 1939 will attest, keeping even one drop of water from penetrating undersea cables is of the utmost importance.
How do they do it? Many, many layers of protection, including several of jute wrapping. The video centers on splicing a new cable to an existing one in the San Francisco Bay to bring the wonder of telephony to a man-made island created for the Golden Gate International Expo.
The narrator makes these men out to be heroes, and when you see how much lead they came into contact with, you’ll understand what he means. Each of the 1,056 individually insulated wires must be spliced by hand. After that comes a boiling out process in which petrolatum is poured over the splice to remove all moisture. Then, a lead sleeve is pulled over the connections. Molten lead is poured over the sleeve and smoothed out by hand.
At this point, the splice is tested. The sleeve is punctured and nitrogen gas is pumped in at 20psi. Then comes the most important step: the entire sleeve is painted with soap suds. Any gas that escapes will make telltale bubbles.
Once they are satisfied with the integrity of the sheath, they wrap the whole thing in what appears to be lead cables and pound them into submission. Surely that would be enough, don’t you think? Nope. They weld the cables all around and then apply two coats of tar-treated jute wrapping, which retards saltwater corrosion considerably.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Submarine Cable Splicing Is Serious Business”