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What Preppers Should Know About The Communications Network.

Discussion in 'Survival Communications' started by Tevin, Dec 9, 2013.

  1. Tevin

    Tevin Monkey+

    There is much talk about how the public communications network (ie, "the phone company") fits into prepping plans. After many years of reading urban legends, half truths, and in some cases outright bullshit, I am hoping to clear up a few things.

    About me: I've been in the communications field for over twenty years. Prior to that, I was in broadcast radio, and of course a ham. I am currently employed as an electronics technician for a Very Famous Telecom Company with a world wide network that includes a fleet of orbiting satellites. I am qualified on Fujitsu Flashwave, OptiMAN, Gigaman, Tellabs Titan, Alcatel Litespan, D4, D5, SLC-96, PairGain, as well as traditional phone switches (Lucent 5ESS, Nortel DMS-100, Siemens EWSD).

    I realize this topic is way too large to comprehensively cover in one forum post, but I'll try to hit some of the major points.

    The Legend: Hardwired "landline" phones are reliable and simple.

    The Reality: This used to be a lot more true than it is now. Plain Old Telephone Service ("POTS") was the workhorse of the old Bell System. As customer traffic grew, new technologies were developed to make better use of copper cables, or reduce the need for copper cables at all. Copper is very expensive to install and maintain, and has a very limited traffic capacity.

    The prepper should understand that there is so much more to their beloved POTS line than a run of wire connected to a switch. The drop to your house does not go very far. If you live in a newer area, or are rural, the copper probably terminates in a cabinet known in the lingo as a remote terminal or RT (which requires a power source) where it is mixed ("multiplexed") with all the other traffic from your area. It is then converted to a light-based digital signal and sent to the central office on a fiber optic circuit. A similar setup in the central office unscrambles the data ("demuxing"), changes the light pulses back to an electrical signal, and sends it off to its next stop.

    The biggest advantage to this system is that voice calls, internet data, television, security systems, ATM transactions, credit card swipe machines, everything, can be multiplexed together and sent down the same pipe. There is no need for a dedicated pair of copper wires (or channel) for each and every individual circuit or customer. In some applications a copper-based DSx path is used. I will not dive deep into "T-carrier" technology here; suffice it to say that in rough terms they work on the same general principle as the optical circuits I just described except that they are heavily dependent on very accurate atomic clocks to operate properly. The timing signal comes from a GPS antenna at each facility.

    Prepper takeaway: Almost no one has a direct copper feed into a sturdy ol' phone switch. There are many points of failure. That 40+ year old Western Electric rotary dial phone hanging in your kitchen may make you all feel all gushy & nostalgic, but beyond a mile or two from your house, it's just another network device like everything else.

    Switched vs. routed networks.

    The Reality: Switched networks have been the standard since the dawn of the Bell System...but that's about to change. They work exactly as the name implies: A closed circuit is established (switched on) between two or more points. Communications is exchanged. When parties are done, the path is broken. This method is very reliable; the big disadvantage is that it's a very inefficient use of plant and equipment because most of the time it sits around doing nothing when there is no customer traffic. Think of it as a road that only one car at a time is allowed to use.

    Routed networks were a game changer: The internet could never function as a switched network. Instead of a dedicated path between points, a routed network "shares" paths between several users. Bit addressing means that blocks of data going to the same destination do not necessarily get there via the same path. The road can now accommodate many cars, and if a road is jammed, traffic is automatically routed another way. Each driver knows where they are going (address) so it does not really matter which road they take. This is a huge leap in efficiency. More traffic can be processed with less resources, and equipment does not sit around waiting for something to do. The disadvantage is that a failure effects many, many users. This problem can be partially mitigated with a principle called "network diversity" (alternate paths between destinations) so that failure in any one path does not completely cut off communications. There are failures every day that customers never notice because the large telecoms have spent billions on diversity.

    If you get your services from a cable company, AT&T uVerse, Verizon FiOS, Vonage, Magic Jack (or any VOIP), or any type of wireless provider including cellular/3G/4G/LTE, then you are already on a 100% routed network.

    There is a pervasive false belief among preppers that switched networks are more desirable. Whether they really are or not hardly matters because they are on the way out anyway. The large telecoms have been wanting to dump switched networks for years. The only reason they haven't (yet) is because the FCC wouldn't let them. As the regulatory hurdles slowly fall away, more customers are being moved to fully routed networks. AT&T is on record for committing to shut down all their switches by 2020 and has already made a lot of progress towards that goal. Verizon is looking to do the same. In the not too distant future you may be able to go to a hamfest and buy an entire 5ESS for cheap! Bring a forklift!

    Prepper takeaway: If your phone service currently terminates into a switch, sometime in next few years you will be moved to a pure routed network, probably without your knowledge. You may already be routed and not know it. Preppers should not think that having a wired POTS line is a huge advantage over a cell phone. Anecdotal evidence aside (it seems everyone has a story), the switched and routed networks have about the same uptime. In a disaster, the routed side will always have repair priority. The communications infrastructure in the USA overall is very well engineered and does not break easily.

    I'm sorry about the long post but I think this needed to be said and I hope it's informative. Questions are welcome and I will answer as best I can.

    If the moderators don't mind, I have cross-posted this on another web forum.
    vonslob, Marck, ditch witch and 7 others like this.
  2. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Interesting... My copper goes from my cabin, 4000 Wire Feet, to the Switch, which is in my Office. Then 15 Feet over a 100BaseT Ethernet Copper link, to the GCI VoIP IP Router. Then 18" to the SAT Modem, and out over Twin Coax, 35Feet to the LNA/PAmp/Feedhorn in front of a 3 Meter Dish. At that point, 22k Miles to the SAT, and another 22k Miles back to the GCI EarthStation in Anchorage, AK.... It rattles around in there, for a while, and eventually goes thru their Switch. Then out over Fiber, to the rest of the world. ..... YMMV...​
    AmericanRedoubt1776 and Tevin like this.
  3. Tevin

    Tevin Monkey+

    You bring up a point that I purposely omitted from my original post, to keep it simple.

    If you are on a switch, your calls are only switched for a small part of the journey. At some point the traffic will be routed.

    In your example, your call becomes routed as soon as it leaves your local phone switch. It does not go through a switch in Anchorage unless you are calling an Anchorage customer who is on that equipment. No call will ever go through more than two switches: One at the origin and one at the final destination.

    Anyway, keeping this relevant to prepping, the communications network is very complex and preppers should have a basic, high-level understanding of how it works.
  4. tulianr

    tulianr Don Quixote de la Monkey

    Good information, and important to anyone concerned with communications security. I come from a background in communications interception, and many of the lucrative sources of information that we exploited were available to us only because the person on the phone didn't realize what happened to their communications, once they left the building or complex. Once they hit the microwave tower, they are fair game, and easy to collect.
  5. Dont

    Dont Just another old gray Jarhead Monkey Site Supporter

    Was something that was drilled into young Jarheads. Watch what you say, even on the phones. Showed pic's of sneaky fellows lurking beneath towers with all sorts of electronic devices pointed up at the tower...And of course they where from the evil side... Read UssR...
  6. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

    Yes, and with as much business in telecommunications as the Israeli's have, I am surprised if it doesn't work. Of course, the downside is we have Israeli's embedded in telecom. I don't know if Tevin cares to comment on this or not. I am quite pleased with the rough primer he has already given, and looking forward to more.

    Tevin, you know those outside phones with two alligator clamps the repair guys used to use, or still do? Anything special about those, or what is used today?
  7. tulianr

    tulianr Don Quixote de la Monkey

    If you have, lying about, an old slimline phone with the buttons on the hand piece; you can make one of those quite easily with a pair of alligator clips and some shrink wrap or electrical tape. I've got one that I made years ago; initially to demonstrate to my wife how easily a phone line could be intercepted. I kept it, and have used it many times to check my own line prior to calling out the service guys, to make sure that the problem wasn't between the box and my phone. You clip the green wire to the green wire and the red wire to the red wire. Piece of cake.
  8. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Yea, they were called a "ButtInSki, or ButtSet" and are still used in the Analog Phone world. I still have mine, from 4 decades ago. Digital Phones require a different Device. Mine is still in it's original Case, as all the Phones on my Switch are Analog, even though my Switch is Digital. If you want to play with the Switch, you need a LapTop, an Address, a Port, a Password, and just maybe some Propritory Software. Same with a Router. Oh, Yea, and some really good smarts, or a lot of Training. It ain't for the uninitiated. My first Telco experience was in a Step Office, Oh so long ago. ......
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2013
    Brokor likes this.
  9. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey..... Moderator Site Supporter++

    I have three of the butt-sets still today from my days working in the field, as we use them doing commercial phone work for business POTS lines. Having a set is a good item to have in hand in your Get Home Bag, as you can tap into a line if needed... post SHTF of course. It is not legal to do....I will say it first before anyone whines. But when things collapse and you need to make an "important" call... it is easy to tap "anyone's" line and make a quick call to "check-in" while on the move. Lets say the cell networks are down or busy due to heavy use... and you are on E&E on foot trying to get home from work or to your BOL after an event. If you have a can wrench, you can pop one open on the side of the roadway or in a neighborhood and find a hot pair... and take care of business. Of course if the system is down that gives you a bit more intel on how bad the event may be. In my opinion.....
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2013
    Marck, Brokor, ditch witch and 6 others like this.
  10. Tevin

    Tevin Monkey+

    As already mentioned, "butt sets" are still in common use. At one time they were simple devices with a rotary dial and did not require batteries. The modern day version I carry has a built in voltmeter, ammeter, caller ID, speed dial, tip-ring reverse indicator, and a DSL sync checker.

    New butt sets like mine run $300-$500 depending on what you want on it, but I've seen clean older models without all the whiz-bang at swap meets for less than $20.00.

    Those who want to keep a butt set handy for making ad-hoc calls from a cross box, remote terminal or pedestal during a SHTF scenario should, in addition to the legal and ethical issues, consider the following:

    • The cross boxes are purposely located near roads and public areas for easy access. Some of them are up on poles. You will be high visibility and attract attention, especially if you do not look like a telecomm employee.
    • You need a special tool to open the cabinet. You could probably do it with Vice-grips or a similar hand tool, but this will add to your suspicious appearance.
    • Once you gain access, you will need to know what you are doing. There are a lot of wire and connections in there. You risk disrupting legitimate communications. There are also safety hazards. Do you know the difference between a cross box and a remote terminal, and why one is much more dangerous than the other? Can you identify a high voltage DS1 circuit by the color code on the wire? It is not an intuitive, "plug and play" environment.
    • If the S hits the F to the point that your only option for making a phone call is to crack into the network, then chances are good the network won't be up anyway.
    Bottom line: I would not suggest having a butt set in your SHTF/bug out gear unless you truly know how to use it. Even then, the limited utility of the device means you would be cashing in valuable weight and space for an item you will likely never need. I can't envision a scenario where I would say to myself, "wow, I'm really glad I dragged this thing along!"

    Make your own call (pun intended). YMMV.
  11. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey..... Moderator Site Supporter++

    I am sorry if I dragged my extensive comm experience into the thread and change the theme to what you were trying to teach. You are correct in the fact that you need to have a basic understanding of telecom boxes...which most monkey's have no problem researching and learning the concepts. I have cracked boxes ( a can wrench is cheap and a butt set is light) in many countries including here at home in an operational context... I can teach a private to do it...any one here can make a quick call home as well!!!
  12. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

    @Tevin Thanks for the information and the explanation! I wasn't planning on using a butt set, however, I was trying to start this discussion off in a positive direction. Looks like we're moving along nicely. There's really quite a bit to discover about communications. :)

    @BTPost I bet it's cold up there, old timer! Thanks for your input, too. (like always) [winkthumb]

    @Yard Dart I would be interested in learning enough to use a butt set if I needed to.
    Marck and Yard Dart like this.
  13. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey..... Moderator Site Supporter++

    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 26, 2015
    Brokor, tulianr, Dont and 1 other person like this.
  14. stg58

    stg58 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+ Founding Member

    Don't forget a set of hooks, you would be surprised how few people look up when there is not a big yellow ladder at base of a pole.

    Yard Dart likes this.
  15. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey..... Moderator Site Supporter++

    I hate gaffing.... been a long time, for a reason...ha. But they would be handy to have on hand for various task.
    stg58 likes this.
  16. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Climbing Spurs are required equipment for a Rigging Logger...
  17. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    However, the one sold for linemen, should not be used on trees. Green wood acts differently than poles, and you can get hurt bad. They do make some for green wood, ( different pitch and size) just don't mix them up.
    Yard Dart likes this.
  18. stg58

    stg58 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+ Founding Member

    I never loved it and the pucker factor was high at times but back in the day they beat lugging a 32' ladder in rear easement. I kept 2 sets of Bashlin's and a set of tree spurs and 2 Klein belts.

    Bashlin Climbing Equipment for Line Workers
    Yard Dart likes this.
  19. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    I use a lineman's belt when setting tree stands.
  20. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey..... Moderator Site Supporter++

    I remember guys walking around Ft Gordon with patches on their face... I was not sure why till we got to pole climbing phase of our course...fun.
    Many a guy would do something dumb and ride the pole down with their face pressed up to the pole...nice "log rash" :eek:
    stg58 and kellory like this.
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