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CNET????


by our Correspondent in Wales - Ian Jolly.


As promised - an Article about CNET - the "Collectors NETwork" linking old exchanges (preserved public, PABX and PMBX , PAXs etc.) and plus old preserved telephones. It is all the more appropriate, now that we have our first two CNET lines working in Australia - the first call between the UK and Australia taking place on the evening of 4th December 2008 (your time!)

My thanks must go to Bob Estreich for the help in explaining the development of the STD codes in Australia. I've a lot of research to do to find out just how the Australian telephone network was connected up and what type of equipment was used in the old public automatic exchanges from the 1950's to the electronic era.

I've attached a photograph (picture 1 left) of the two old exchanges I've got connected currently to CNET. A UAX5 on STD Code +44 352 82 and a crossbar on +44 352 71. The Unit Automatic eXchange No 5 is the oldest surviving former GPO public exchange dating from 1929. It served a small village in the North of England until 1950 when it was replaced and sold as 'scrap' to a local solicitor for £5.0.0 (Five UK pounds). He used it as an internal system around his office but it became defunct when his partners died over the years. I 'found' it in 1999 and just saved it in time. The old solicitor, then 95 years old and still working was about to throw it out. The other exchange is a small 15 line L.M.Ericsson (known as "Swedish Ericsson" in the UK) crossbar switch. Two others survive, one in Ireland and the other in the USA. There is also a photograph of my New Zealand Telecom PABX (picture 2 right) which is on +64 8532 889. A little bit of NZ a long way away. All the telephone numbers quoted are on CNET.

Ian Jolly
+44 (0) 352 82 26 (via a 1929 GPO Rural Automatic eXchange!) from CNET the Heritage Telephone Network
+44 (0)1352 83 82 26 (via a 1929 GPO Rural Automatic eXchange!) from Public Telephone Network FWD Telephone No 83 2230



Why not get connected and use your vintage telephones/equipment to talk to others worldwide with the same interest? What is CNET? Some of you may have heard a reference to CNET - short for the Collectors NETwork - an network of 'heritage' telephone systems.

To give a little background. Some of us have old Strowger (or step by step in Australia) and other early automatic telephone systems. In the UK some of us have former General Post Office public Strowger exchanges whilst others have PABXs and PAXs of various sorts. In the 1990's I came up with the idea of a 'Virtual Private Wire' using PSTN lines to link these 'heritage' exchanges using DTMF tones with the DTMF A, B, C & D digits for supervision but time went by and no further progress was made.

However in 2004, some collectors of old equipment in the US had the idea of adapting the "Asterisk" Voice over IP (VoIP) PABX program to act as a 'Tandem' exchange to link the old electro-mechanical exchanges together over the Internet.

Asterisk is a free program, which can be downloaded to run the 'tandem' exchange. It is downloaded onto a PC and with the addition of a cheap interface card can be used to connect the old exchanges.

In the US, where CNET started, they decided to adopt a seven digit numbering scheme, a three digit 'office' (exchange) code followed by a four digit number. However this was fine when it was just the US but when members in the UK joined, we (in the UK) felt that the numbering scheme was a little limited. We suggested that by the addition of an 'International Access' code followed by the Country Code (same one used on the Public Network), then each country could adopt its own numbering scheme.

In the UK we decided to adopt the old STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) codes where each exchange had its own individual STD code. This was before the advent of Linked Numbering Schemes which saw the end of three and four digit subscribers numbers and the incorporation of the code within the subscribers number. We were also lucky in the UK that a '1' had been added to all geographic STD codes in the UK in 1995. Thus our CNET codes were instantly recognisable as 'old' STD codes.

At the moment, there are 14 asterisk tandem exchanges in the UK linking a variety of old Strowger and other exchanges plus there are several more Asterisk Tandems on the way.

I current have a Unit Automatic eXchange No 5 that served a village in the North of England from 1929 until 1950 plus a small Ericssons Crossbar exchange. Each exchange has its own STD code 0352 82 for the UAX5 and 0352 71 for the Crossbar exchange. Other Asterisk Tandems have a range of PAXs and PABXs plus some 'first generation' electronic PABXs now becoming quite 'collectable'. There are currently something like 60 different STD codes in use in the UK.

Thanks to the Internet, I was able to get in touch with other interested collectors in New Zealand and we now have three working Asterisk exchanges in New Zealand. In NZ, they also decided to adopt the old NZ STD codes used before the current single digit STD codes. Initially several of the individual telephones in NZ were hosted off my Asterisk in the UK but with their own NZ numbering scheme and numbers. Currently there are still some NZ numbers hosted off my UK Asterisk Tandem exchange. Plus I have a small NZ Telecom PABX set up to represent a rural automatic exchange on the North Island of NZ.

How do we reach them in New Zealand? From the UK we dial the old UK International access code '010' followed by 64, then the old NZ STD code and number. The only exception is if I'm using my old NZ 3XX type phones with reverse dials. Luckily they have New Zealand numbers and thus I can dial using the 'reverse' dials as though I was in New Zealand! It certainly takes some getting use to using the 'reverse' dials after 50 years of the 'standard' dial.

One of the advantages of CNET is that it is very simple to get connected. You can go all the way and set up an old PC as an Asterisk Tandem connected to a 'heritage' exchange/PABX of some sort. With that set up, you can be allocated one or more STD codes and thus as many numbers as you want.

Or you can connect using a simple 'Analogue Terminal Adapter' (such as a Linksys PAP2 around AUS$88 inc. carriage on eBay!) which you can then connect to either a vintage telephone or the exchange line of a PMBX/PABX. This would need to be 'hosted' of someone-else's Asterisk Tandem but you would have your own STD code and number. Another way is to 'cheat' J and use a modern IP phone. I've even got a DECT cordless phone which has the option of a PSTN line plus a VoIP line which I've got set up on CNET !

Another way of just trying CNET is to download a free 'softphone' a computer program that runs on your computer but you'll also need a microphone and headset. Some UK members run a softphone on their laptops I was surprised to receive a call from a UK member from his hotel room in Bahrain using his number on CNET. For further details, contact me at the email address at the end.

In the UK you can access CNET via several 'gateways' from the Public Network. I've also got several PSTN numbers where the last few digits end up being dialled into my old Strowger exchange.

There are two Internet discussion groups - the original US based one or what started out as the UK & Ireland group but which now has a number of members in Australia and NZ as well. The UK group tends to use the same terminology that was used in Australia and New Zealand Telephone administrations as well as Britain

The first CNET call to Australia from the UK, took place on the evening of the 4th of December 2007 - I spoke for well over an hour to Jack Ryan in Adelaide. Jack is connected using an analogue terminal adapter hosted off my Asterisk Tandem exchange in the UK. He has his original home telephone number - U2965, which was later extended to UX2965. With the original Adelaide STD of 082 added, we've now ended up with CNET STD Code & number of 082 79 2965.

The other CNET user is Mark McGough in Perth using a softphone but soon hoping to have his own Asterisk Tandem (first in Australia or will someone-else beat him to it?) Mark is also using his original home phone number - Dangin 46 6233 which becomes 096 46 6233 on CNET. There is also another guy who appears to be connected? His name is “Bill a Bong” and he gives his number as Cedar Creek 21 in the mountains to the west of Brisbane - STD code 072 8968 and the number 21. Don't worry, it is only my pseudonym. I need a different 'log-on identity' for each Country I set up. Then I can use the number/s to check that all the dialling codes work correctly and the correct tones are present. You would be surprised how tones and codes differ between countries.

Why not join us? I find it fascinating to hear/see my old exchanges clicking at all times of the day and night due to the time differences of the various users around the World. Previously its only calls were when I demonstrated them to someone.

The directory of numbers can be found at http://www.ckts.info/192/uk for the UK, www.ckts.info/018 for Australia and New Zealand and www.ckts.info/411 for North America.

If you are interested in more information contact me at ian@uax.org.uk or on CNET at +44 352 2345.


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