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A Short Overview of the RUSSIAN TELEPHONE SYSTEM

The following is from an Internet page by David Massey, telephone collector from the USA. It came to David via email from a website visitor from Russia named Anton. He has sent the following interesting info on the Russian telephone history. They still have SxS and Crossbar! It ain't dead yet, you just have to go to Russia to experience the good old days of mechanical switching.

The telephone system in Russia has experienced rather big changes since 1991, when the Soviet Union disappeared as the state. Practically all the telecommunication systems in the Soviet Union were previously the state property.

Due to the state monopoly and an absence of competition, the service was far from ideal. Most of the people in cities had to wait for a phone installation for years. In rural areas it was much harder and often impossible because the state telephone company didn't wish to install their equipment in low-populated places with a low profit. It was a kind of a luxury to have a phone in a private rural house. Mobile phones were a privilege of the Communist Party bosses and was inaccessible for an ordinary customer.

In spite of all those things, practically all urban and rural houses was equipped by the original telephone company-based wire broadcasting system. It was intended for receiving from 1 to 3 radio channels with a simple cheap receiver, and the 1st channel was able to receive with the cheapest device (so-named "radio-point") containing only a speaker, a transformer and a volume control, without need of any additional power source. The reason why the telephone company gave so much attention to the broadcasting service was for civil defence. The wire system is able to function during the hard conditions such as air radio interferences and a power failure at the customer's location.

Now the things are quite different. The former state monopoly has been divided into regional telecoms; most of them are joint-stock companies. In most cities there are a number of independent companies which provide a phone service, Internet access and other data transfer services. The companies created at the base of the former state monopoly (so-named "the traditional operators") serve most of the clients who use only the phone and don't need other services like fast access to the Internet.

The independent companies founded after the monopoly dividing serve most of business and other clients who need the fast high-quality digital communication. The traditional operators have a lot of old equipment, such as Step by Step and Crossbar exchanges, in-band signalling long-distance trunks, wire broadcasting systems and so on. Now they are installing new equipment mostly in rural areas where there has never been any service. That's why some villages have the more advanced digital equipment than huge cities.

For example, there are a few old Step by Step exchanges in Moscow. The business operators have only the modern equipment. But they work only in cities and they neglect low-populated areas. For instance, my small town is located in 36 km (20 miles) from the huge city of St.Peterburg. Here there is perfect voice telephone service provided by the traditional telephone company "Lensvyaz". But the access to the Internet is available only by dialup connection. DSL or other fast access is unavailable.

As for mobile phones, we now have two nationwide mobile operators, "Megafon" and "MTS" ("MobileTeleSystems"), and a bunch of small regional operators. The most widespread mobile standard is GSM, but some operators use the old standard NMT-450 and AMPS. The newest CDMA standard is getting underway too. Due to the hard competition, the mobile fees dramatically fell during lasted a few years. The cellular phone used to be the attribute of rich businessmen or "Big Bosses" in late and middle 1990's. Practically any average urban citizen is able to use it now.

Since the time when the mobile phone was expensive, people have many long range cordless phones. A large quantity of them in the Eastern and Northern parts of the country. The roofs of buildings in Magadan or Tumen cities are the great illustration, they have been covered by the radio telephone antennas. Most of those phones have been smuggled from Taiwan or China. They work on unapproved frequencies and their use is very unsafe. My neighbour had one which worked directly on the FM radio band. When I tuned my Boom Box I was able to hear all his conversations!

The great thing now is the installation of new modern public payphones. Most of them operate with smart cards and allow you to call any local, national or international number. Most of old payphones were able to make only the local calls.



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