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HELLO From Incumbent to Innovator

RTT to Belgacom: 15 years of achievements


HELLO From Incumbent to Innovator RTT to Belgacom: 15 years of achievements


Mach Media NV/SA Technologiepark 3 B- 9052 Gent BELGIUM Tel. +32 9 243 60 11 Fax +32 9 243 60 06 www.machmedia.be


HELLO From Incumbent to Innovator

RTT to Belgacom: 15 years of achievements This book is dedicated to Belgacom’s men and women who have made this exciting journey possible. May 2008


HELLO From Incumbent to Innovator RTT to Belgacom: 15 years of achievements ISBN 9789081324212 Publisher n° 73320 Legal deposit: D/2008/11.651/1 Copyright © 2008 Mach Media NV/SA Printed in Belgium Publisher Editors Cover design Art direction & design Pre-press & Print Illustrations credits Front cover Milestones Robert Caillieu Belgacom Liège basket Memorial Van Damme Proximus Diamond Games Belgacom TV Ambient Technology Alan Kay Thomas Watson All other images

Taunya Renson-Martin Marc Lerouge and Marianne Vermeulen Mike Vlieghe Karel Sas and Lieven Dirckx Geers Offset, Oostakker Belgium Belgacom Fons Vanden Berghen1 (Halle, Belgium) and Belgacom2 CERN Sprimont-Press Tanguy Stichelmans EventAttitude Reporters Philips www.kyotoprize.org IBM Belgacom

Special thanks to (in alphabetical order): Johan Bockstaele, Robyn Boyle, Ben Caudron, Vincent Crabbe, Astrid De Lathauwer, Concetta Fagard, Matteo Gatta, Nicholas Goubert, Peter Hinssen, Nathalie Janssens de Bisthoven, Saskia Mermans, Philip Neyt, Stéphanie Pelusi, Marleen Rommens, James Sterpin, Fons Vanden Berghen, Jean-Luc Van Kerckhoven, Ingvild Van Lysebetten, and to Belgacom Translation Services. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means without permission in writing from the publisher. This book is printed on

certificated paper.


Contents Introduction........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ 7 1. The role of telecommunications in Belgium.................................................................................................................................................. 8 2. Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications....................................................................................................................... 12 3. From RTT to Belgacom (1990-1992)................................................................................................................................................................... 36 4. The beginning of the transformation (1992-1994)......................................................................................................................... 44 5. The transformation picks up speed (1995-2002). ............................................................................................................................. 56 6. Belgacom spearheads IT and telecom convergence (2003-2008)................................................................................... 76 7. The future of telecom - by Peter Hinssen................................................................................................................................................. 126 Sources............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... 138 Bibliography................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................. 139


Introduction In May 2008, BusinessWeek ranked Belgacom as one of Europe’s Top Performers, out of 350 companies representing all major European industries. With a second consecutive Top 10 ranking, Belgacom Group was the only Belgian company on the list and a clear winner in the telecom industry. Our colleagues Telenor (Norway) and Swisscom (Switzerland) held the 27th and 49th places respectively. We were obviously thrilled that BusinessWeek, one of the world’s most respected magazines, selected a telecom operator from one of Europe’s smallest countries for this prestigious ranking. But most importantly: on a like-for-like basis, Belgacom was considered the best performing telco in Europe in recent years. This comes as no surprise to us, as we feel the daily heartbeat of this unique organization. Our 17,565 men and women go out of their way every day to make Belgacom a better company, serving our customers with dedication and enthusiasm. In record time, Belgacom has reinvented itself from a subscriptions-based public service to a customer-oriented organization servicing close to 8 million consumers and organizations. In just 15 years, an incumbent telco has become an international innovator in integrated quadruple play, offering mobile, broadband, HDTV and telephony services. Increasingly, we play a key role in the way consumers, companies and the government interact with one another. Innovative projects such as micropayments, e-billing and e-health will radically improve many aspects of daily life. There is a clear interest from industry leaders such as Microsoft and Cisco in discovering how we are innovating at the heart of Europe. As a public company listed on Euronext, we tend to evaluate our performance with a short-term horizon, quarter by quarter, year after year. This book is an ideal way of looking back at the impressive journey this company and its stakeholders have made over two decades. And to catch a glimpse of what may be in store for Belgacom, its employees, customers, partners and shareholders. Warm regards,

Didier Bellens President & CEO


1. The role of telecommunications in Belgium

onderschrift

8

The role of telecommunications in Belgium


Why ‘write’ this history? ‘Writing’ a book about the history of Belgacom, an innovative telecommunications company, may seem like one big paradox. Doesn’t the act of putting a story on paper go against the very principle of telecommunications, referring to the definition of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU): “Telecommunications is the remote acquisition of information by electromagnetic means”? This book aims to pay tribute to all the men and women who have contributed to the growth and prosperity of Belgium’s premier telecommunications company. The founding of Belgacom in 1992 was the logical conclusion of the fascinating 200-year history of telecommunications in Belgium. The term “telecommunication” was first coined in this French book in 1904. (The Worldwide History of Telecommunications, by Anton A. Huurdeman, New Jersey 2003)

This history started around 1800 when the optical telegraph was tested in Belgium and the Paris-Lille telegraph chain was extended to Brussels.

τηλε

The telegraph literally wrote history, by transmitting messages across dis-

The term ‘telecommunications’ stems from the Greek root ‘tele’, which means ‘distant’ and the Latin verb ‘communicare’, meaning to link, communicate and share.

tances without having to be physically transported by people. Telegraphy was

the first form of modern telecommunications, the field in which Belgacom has become a leading player.

Before focusing on the 15 years of Belgacom’s recent history, let us look back

Telecommunications means the conveyance of information between different locations, without people having to travel physically to communicate with each other.

in the next chapter at the fascinating milestones of telecommunications in Belgium and abroad.

The role of telecommunications in Belgium

9


Speeding up a notch In only 200 years, a brief timespan in the history of mankind, telecommunication has evolved in leaps and bounds, from the compass needle (basis of telegraphy) and the diaphragm (basis of telephony) to the launch of Belgacom’s multiplay strategy in 2005, and the convergence of fixed and mobile telephony, Internet and TV.

Capacity of telecommunications 2008 1853

1855

First Morse apparatures in Belgium

Print telegraph by D. Hughes

Dozens of words per minute

45 words per minute

1874

Multiplex telegraph by Baudot

50 words per minute

1998

Digital transmission by fiberoptic cable

2 million ‘zeros and ones’ per second

What stands out in the history of telecommunications is the ever-faster pace at which innovations have occurred. The evolution of transmission capacity is a case in point. In the mid-19th century, the first Morse apparatuses in Belgium were able to ‘telecommunicate’ dozens of words per minute. As early as 1874, Baudot’s clever multiplex telegraph could send 50 words per minute. Since the end of the 20th century, telecommunications have developed at breakneck speed. Thanks to ever-faster digitization and compression techniques, it was already possible to send several million ‘zeros and ones’ per second over fiberoptic cable in the year 1998. The acceleration has not stopped since.

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The role of telecommunications in Belgium


Belgacom, the first provider of quadruple-play packs in Belgium Telecommunication operators now offer an ever broader range of services in a single package. In telecommunications vernacular, a pack which combines fixed telephony, the Internet and digital television (since 2005) is called triple play. Consumers can even opt for quadruple-play packages, which include mobile telephony. The growth products are clearly Internet and digital television. Telephony will lose ground as a revenue generator because of VoIP, transmitting voice over the Internet. Belgacom sums up the situation on its website: The Belgacom Group is Belgium’s reference provider of integrated telecommunication services. Bolstered by its long-standing experience as Belgium’s incumbent operator and its capacity for innovation, the Belgacom Group, thanks to its subsidiaries, is able to provide all its customers, regardless of their profile - whether private or professional, company or institution - with a comprehensive What’s next? Just like 15 years ago, when the Internet, 3G and digital television were still dreams of the future, no one today can say with certainty where we will be in 20 years. What is certain, however, is that Belgacom will shape this future. In the last chapter in this book, we will take a glimpse at what Belgacom has in store for the future.

range of offers and solutions in fixed and mobile networks. The Belgacom Group offers a complete quadruple-play solution that integrates fixed and mobile telephony, Internet and television.

The role of telecommunications in Belgium

11


2. Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications


Telecommunications: a natural phenomenon The full name of Belgacom’s predecessor, the RTT (1930-1992), was Régie des Télégraphes et des Téléphones. As the name indicates, these two types of communication have different roots and were created separately. From the scientific point of view, telegraphy, which means the ‘sending of messages’ (telegrams), and telephony, the ‘sending of sound or voice’, are based on different natural phenomena. Telegraphy is based on the relationship between electricity and magnetism. The Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted made the discovery while conducting a simple experiment in 1820. He noticed that an electric current sent through a copper wire moved a nearby compass needle. When the electric current changed direction, the needle swung to the other side. The unit of magnetic induction, ‘oersted’, is named in his honor. Telephony is based on another 19th-century physics discovery. It was already known in the mid-1800s that speech creates a variation in air pressure, which is reproduced in the form of a sound wave.

Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications

Hans Christian Ørsted was the first to recognize the link between electricity and magnetism.

13


In 1854, the French telegraph official Charles Bourseul published a memoranWhat is striking is that the first telecommunications discoveries were often made by natural scientists.

dum on how this phenomenon could be applied to telephony. At the trans-

One of the most prominent figures was the Italian scientist Marconi, who was awarded the Nobel prize for physics in 1909 for his ground-breaking work in wireless telegraphy.

electric currents. On the receiving end, the current fluctuations reproduced

mitting end, he placed a disc which vibrated when someone spoke close to it. The vibration acted like a switch in an electric circuit which generates the original variations in air pressure on a flexible disc, thereby replicating the sounds of the voice. Although Bourseul did not succeed in creating a prototype, he predicted that it would eventually be possible to transmit speech using electricity. He is therefore regarded by some as the true inventor of the telephone, two decades before Graham Bell was credited with it. Bell was the first to apply for a patent for the telephone. In 1901, Marconi succeeded in establishing a radio connection across the Atlantic, demonstrating that radio waves could be propagated beyond the horizon.

Marconi looks on while antennas are erected in Newfoundland, December 1901 (Image from “Marconi’s Achievement” in McClure’s Magazine, Feb 1902. Wikipedia)

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Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications


Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications Telegraphy, invented in 1793, and telephony, 1854, are different technologies which developed separately. The various forms of telecommunication only began to converge in the last decades of the 20th century, following the invention of digital telephony and the fiberoptic cable. These technologies enabled ‘multimedia’, meaning the transmission of voice, documents, pictures and video over the same path. All these types of content are digitized, in series of ones and zeros.

The timeline of telecommunication discoveries

telegraph successors 1. 1. TheThe telegraph andand its its successors 1919 1919

1793 1793

1970 ca.ca. 1970

1980 ca.ca. 1980

90s90s

Optical telegraph Optical telegraph Telex Telex Integration 3. 3. Integration

Telefax Telefax

introduction of digital telephony TheThe introduction of digital telephony optical fiber foundation andand optical fiber laidlaid thethe foundation for for multimedia: enabling integration multimedia: enabling thethe integration of of text, voice, data, static moving text, voice, data, static andand moving pictures, radio television. pictures, andand radio andand television. Everything is sent a flow of 0s Everything is sent in ainflow of 0s andand 1s,1s, measured in bits bytes. measured in bits andand bytes.

E-mail E-mail

telephony 2. 2. TheThe telephony 1854 1876 1854 1876

Telegraph official describes Telegraph official describes concept of telephony concept of telephony

invents Bell Bell invents telephone telephone

EndEnd of of 19th century 19th century

Last decade 20th century Last decade 20th century

Digital Digital

Analog Analog Wireless Wireless

Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications

15


This chapter takes a look at the landmark events in the fascinating 200-year history of telecommunications, with a focus on Belgium. 1791 The Frenchman Claude Chappe invented the optical telegraph, otherwise known as the semaphore. The first telegraph system between Paris and Lille (approximately 220 km) was deployed in 1794. It only took nine minutes for a signal sent from Paris to reach Lille. The government had a monopoly on communications, a policy which was adopted in many parts of Europe in the 19th century. Chappe’s optical telegraph system consisted of a chain of towers placed every 10 to 20 kilometers. On top of each tower were arms and cross-arms which could be shifted into different positions. Old and new brought together in Lessive.

The telegraph operators had two powerful telescopes, enabling them to see

Left: the arms of a Chappe telegraph, the only one found in Belgium (Sint-Gillis-Waas). The horizontal arm is 6 meters.

the previous and following tower. This is why it was referred to as the “optical” telegraph: the encoded messages were simply seen. (1)

Right: ground station for telecommunication via satellite. (Coll. Fons Vanden Berghen, hereafter referred to as 1)

1800 The Italian Alessandra Volta developed the first electrical battery. 1803 The Paris-Lille telegraph line was extended to Brussels. 1809 A section to Antwerp and Vlissingen was added. In 1810, it reached Amsterdam. The telegraph line supported the war efforts of the French occupier in Belgium, and served to transmit lottery numbers too.

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Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications


1820 The concept of the first electric telegraph is simple. Electric currents are sent intermittently in a certain pattern, which alternately moves and stops the needle.

Danish natural physicist and chemist Hans Christian Ørsted conducted a simple experiment in which he demonstrated the relationship between electricity and magnetism. His principle formed the basis of electric telegraphy. 1834

On the receiving end, the telegraph operator deciphers the message by interpreting the position of the needles, using predetermined codes. The message could also be written down if necessary, and brought to the addressee in the form of a telegram. (2)

In Belgium, it was not the government but stockbrokers who pioneered the use of Chappe’s optical telegraph. They came up with the idea of linking the Antwerp and Brussels stock markets with a telegraphy chain, so that stockbrokers in Brussels could find out Antwerp’s stock exchange rates before the competition, which depended on newspapers. The first telegraph line for a ‘stock market telegraph’ was installed in 1834. 1837 The British inventors William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone developed a needle telegraph, based on Ørsted’s principle. This system had already been installed in Britain along a number of British railway connections before 1840.

Left: the alphabet code for the one-needle telegraph of Cooke & Wheatstone, early 1840s. 1 Right: one-needle telegraph of Cooke & Wheatstone. (Belgacom, hereafter referred to as 2)

Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications

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1838 The Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet introduced Wheatstone and Cooke’s double-needle telegraph in Belgium, when he gave a presentation about the possibilities of the novel device to a large, surprised audience. From 1842, he acted as intermediary between the Belgian government and his friend Wheatstone for the construction of the electric telegraph network along the Belgian railways. 1846 A British company laid the first electric telegraph line in Belgium, along the The telegraphy in Belgium takes a start with the double-needle telegraph built by Cooke and Wheatstone. This is one of the oldest telegraphs in the world. 1

Brussels-Antwerp railway line. This telegraph line used the needle telegraph devised by Wheatstone and Cooke, making the optical telegraph obsolete. This also marked the beginning of commercial telegraphy on the European continent. One telegram cost one franc, which was the equivalent of a worker’s daily wage. 1850 In compliance with the law on telegraphy, the Belgian government laid the telegraph lines along the railways. The telegraph service came under the wing of a state-owned company, which was accorded the monopoly. Between 1850 and 1865, the telegraph network developed at an astonishing pace, with increasing capacity.

Telegraph made by the Belgian Polydoor Lippens from Eeklo, ca. 1850. He was the only Belgian who had patents in the telegraphy and who produced as well. 2

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Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications


1853 The Morse telegraph was deployed in Belgium. Capable of transmitting dozens of words per minute, it was a breakthrough in electric telegraphy. Morse tele­ graphs were used in Belgium until the early 1950s.

Samuel Morse and his telegraph At the receiving end, an electromagnet moved a stylus when it received an electric current, causing the stylus to make an impression or tiny dent on paper tape. The encoded message was embossed, and later, printed on the paper in ink. A receiving device called the sounder was later devised, whose series of clicks allowed messages to be interpreted much faster. 1

Most typical morse telegraph used in Belgium, from ca. 1880 till after the 2nd World War. Produced by Richez in Brussels. 1

For the telegraph, Morse developed the code that bears his name, in which every character is assigned dots and dashes, dubbed dits and dahs. To maximize the transmission speed, the shortest codes were assigned to the most common letters. It was soon adopted in America as the standard telegraph code, and a few years later in Europe as well.

‘Belgacom’ translated into Morse looks like this: _ . . .

.

. _ . .

_ _ .

. _

_ . _ .

_ _ _

_ _

Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications

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1861 The German Philipp Reis designed the first telephone prototype. 1869 The British inventor David Hughes built a telegraph in 1854 with a keyboard at the transmission end, on which every character could be typed. It was no longer necessary to encode messages. At the receiving end, the text was printed automatically onto paper tape. In Belgium, the Hughes telegraph became operational in 1869 and remained in use until 1947. 1871

One of the oldest Hughes telegraphs used in Belgium, ca. 1870 (patented in 1854). 2

Only on 15 June 2002, the American Congress officially recognized the Italian Antonio Meucci as the inventor of the telephone. As a student of design and mechanical engineering at the University of Florence, Meucci was obsessed with all aspects of scientific research. In 1850, he moved to Staten Island, near New York. With virtually no knowledge of English, his life in the new world was fraught with hardship. In 1855, when his wife became paralyzed, he rigged up a telephone system from her room to his nearby workshop to communicate with her. For years, he sought funding to sustain his research, but to no avail. In 1871, he applied for a patent for his telephone but could not afford the 250 dollars required for the deposit. His many subsequent attempts to raise funds for his invention invariably failed. (3)

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Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications


1874 The telegraph of the French Emile Baudot could transmit 50 words per minute, a record speed for that time. In Belgium the Baudot telegraphs were in use from 1907 till 1947. 1876 The Scot Alexander Graham Bell was the first to apply for a patent for the telephone, on 14 February 1876. A Baudot sender and receiver from around 1880. The receiver printed out 5-letter codes. 1

Alexander Graham Bell was originally a professor of voice and speech. In 1878, he anticipated the future of the telephone, claiming that telephony connections would link every house and form a large network, like gas and water pipes. A number of people thought that the telegraph more than sufficed for communication between people and considered a whole new network for telephony superfluous... 1

The transmitter consisted of a thin metallic diaphragm, behind which a horseshoe magnet with a wire coil was placed. The variation in air pressure caused by speech made the metal diaphragm vibrate and changed the magnetic field. This variation in the magnetic field generated an alternating current in the wire coiled around the magnet. Sound was thus converted into an electric signal, which could in turn be transmitted over a copper wire. The receiver realized the reverse procedure thereby reproducing the original sound. (4)

Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications

Patented model in 1876. 2

21


1877 A year later, the telephone made its debut in Belgium. Experiments were carried out and the device was demonstrated in Parliament. 1878 The first telephone exchange was built. Due to the difficulty with laying wires directly between every subscriber, they had to be interconnected via a telephone network. The first telephone exchanges were operated manually, mainly by women, who plugged a cord into the jack which corresponded to the line of the destination party.

A very old telephone exchange, around 1880, used at home. 2

An old telephone exchange. 2

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Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications


1879 The Belgian service for telegraphy installed a telephone line in Parliament. Founding of the first local telephone companies in Belgium, the major ones being subsidiaries of the International Bell Telephone Company of New York. Starting in 1880, the first legislative provisions decreed that telephony, like telegraphy, was to be a monopoly of the state, although concessions could be granted to private companies. 1882 The first international telephone call took place between Brussels and Paris. F. Van Rijsselberghe invented a system to considerably reduce the interference between telegraphs and telephones. This gave telephony a tremendous boost. A Bell product (Bell TMC) of the 1890s. 2

A typical Belgian product with the famous microphone of Trophime Delville. 2

Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications

23


1883 The table below outlining telegraph usage in Europe in 1883 demonstrates that Belgium was a frontrunner in the field of telegraphy. Source: www.houwie.net.

COUNTRIES Belgium Bosnia and Herzegovina Bulgaria Denmark Germany France (incl. Corsica) Greece Great Britain and Ireland Hungary Italy The Netherlands Norway Austria Romania Russia Serbia Spain Sweden Switzerland

Population in thousands 5,655 1,158 1,999 1,981 45,234 37,672 1,954 35,600 15,642 28,951 4,225 1,920 22,144 5,040 101,342 1,850 16,936 4,604 2,846

Number of telegrams per 1,000 inhabitants 629 122 153 489 380 697 272 912 204 255 843 475 260 241 94 182 162 262 908

The law of 11 June 1883 gave the government the sole right to install and operate telephone networks. Private telephone companies were only entitled to fixed-term operating licenses. The government planned to eventually take full control of the entire telephony sector.

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Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications


1884 Belgium’s first telephone directory was published, containing the names and numbers of 2,950 subscribers. The first intercity connection between Antwerp and Brussels was established.

1884 Belgium's first telephone directory is published, containing the names and numbers of 2,950 subscribers. 1886 The first intercity connection between Antwerp and Brussels was established.

The German Heinrich Hertz established a wireless connection in his lab, 1886 proving that electromagnetic waves could be detected in a different thereby

The German Heinrich Hertz establishes a wireless connection in his lab, thereby proving that electromagnetic waves could be detected in a different location than their source. The waves were at the that speed of light. However, it was notreproduced before 1890-1900 wireless connections were estabHowever, it was not before 1890-1900 that wireless connections were established, first in lished, first in telegraphy, and later for radio broadcasts. telegraphy, and later for radio broadcasts.

location than their source. The waves were reproduced at the speed of light.

1887

1887 The first international telephone connection is installed between Brussels and Paris. An international telephone connection was installed between Brussels and Paris. "The hall for male staff in the new telegraph office in Paris" The 1880s From Nature, a popular illustrated monthly about physical science and its applications. Fourth volume, 1884 (9) Source: www.houwie.net

“The hall for male staff in the new telegraph office in Paris” From Nature, a popular illustrated monthly about physical science and its applications. Fourth volume, 1884 (Source: www.houwie.net)

Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications

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1893 The State gradually began to take over the telephone networks that were franchised out; by 1896, the State had full monopoly rights over telephony. 1895 Improving on the findings of Hertz and other scientists, the Italian inventor Marconi sent the first wireless telegraph. With a code language, he alternately sent short and long electromagnetic waves which could be observed in another location. Later on, he was the first to send a radio signal across the English Channel, where he equipped mail boats with wireless telegraphy devices. In 1901, he established the first wireless connection across the Atlantic Ocean.

Marconi’s multiple tuner (1907). It was able to tune to a specific transmitting station. 1

Late 19th century The electro-mechanic telephone exchange was invented, dispensing with the need for human telephone operators. Subscribers received a telephone with a dial, which allowed them to dial numbers directly. Thanks to the numbering system, the exchange could establish the connection automatically.

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Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications


1900 – 1902 Underground telephone cables were laid in Brussels. 1913 A large part of Belgium and even neighbouring countries could now be reached by telephone. Although there were a limited number of subscribers, telephone booths were provided for public use in post and telegraph offices. In 1913, fewer than nine million telegrams were processed in Belgium, compared with over 145 million national telephone calls. 1919 The American Charles Krum and his son Howard presented their prototype of the ‘teletype’. The transmitter consisted of a typewriter-style keyboard. Telexes were initially sent over the ordinary telephone network. After World War II, transmission took place over a separate telex network. (Belgacom)

1930 The RTT (Belgium’s national telegraph and telephone company) was founded in accordance with the law of 19 July 1930. 1935 The Belinograph was put into service. It was used by numerous news agencies and newspapers to send photographs until 1975. 1946 The RTT set up a telex service which became fully automatic in 1955.

Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications

27


The 50s The first wireless telephones were used in vehicles. Using extensive transmitting and receiving equipment which was generally kept in the trunk, they established connections via a landline antenna linked to the telephone network. 1963 Two old wall telephones, 1930s – 1940s. 1

In the 1960s, satellites began to be used for telecommunications over very long distances. The first satellites were limited in capacity and could not always be reached. 1963 saw the launch of geostationary satellites. Positioned at 35,788 kilo­ meters above the equator, the satellites revolve around the globe at a speed of 11,000 kpm. Always in the same position in relation to the earth, they improve communication enormously. All the ground stations in the world which are directed toward the same satellite can enjoy uninterrupted communication with each other.

Wireless car phone. 2

1966 The RTT launched the semaphone service, which covers all of Belgium and the Netherlands. The semaphone is a receiving system which alerts subscribers when they are paged (with a beep in the early days, and later with characters on the display).

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Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications


1970 The RTT started to phase out the telegraph service, which was rendered obsolete by the telex in 1970. 1972 The first Belgian ground station for telecommunication through space was inaugurated in Lessive. Wireless telecommunication could now take place via satellite. Telex 2

The ground station in Lessive. 2

Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications

29


1974 Introduction of a new type of telephone: the push button phone replaced the rotary dial phone. The 1980s In the mid-1980s, the fax experienced a surge in popularity. The fax machine reads a page as a series of black and white dots, which are then encoded Typical phones from the 1980s. 2

electronically. The encoded image is converted by a modem into a telephone signal and then transmitted to another fax machine. The GSM system (Global System for Mobile Communications) is a European standard which gives its users access to the system everywhere in Europe with only one mobile number. The GSM (or mobile phone) revolutionized our way of communicating. Instead of calling a place, we call a person. In the beginning, mobile phones were primarily used by the business market. The introduction of payment cards attracted the youth generation, which turned mobile phones into a booming business in the late nineties.

The first mobile cellular phone on the market was Motorola’s DynaTAC 8000X from 1983. (www.motorola.com)

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Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications


1987 The European Commission published its Green Paper on the Development of the Common Market for Telecommunication Services and Equipment and opened the deregulation debate. 1989 At the end of 1989, the RTT launched the so-called ISDN pilot project (Integrated Services Digital Network), which is a digital communication network (Belgacom)

for voice, data, text and images. This network was rolled out on the market in the early nineties. Last decades of the 20th century The electromechanic telephone systems were replaced by electronic, computer-controlled call centers. The advantage of these digital systems is their increased reliability (thanks to fewer moving parts), greater capacity and the possibility to offer new services such as number redialing and automatic forwarding in the case of no reply. Digitization enabled the development of the fiberoptic cable, which triggered another surge in information capacity, paving the way for multimedia communication. 1991 The Law of 21 March 1991 provided for a new type of public-sector company, with more autonomy from the state. This marked the beginning of RTT’s transformation into Belgacom.

Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications

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100 years of history A hall in Belgacom’s buildings, 100 years ago and now. Right: the hall 100 years ago. Left: the same hall today. It is on the fourth floor of the Paille Street building, which now houses Belgacom International Carrier Services (BICS). 2

Now ...

32

Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications


... and then

Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications

33


Where are the former RTT’s historical objects? In 2003, Belgacom transferred its historical collection to the Royal Museums of Art and History in the Cinquantenaire Park in Brussels. Lauded by experts as the most interesting collection of historial telecom objects in Belgium, it comprises more than 1,500 often valuable and rare items, such as the very first telephone exchanges and a large number of antique telephones and telegraphs. Belgacom has donated its company archives to the National Archives. The Belgacom archive contains thousands of administrative documents, publications, photographs and brochures which reflect the history of the former RTT and Belgacom, as well as the input of thousands of employees. Some items date back to 1840. These elements of our collective memory are thus in the safe custody of museum experts. The largest European private collection of 19th century telegraphy devices belongs to Fons Vanden Berghen from Halle in Belgium.

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Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications


Lisa shows how the first telephone by Siemens & Halske from 1878/1879 works. It’s an improved version of Bell’s first model from 1877. (Coll. Fons Vanden Berghen)

Milestones of two centuries in telecommunications

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From Incumbent to Innovator RTT to Belgacom: 15 years of achievements