Transmission wires a thing of the past?

Do coin-box telephones and old-fashioned radio and telegraph still have a place in our modern world?

By Anatoly Ruslanov

The number of mobile subscribers in Belarus has already exceeded 10m, while the number of regular Internet users is close to 5m. Under such conditions, it’s hard for traditional types of communication to survive: letters, telegrams and wired-radio outlets. However, they still have a role to play in our age of electronic technologies.

Emails and SMS-messages seem to have replaced paper mail but the National Statistical Committee of Belarus stresses that written correspondence actually rose from 2000 to 2009. Of course, business correspondence has increased over the last decade but letters to friends and loved ones, as well as congratulations on various holidays, are still popular among our residents.

Traditional postal services do need to move with the times. Hybrid mails, uniting an electronic message with an ordinary paper version, are one such evolutionary move, adapting to the new situation.

In Soviet times, wired radio was in almost every home; now, plenty of rivals exist, with the wired network in modern Belarus seeing only losses. Its future is being discussed at state level, with some proposing it be completely dismantled, as in several foreign countries. Others believe it can save lives in emergency situations while some advocate using existing lines to connect subscribers to the Internet (although the technical feasibility of such a project remains questionable).

What about the telegraph? “These days, operators use computers instead of heavy telegraph devices; old telegraph nodes, which previously used to occupy whole buildings, can now be housed easily in a few ordinary telecommunication cabinets,” notes Beltelecom. Meanwhile, taking into account the development of new communication means, the number of telegrams sent has fallen approximately 3-fold countrywide, down to around 5,000 daily.

The number of street coin-box telephones has also fallen across the country, with about 13,000 remaining (over 2,000 are installed in rural areas). This ensures a certain social standard but coin-box telephones can hardly compete with mobile phones. Nevertheless, they are extremely useful in some situations, since they can be used for reverse charge calls and can receive incoming calls.

Over the last decade, the number of mobile subscribers in our country has risen 200-fold (against about 50,000 subscribers in 2000). However, the number of owners of fixed-line phones has also risen — by over 30 percent over the same period, to exceed 4m. According to Beltelecom, this rise will continue, as housing construction rates are ever growing. Each new flat can be connected to the Internet, allowing residents to use interactive television, in addition to having a fixed-line phone at home. Specialists believe that fixed-line phones still have some surprises up their sleeve, boasting new technological features.

‘Wires’ are now trying to expand their opportunities, so it’s too early to dismiss them. Undoubtedly, manual typing machines cannot compete with computers but not all older technology is so easily redundant. Some Western European countries rushed to dismantle their tram rails but have now begun restoring them, realising their ‘green’ properties and reliability.

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