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Alberta's Telephone Heritage
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Touch Button Phone

Initially, telephones were designed without the capacity to dial, because calls were connected by a human intermediary. Manufacturers only started affixing dials in the mid-1920s, when automatic switchboards began replacing the more personal touch afforded by manual operators.

These newer systems allowed direct person-to-person calls to be made through the use of a circular rotating dial, on which each number was represented.

Model 2500 Northern Electric single line black plastic desk telephone with touchbuttons.The rotary dial actually caused the phone to be hung up and reconnected in rapid succession, with each digit on the wheel being represented by a fixed number of disconnects. These pulses would pass down the telephone line, activating the automatic exchange and connecting a caller to the other party.

It did not take research firms long to begin work on ways to supplant the rotary dial. In the 1940s, Bell Labs (based in New Jersey), created a technology called Dual Tone Multi-Frequency (DTMF) dialing. Each key on a DTMF telephone would create two enmeshed tones of different frequencies that could be sent across microwave links.

Use of this technology became possible in Alberta when a microwave link was established between Edmonton and Calgary in 1957.

As the subscriber list in Alberta grew, so too did the need for individual phone numbers. Two-letter, five-digit dialing was introduced in 1959, followed several years later by seven-digit dialing in 1963.

This growth highlighted certain problems inherent in pulse technology: Rotary dialing could be time consuming and inaccurate. More than that, however, pulse signals could only carry so far as the local exchange. Direct long-distance dialing was impossible.

In order for new technologies such as speed calling to be feasible in an ever-growing system, phone companies had to explore the expansion of Touch Button service.

In 1967, Edmonton became the first community in western Canada to introduce this technology.

While rotary dialing still exists alongside Touch Button technology both in Alberta and around the world, modern pulse dialing phones are equipped with a keypad rather than a rotating wheel.


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