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Customer Premises Equipment (CPE)

The history of Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in UK telecommunications mirrors global trends, with a shift from a monopolistic environment to a more open, competitive marketplace.

In the early days of UK telecommunication, the General Post Office (GPO) held a monopoly over telephony services, including the provision of all telephone equipment. The GPO, and later British Telecom (BT), supplied and maintained all the hardware, including telephones and exchanges.


The landscape started to change following the privatisation of BT in the 1980s. This was part of a broader trend towards deregulation and market liberalisation in the UK economy. The privatisation of BT resulted in the market opening to competition, including the provision of CPE.


Following this, the UK saw an influx of new telecommunication equipment providers. Customers could now purchase and own their telephones, answering machines, modems, and other telecommunication devices. The advent of the internet further broadened the range of CPE to include routers and home networking devices.


The privatisation of BT, therefore, marked a significant turning point in the history of CPE in the UK. Today, the UK has a vibrant market for CPE, allowing consumers to choose from a wide range of devices to suit their specific needs

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The Rotary Phone

The rotary dial phone has a distinctive place in the history of telecommunications, including within the UK. Patented in 1896 by Almon Strowger, an undertaker from Kansas City, the rotary dial phone was designed to allow direct-dial calls without operator assistance.

In the UK, the General Post Office (GPO) was responsible for the telephone service, and they introduced the rotary dial to British customers in the early 20th century. The classic black Bakelite telephone, known as the 200 series, was the first standard issue rotary dial telephone and was introduced in the 1920s.

The 700 series, introduced in 1959, was a significant upgrade. The most notable model was the 746. It was launched in 1967 and became a staple in homes across the UK. The 746 was similar in design to its predecessor, the 706, but with a few modifications. Its key feature was the rotary dial, a circular wheel with numbered holes. To dial a number, users would turn the dial to the desired number and then release it.


The 746 remained in production until the early 1980s, and its classic design has made it a nostalgic icon of the era. The advent of touch-tone dialling and cordless phones led to the rotary dial phone's gradual decline, but the impact of the rotary dial on the evolution of telecommunication in the UK is undeniable.

Why 999?

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The United Kingdom was the first country to establish a universal emergency number, which is 999. This number was chosen for practical and technical reasons when it was established back in 1937.

At the time, the UK's telephone network was largely based on rotary dial phones. The number 999 was selected because it was easy to dial on these phones, even in low light conditions, since the dial had to be turned all the way to the end for the number 9. Moreover, it was unlikely to be dialed accidentally due to the physical effort required to turn the dial to 9 three times.


Another reason was to minimize the risk of lines getting crossed or numbers being misdialed during emergencies. The number 999 was less likely to be confused with other numbers and was distinct enough to minimize miscommunication.


Since its introduction, the 999 number has served as the main emergency contact number in the UK. It provides a direct link to emergency services including the police, fire service, and ambulance. The system has been successful and has set a precedent for other countries to establish their own unified emergency numbers, like 911 in the United States.

Mobile Phone Development

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In the 1980s, the UK government issued two mobile phone licenses. One was awarded to a consortium led by BT and Securicor, which launched the Cellnet network (later rebranded as BT Cellnet and then O2). The other was given to a consortium led by Racal Electronics and Millicom, which launched the Vodafone network.

The first commercially available mobile phone in the UK was the Transportable Vodafone VT1, which weighed about 5kg and cost around £2000. It was released in 1985, shortly after the launch of the Vodafone network.


In the 1990s, the introduction of 2G technology allowed for digital networks, which provided improved coverage, better call quality, and the introduction of text messaging. BT Cellnet and Vodafone were joined by new networks Orange and One2One, increasing competition.


The early 2000s saw the advent of 3G technology, allowing for better internet access and data transfer, and paving the way for the rise of smartphones. BT Cellnet, rebranded as O2, played a significant role in this shift.

In 2016, BT acquired EE (formed by the merger of Orange and T-Mobile UK), making BT a key player in the UK mobile market again.


The history of mobile phones in the UK is a story of continual technological advancement, competition, and consolidation. BT's involvement has been significant throughout, as both a pioneer and a major player in the UK's mobile telecommunications industry.

The Role of Adastral Park

In the context of mobile phone development, researchers at Adastral Park have conducted significant work on both the hardware and software side. They have contributed to the research and development of wireless communication technologies, including various generations of mobile network standards.

Adastral Park has also been involved in developing technologies that enable the smooth functioning of mobile networks, such as network management systems, data routing, and switching technologies. These underpin the infrastructure that allows mobile phones to connect to each other and to the internet.


Furthermore, the park has been a hub for innovation in areas such as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), video streaming, and digital TV, all of which have contributed to the capabilities of modern smartphones.


In summary, while Adastral Park may not have directly developed mobile phones, its contributions to the underlying technologies and infrastructure have been critical to the evolution and functionality of mobile phones.


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