Tuesday, March 31, 2009


(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the intenets any more than necessary.)

It occurs to me that if I am to become wildly popular, I'm going to have to spend a bit more time explaining telecomm to those of you who understand telecomm as "what happens when I pick up the phone". Otherwise when I make an extremely humorous statement like

"Telcordia has decided to abandon the RBOC market so that it can focus on its core competency of shaking down old ladies and running numbers games from the back rooms of New Jersey strip clubs and White Castle restaurants."

about 10 of you will laugh hard enough to make the coffee spurt out of your noses and into your beards, while the remaining thousands of loyal readers will quickly lose interest and go back to complaining about the "American Idol" voting scandal. (Not that I have anything against "American Idol" fans. I love you all from the tops of your carefully styled and quite entrancing hair to the bottoms of your perfectly formed feet.)

So, from time to time I will use this space to provide the educational information that is so necessary in proving that writing these messages is indeed an integral part of my job description. Let's start with the basics today, shall we?


There are more acronyms in telecomm than there are fish in ... well, very large fishbowls full of fish. The Telecom community just loves acronyms, as the use of a well-placed acronym can make the difference between being the most intelligent engineer in the room and being ridiculed so mercilessly that you eventually mumble something incoherent about MPLS coding and run off to cry in your Volvo.

Like almost every other engineering graduates, when I started my first real job I had absolutely no clue about the product I was working on, industry I was in, or how to dress in clothes that did not declare my admiration for a 1980s hair band. I was very quickly overwhelmed by the acronyms, and started keeping track of them in a document on my computer. Sure, a less geekly human might have just kept a sticky note or piece of paper nearby to record the acronym droppings, but engineers think differently. We must be able to alphabetize our lists and put section headers and titles on the pages! Otherwise, we'd be out sobbing in the Volvo again after the other boys and girls make fun of our technological incompetence.

For those of you in the telecomm business, every last one of you is now saying, "Yep, I did that too." If you're not saying it, you're thinking it loudly and the people in the next cube are starting to pick up on the vibrations, so would you mind keeping it down, please? For those not in the telecomm business, this should give you a bit more insight into the everyday hilarity that the telecomm business affords. What's even more depressing is that my list soon grew so large that it was taking a significant amount of my "working" day to administer. I eventually gave up and decided that it was just easier to sell the Volvo and go to the internet whenever a new acronym appeared. Plus, it gave me an excuse to have the web up and running 95.8% of the time that I was in the office (lots of acronyms to investigate, you see.)

To help you, dear reader, avoid this type of dire situation and to enable you to impress your less technical and potentially more physically attractive colleagues of the opposite (or at least somewhat compatible) sex, we here at Telecommedy present a short list of the most important telecomm acronyms.

POTS: Pronounced like the cooking instruments that some people use when boiling water or making a particularly tangy red sauce for their pasta, POTS stands for "Plain Old Telephone Service." Really, I'm not kidding about this one. In the world of acronyms this one is king, and yet it is by far the one hardest to get anyone to believe is real. POTS refers to the electrical stuff that comes into your house and makes your phone ring and allows you tell Great-Aunt Elsie that you miss her super-special chocolate cake with the little dancing bunnies made out of leftover fruit salad. It's the start of everything telecomm, and nearly everyone in the business completely despises working with it which is why the only people who care about POTS are the older bearded gentlemen (and women - usually un-bearded) who work for the largest of the phone companies. Everyone else prefers their telecomm more removed from the end customers, as customers often do unexplainable things like speak in a language bereft of comforting acronyms. A fun activity to amuse yourself around an engineer - sneak up behind him and yell "POTS!" and watch his skin literally crawl off of his skeleton and make a break for the comfort of the nearest Starbucks.

SONET: Pronounced like the English word "sonnet", although not nearly as comforting and usually not found in romantic poetry tomes, SONET refers to "Synchronous Optical Network". Clever how they used the "NET" from "network" to come up with that acronym, isn't it? Otherwise, it would just be "SON", and that just wouldn't do for reasons that I could explain only if you were present in front of me and could see the hand motions that I am now making at the computer screen. SONET refers to a standard named GR-253 developed by Telcordia when it was Bellcore and after it was a part of AT&T (don't worry about it, there won't be a test at the end). Basically, it's a set of rules that all of the companies building fiber optic equipment have agreed to follow so that they can be connected to everyone else's fiber optic equipment. Similar to the practice of loading up new pack mules with so much equipment that they had no energy remaining to cause trouble on the trail, new engineers entering the fiber optic sub-phylum of telecomm are issued a copy of the SONET standard in paper form. Those who mange to survive the first week without giving up and joining a new-age cult are allowed to continue in the business, although usually without a greater portion of their egos. Fun activity number 2 - ask an engineer if he works with "SONET networks" and watch his mouth get all clenched and frothy as he explains that "SONET network" is redundant. Then ask him about "BLSR rings" and watch his head turn around completely.

BLSR: I suppose now you want to know what BLSR stands for, don't you. Well, it refers to another cleverly named standard - GR-1299. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? BLSR (pronounced B-L-S-R, just like it's spelled of course - you try to say a word without vowels) stands for Bi-directional Line Switched Ring. (Those of you paying attention just got the joke above and are now snickering loud enough to annoy the dog, so please cut it out.) BLSR is one of the ways that the telephone company makes sure that their network keeps working even when a technician cuts an underground cable in an attempt to become instantly famous with their immediate supervisors. Don't worry about the details - just trust that it takes all of the telephone calls, internet traffic, and instant messages about last night's "totally awesome" episode of the OC and sends them a different way so quickly that normal human beings can't distinguish the switch from the normal static present on their antique Mickey Mouse telephones.

ATM: Ah, here's one that you think you know! Everyone knows what ATMs are, right? Well, those crazy telecomm engineers decided that one ATM in the world was not nearly sufficient and they came out with another one. This one stands for Asynchronous Transfer Mode, which is a pretty impressive thing to say if you can avoid stumbling and coming out with Asexual Transvestite a la Mode (another ATM, but not one that will be discussed in this family-oriented publication). ATM (the asynchronous, not asexual one) is a technology that chops up information into same-sized little packages so that they can be sent all around the world and put back together again. (Please note that this does not work when shipping pets, as getting the pieces to be exactly the same size can be extremely difficult.) If you want to look freaky smart, tell someone that you're working on deploying ATM over a SONET BLSR to provide POTS. It's great line to use in a singles bar, although for some reason it has never really worked out that well for me personally with the exception of the one young lass whom, I believe, thought that I was offering to sing while withdrawing cash to pay for her cooking supplies.

DS1, DS3, T1, OC-3, OC-12, OC-48, OC-192, STM-1, STM-4, etc.: These and many more refer to how fast information is sent along a particular wire. (For the geekly out there, I'm calling a fiber a wire, ok? We're trying to be helpful here, let's all learn to build up before we tear down. Go play a few games of Doom on the office network and come back when you're in a better mood to interact with others. We'll wait.) Speed is measured in the number of "bits" that can be send in a second. Bits are ones or zeros - that's all. Nothing more complicated than 0 or 1, but all of those 0s and 1s can be combined to form everything from an email explaining that the rash has almost gone away and you're ready to re-enter the dating scene to pictures of your dog Brutus violating the armoire in your foyer. Obviously, the more of those bits that you can receive in a second, the faster you can get the emails or naked pictures into your computer and displayed prominently on your monitor. (The monitor is the thing you're looking at now, but surely you know that. You're not reading this through AOL or anything, right? Not that there's anything wrong with that - we love our AOL friends even more dearly because of the limitations they must overcome to be productive members of society. Truly we do.)

The number of bits per second is recorded in thousands of bits (kilobits), millions of bits (megabits), or billions of bits (gigabits) per second, and those are some really fun words to say. We in telecomm sometimes just sit around and yell "Gigabit!" at each other until we are rolling on the carpet squares squealing in laughter. A DS1 is the slowest of the bunch at 1.5 megabits per second. (Mbps - an acronym, of course, but you still pronounce it "megabits per second". The vowel problem again, I suppose.) Just to make it interesting, a T1 is the same speed (don't ask why if you really don't want to know). A DS3 is not, as you might suppose, 3 times faster. It's actually 45 Mbps (incidentally, the same as a T3, but let's not dwell on that right now). An OC-3 is the same as an STM-1 and is 51.84 Mbps. An OC-12 is four times faster (this time the numbers do work that way) at 622 Mbps, the same as an STM-4. An OC-48 is four times faster again at 2.4 Gbps, the same as an STM-16. There is no STM-2 or STM-3, neither is there an OC-4 though OC-11. And there are also STS-3s that are the same rate as OC-3s and STM-1s, but are used in different places. See it's all so clear once you get the basics, kind of like orthopedic surgery.

WDM: This one takes nearly as long to say as an acronym as it does to say un-acronymed, unless you pronounce the "W" the same way that President Bush does ("Dubya", for those of you who don't follow the news or read the comics page of your local newspaper). WDM stands for Wavelength Division Multiplexing, and was one of the hottest things going before the telecomm bust in 2000 that killed dozens of WDM companies and resulted in the closing of many of the choice bars and pubs in Silicon Valley. WDM is a technology that puts different colors of light onto the same fiber optic wire (settle down, now) at the same time. So, you can run multiple OC-48 speed signals at the same time on the same wire and get even more bits from point A to point D in even shorter times. Now ... now do you understand why billions of dollars (gigadollars) were spent during the telecomm bubble chasing the dream of fast-moving bits?

My fingers are bleeding

Really, if you're still reading to this point you should be awarded a medal consisting of a shiny object and a life beyond your computer. I hope you have learned something useful that can be used in your next management evaluation to increase your base salary above that of the jerk that you hated so much in high school for embarrassing you in front of everyone with that thing (you know that thing, I don't need to bring it up in public, do I?). Thank you for your attention. Please return to Doom, already in progress.

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