Western Electric/Lucent Technologies

Information and pictures on modern Western Electric (Alcatel-Lucent) electronic and digital central office switching systems.

Overview & Background

Electronic Switching Systems were made possible by the invention of the transistor. They apply the basic concepts of an electronic data processor, operating under the direction of a stored-program control, and high-speed switching networks. The stored-program control (SPC) allows system designs the necessary flexibility to design new features and install them easily. The SPC controls the sequencing and call routing of operations required to establish a call. It can control a subscriber line or trunk (inter-office) line according to its application.

The first field trials of an “electronic” switching trial took place in Morris, IL in 1960. This trial did not use a transistor-based system but a cold-cathode vacuum tube system. More information can be found on the Morris, IL history page.

In 1963, Bell Labs released the 101 ESS PBX system as an electronic switching system. This led to the development of a full electronic central office switch, the #1ESS.

First Electronic Switch – #1ESS / #1AESS

Western Electric’s first field installation of a fully electronic (computer controlled analog switch) was the #1 Electronic Switching System (#1ESS) at Succasunna, NJ in May 1965.

The #1ESS switching system was designed for areas where large numbers of lines and lines with heavy traffic are served. It generally serves between 10,000 and 65,000 lines. The memory of the 1ESS is generally read only memory (ROM) so that neither software or hardware malfunctions can alter the information content.

The #1ESS was updated in 1976 with the introduction of the 1A processor. #1ESS switches installed in 1976 and beyond were known as #1AESS switches. The 1A processor was designed for local switching applications to be implemented into a working #1ESS switch. It allowed the switching capacity to be doubled from the old #1ESS switches also. The 1A Processor uses both ROM and RAM (Random Access Memory). Magnetic tape units in the 1A Processor allow for system reinitialization as well as detailed call billing functions.

Both the #1ESS and the #1AESS switches use the same peripheral equipment which allows for easy transition. Programs in both switches control routine tests, diagnose troubles, detect and report faults and troubles, and control emergency actions to ensure satisfactory operation. The #1 and #1AESS switches were the first to offer “custom calling features” such as call waiting, three-way calling and speed calling. They also offer business features such as Centrex (PBX-like features but using the regular central office switch).

As of 2008, there are a handful of #1AESS switches in current use in the public switched network. As time goes on most of these are being replaced with their fully digital counterparts.

#1AESS Master Control Console

Small Electronic Switches – #2ESS / #2BESS / #3ESS

Western Electric introduced the #2ESS switch in 1970 as a smaller and cost-effective local central office switching system, meeting the need for 2,000 to 10,000 line offices. One of the differences between the #1ESS and the #2ESS is that in the #2ESS, lines and trunks terminate on the same side of the network, which is called a folded network. There is no need for separate line and trunk link networks as in the #1ESS. Also, the network architecture was designed to interface with customer lines carrying lighter traffic, the features were oriented toward residential rather than business lines, and the processor was smaller and less expensive.

The processor for the #2ESS was upgraded several times during the production run. In 1976, the #2BESS was introduced with the first installation in Acworth, GA. The #2BESS had an advancement called the 3ACC (3A Central Control), which is
in the place of the processor. The 3ACC doubles the call capacity originally available in the #2ESS switch by combining integrated circuit design with semiconductor memory stores. It also requires one-fifth of the floor space and one-sixth of the power and air conditioning that the #2ESS central processor requires. The 3ACC is a self-checking, microprogram-controlled processor capable of high-speed serial communication. Resident programs in the 3ACC are hardware write-protected, but non-resident programs like maintenance, recent change (RC), and back-up for translations or residential
programs are stored on a tape cartridge.

Also in 1976, the need for switching in rural areas serving fewer than 4500 lines resulted in the introduction of the #3ESS switch. The 3ESS switching equipment is the smallest Western Electric space-division, centralized electronic switching system which serves 2,000 to 4,500 lines. The 3ACC is used as the processor in the #3ESS, which was designed to meet the needs of a typical Community Dial Office (CDO). It, too, is a folded network like the #2ESS and #2BESS. The switch was designed for unattended operation, implementing extensive maintenance programs as well as remote SCCS (Switching Control Center System) maintenance capabilities.

As of 2008, there are no #2ESS or #3ESS series switches left in the public switched telephone network.

#3ESS at the Museum of Communications (Seattle, WA)

Tandem Functions – #4ESS

In 1976, Western Electric developed its first digital switching system. This time it was not an local central office switch, but a long-haul tandem switch. This switch, the #4ESS, was the replacement for the large numbers of #4A Crossbar tandem switches that were in use at the time.

The #4ESS switching equipment is a large-capacity tandem system for long haul circuit interconnection. The #4ESS was the first switch made with out-of-band signaling (CCIS – Common-Channel Interoffice Signaling) in mind to replace the easily defeated Multi-Frequency (MF) form of in-band signaling. However, the #4ESS was made to support older Multi-Frequency (MF) and even Dial-Pulse (DP) signaling. The Stored Program Control network allows for features such as the Mass Announcement System (MAS) and WATS (Wide-Area Telecommunications Services) screening/routing. The #4ESS also
provides international gateway functions. It uses a 1A Processor as its main processor, which, along with its use of core memories and higher speed logic, is about five times as fast as the #1ESS processor. The 1A was later upgraded to a 1B processor. The 1A is a 24 bit machine while the 1B is 32. They did this to expand in core (DRAM) memory for more translations and features. All the #4ESS switches can be remotely administered and maintained from centralized work centers which means that very few functions need to be performed at the site of the switch itself.
In the 1990s, a second-generation #4ESS switch was developed. The advancements over the original #4ESS are not known.

The last #4ESS was installed in suburban Atlanta, GA in 1999 as a toll tandem for AT&T. At the peak (1999), there were 145 #4ESS switches in the AT&T long-haul network, with several owned by various Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs). As time goes on, AT&T is replacing or supplementing their #4ESS toll tandem switches with #5ESS switches, which are of a much advanced design and are used as “edge” switches in the network. Most RBOCs who used #4ESS tandems have replaced them with #5ESS switches and/or tandems of other manufacturers (e.g. Nortel). As of 2008, AT&T still operates and maintains approximately 100 #4ESS switches in the public switched telephone network.

Circuit testing with a #4ESS tandem

Western Electric’s Digital Switch – The #5ESS

Western Electric finally introduced its digital local central office switching system, the #5ESS, in March 1982 with its first installation in Seneca, IL. It is a digital time-division electronic switching system designed for modular growth to accommodate local offices ranging from 1,000 to 100,000 lines. It was designed to be a multi-use and modular switching platform to perform switching functions for urban, suburban and rural communities. The switch was also designed to provide both local office and regional toll tandem functions within the same switching platform.

There are a very large number of #5ESS switches of various generations and styles in current use within the public switched telephone network. The uses vary from a regular local end office switch, a regional tandem, and a long-haul tandem switch. They are still being manufactured by Alcatel-Lucent Technologies.

Lucent #5ESS (Photo: Telcordia)

Remote Switching Modules

The last thing to mention here are Remote Switching Systems (RSS) and Remote Switching Modules (RSM). The No. 10A RSS is designed to act as an extension of a #1ESS, #1AESS, or #2BESS switching equipment host and is controlled remotely by the host over a pair of dedicated data links. It shares the processor capabilities of these nearby ESS switches and uses a microprocessor for certain control functions under the direction of the host central processor. The RSS is capable of stand-alone functioning if the links between it and the host are severed somehow. If this occurs, though, custom calling, billing, traffic measurements, etc. are unavailable — only basic service on intra-RSS calls is allowed.

The #5A RSM can be located up to 100 miles from the #5ESS host and can terminate a maximum of 4000 lines with a single interface module. Several RSMs can be interconnected to serve remote offices as large as 16,000 lines. It is a standard #5ESS system interface module with the capability for stand-alone switching capability if the host-remote link fails. One difference from the RSS of the RSM is the ability to use direct circuits with other switches, whereas the RSS requires that all interoffice calls pass through the host switch.

Western Electric becomes Lucent Technologies

In 1984, Western Electric was absorbed into AT&T as part of divestiture. In 1996, the hardware group of AT&T was spun off into its own company – Lucent Technologies. The #5ESS switch (now known as the 5E-XC) is still made to this day by Lucent and is in widespread use in the US. In 2006, Lucent merged with the French company Alcatel to form Alcatel-Lucent.

More Details

Wikipedia List of Telephone Switches

Other Modern Telephone Switching System Pages

Telephone Switching Systems – Main Page
Overview of Modern (Electronic & Digital Switching) Systems
Automatic Electric Modern Switching Systems
Northern Telecom (Nortel) Modern Switching Systems
TRW-Vidar Switching Systems
Western Electric Modern Switching Systems
Other Modern Switching Systems of Note