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The 1950s and 1960s

Transatlantic submarine cables and the birth of fibre optics.

For the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 STC supplied and installed the longest link in the television transmission network, spanning the 250 miles from Manchester to Kirk o’Shotts in Scotland. This system used a travelling wave tube amplifier designed at the New Enfield laboratory and made at Woolwich. Through an improved cross-Channel link for which STC was responsible, coverage of the Coronation was exported live to France and then on into Europe.

As demand for a worldwide telephone service grew STC became involved in the production of transatlantic submarine cables. The first undersea telephone cable system, called TAT-1, linked Newfoundland with the UK, and was opened in 1956. STC provided the repeaters for this system, which amplified the signals at regular intervals to maintain their quality at an intelligible strength, and were capable of surviving the freezing cold and crushing pressure. Also in 1956 a purpose-designed plant was built by STC for submarine system manufacture at Southampton. Here immense lengths of cable could be loaded directly into vast cable laying ships.

STC continued to branch into new areas and in 1958 produced a general purpose electronic digital computer named Stantec ZEBRA. The hardware for this computer was produced at STC’s Newport factory and around 40 of these computers were produced in total. Primarily designed for mathematical work the ZEBRA could be applied to a large variety of information processing problems in industrial and commercial organisations. 1958 saw STC celebrate its 75th anniversary. In the previous 30 years it had designed, manufactured and installed over one million lines of automatic telephone exchange equipment for the Post Office and colonial and foreign administrators.

The 1960s saw the advent of digital telecommunications as valve amplifiers were replaced with transistors which allowed smaller components to be produced and led STC to sell its domestic valve business. In 1964 a pulse code modulated (PCM) system was installed in the UK, the first step towards the conversion of the public network from analogue to digital operation. STC was continuing to excel in the field of submarine telecommunications and in 1961 supplied all the repeaters and over 2000 nautical miles of lightweight cable for the CANTAT-1 submarine system between Britain and Canada.

In 1963 following the recruitment of STC’s first industrial designer, Richard Stevens, the two colour warbling Deltaphone was launched. This telephone won a Council of Industrial Design award and was marketed by the Post Office under the name ‘Trimphone’. In 1965 a new STC site at Basildon housing laboratories and the greater part of the transmission systems group was opened in a 450,000 square foot factory.

A major development in the late 1960s was the birth of optical fibre communications which took place at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories, now based at Harlow in Essex. In 1966 Charles Kao, George Hockman and colleagues developed the fibre optic cables which vastly increased the amount of information which could be carried by a single cable. Also in 1966 the Post Office placed its first order for pulse code modulation (PCM) equipment which enabled it to increase the capacity of existing underground cables between telephone exchanges and to improve the quality of call transmission.

Other developments in the 1960s included STC’s supply of an electronic seat reservation system to the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and the establishment of a mobile radiotelephones division. The latter made and marketed a newly designed range of UHF sets for installation in vehicles (including the London bus network) and later as pocket sets.

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Top image: multiple Trimphones, 1971 (NAEST 211/02/25/01 V.6108)

Bottom image: Dr Charles Kuen Kao at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories, Harlow, setting up his optical bench to investigate optical waveguides, 1966. In 1989 Dr Kao received the Faraday Medal of the IET and in 2009 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for pioneering optical fibre communication. (NAEST 211/2/34/4) 

Black and white photograph of multiple Trimphones, 1971 (NAEST 211/02/25/01 V.6108)  

Black and white photograph of Dr Kao setting up his optical bench to investigate optical waveguides at STL, 1966 (NAEST 211/2/34/4)