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Old 20th Jul 2021, 9:15 pm   #41
rambo1152
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

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Originally Posted by Oldcodger View Post
As I mentioned in an earlier post ( without any detail), the 131 codes could be used in almost any exchange area. I was employed by a firm that commissioned and attempted to repair problems with the Vanderhoff ( and other ) Smart boxes. We found it more convenient on the road to nip into a phone box and dial 131, then the * then the pin code, followed by the office number. I never had any problems from north of Nottingham through the Midlands and a bit further.

Interesting that...
Those Vanderhoff boxes, were they wall mounted cabinets about the size of a microwave oven?
I saw a few, but they were installed before I got involved with office telecoms in about 1990.

Now, you mention dialling a * before the PIN, that wasn't normally necessary on the 2200 service...

...except

I remember one service call where I was trying to programme the 10 digit PIN from the Mercury paperwork provided by the customer. I couldn't get it to work, and had to ring the helpdesk for assistance.
It transpired that this customer was an early adopter of the service, and although they were issued with a 10 digit number, they only expected 8 to be sent, due to the limitations of their original equipment, and I was asked to try the "star star trick" which meant substituting the first two digits with ** which worked.

This was 30 years ago and I may have got the detail wrong.

Yes, 131 worked from phone boxes, I always thought that was strange, I suppose it was an OFTEL requirement for a level playing field etc, but customers didn't use the facility or even know it was there. I bet there was a measure of fraud because of it.

The other odd thing about the 2200 service is how long it lasted, I can't remember exactly when 131 stopped returning the dial-tone, but at a guess I would say within the last five years.
Who was still using it I wonder?

If you dialled the test PIN 131-123456 you would get "A test PIN was used to dial this number. Cable & Wireless customers benefit from..." etc, etc. and gave an 0500 number that was not recognised if you dialled it.
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Old 20th Jul 2021, 9:23 pm   #42
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

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Before town centres were fibred out licensed microwave radio was very common, Im not 100% sure but Mercury may have been the first provider to do this for business connections. I spent a lot of time maintaining these mostly 2Mbps links At Bewick Court in Newcastle we had point to point links literally to the street below. Before H&S was invented wed hang over the edge in winter brushing off the snow!

This is Berwick Court today some links still in use, all 4 sides were full at one time. The larger dish is the network link and has bee there since the late eighties.

John
I know Weymouth College had microwave network links between the main site at Weymouth and the outstations at Portland (originally YMCA later SBP) and Poundbury via, I believe, Bincome Hill.
I know there was a case study on it from the installer but cannot find it online.
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Old 21st Jul 2021, 1:44 pm   #43
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

Put simply Mercury had what we called trunk access nodes (TANs) in strategic locations, initially London and Birmingham. These expanded via the railway network mainly, although at least one canal was used. TANs fed distribution nodes (DNs), which in turn fed the customers. It wasn't just cost savings, which were a moving target anyway, but diversity both private and national was also a factor. Really important sites can have triple diversity.
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Old 21st Jul 2021, 5:05 pm   #44
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

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These expanded via the railway network mainly, although at least one canal was used.
Ina roughly figure-of-eight path around the country as I remember.

Energis exploited a different route, by cleverly wrapping their fibre cable along the "earth" cable at the top of the National Grid's pylons.
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Old 21st Jul 2021, 6:20 pm   #45
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

When I first joined the Switched Network Management Centre, in 1991, there were incidents of rogues pulling fibre optic cable out of ducting at the side of the main London North East railway line. The would pull the cables across the track, thinking it was copper and wait for the train to sever them. This caused problems for Mercury as, back then, they had no diversity to Scotland. This meant they had to, embarrassingly , ask BT to route traffic for them while repair were done.

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Old 21st Jul 2021, 6:26 pm   #46
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

They also used to ban traffic to certain countries because of fraudulent use of Auth
Codes on the 131 service. These fraudsters would have a room full of people fiddling, the long time consuming way, until they managed to get a working code. Then , on one occasion I recal, some poor young uni student, in a flat in London, received a bill of 1500 for these hacked calls, pretty much all to one country.

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Old 21st Jul 2021, 6:34 pm   #47
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

I am amazed this thread is still going. All I wanted to know was the function of the Mercury button!
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Old 21st Jul 2021, 6:44 pm   #48
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

Yes, it's evoked many memories. I'm glad you asked the original question 🙂

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Old 22nd Jul 2021, 5:40 am   #49
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

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When I first joined the Switched Network Management Centre, in 1991, there were incidents of rogues pulling fibre optic cable out of ducting at the side of the main London North East railway line. The would pull the cables across the track, thinking it was copper and wait for the train to sever them. This caused problems for Mercury as, back then, they had no diversity to Scotland. This meant they had to, embarrassingly , ask BT to route traffic for them while repair were done.

Cheers

Aub
Yes in the early 90s this was a regular event, the cables were inside unsealed trackside ducting along with copper signalling cable. As an on call engineer Id have to go and turn our lasers off so the BR S&T could find the break and repair it, it used to take hours usually over night. Id sleep in the van until theyd finished. It got to the stage where there was so much loss it was difficult to get them working again.
Eventually Mercury laid their own fibre up the A697 with diversity up the west coast via the IoM and across the A69. By this time technology had improved and the distance between repeaters was much greater. This network is still used today.

John
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Old 22nd Jul 2021, 9:55 pm   #50
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

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Originally Posted by rambo1152 View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by Oldcodger View Post
As I mentioned in an earlier post ( without any detail), the 131 codes could be used in almost any exchange area. I was employed by a firm that commissioned and attempted to repair problems with the Vanderhoff ( and other ) Smart boxes. We found it more convenient on the road to nip into a phone box and dial 131, then the * then the pin code, followed by the office number. I never had any problems from north of Nottingham through the Midlands and a bit further.

Interesting that...
Those Vanderhoff boxes, were they wall mounted cabinets about the size of a microwave oven?
I saw a few, but they were installed before I got involved with office telecoms in about 1990.

Now, you mention dialling a * before the PIN, that wasn't normally necessary on the 2200 service...

...except

I remember one service call where I was trying to programme the 10 digit PIN from the Mercury paperwork provided by the customer. I couldn't get it to work, and had to ring the helpdesk for assistance.
It transpired that this customer was an early adopter of the service, and although they were issued with a 10 digit number, they only expected 8 to be sent, due to the limitations of their original equipment, and I was asked to try the "star star trick" which meant substituting the first two digits with ** which worked.

This was 30 years ago and I may have got the detail wrong.

Yes, 131 worked from phone boxes, I always thought that was strange, I suppose it was an OFTEL requirement for a level playing field etc, but customers didn't use the facility or even know it was there. I bet there was a measure of fraud because of it.

The other odd thing about the 2200 service is how long it lasted, I can't remember exactly when 131 stopped returning the dial-tone, but at a guess I would say within the last five years.
Who was still using it I wonder?

If you dialled the test PIN 131-123456 you would get "A test PIN was used to dial this number. Cable & Wireless customers benefit from..." etc, etc. and gave an 0500 number that was not recognised if you dialled it.
Yep- Vanderhoff( first edition) smart boxes resembles a microwave. (The later version were a bit different.) Same size with a glass front. Problem a lot of folk did not understand about testing for correct working was the test numbers. There were a few about. Some 131 + a tst number, others a straight trunk call. Since any system access to the network needed access to the BT network ( 9 ,usualy ) from an extension, 131 "forced2 the smartbox to routethe call over Mercury. Not really a fair test. I always preferred to make a call from an extension with prefix 9 and then a trunk number. This way the system had a chice as to how to route the call. Correctly, you got the MERCURY recorded message.
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Old 22nd Jul 2021, 10:14 pm   #51
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

Another thing I remember that from a KC line (Hull) you got the Mercury dial tone by just dialling 13.
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Old 23rd Jul 2021, 6:08 am   #52
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

Another way to test the blue button/131/132 and later CPS was routing correctly was to dial the speaking clock, at the time the BT speaking clock was male and the Mercury one female.

Out of interest its only recently that the final Mercury (now owned by Vodafone) System Xs were switched off, they have been replaced by IP Session Controllers providing SIP connectivity to businesses. Vodafone no longer support direct ISDN connections but CPS is still used on BT ISDNs but this will end when BT turn off their 'PSTN'.

John
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Old 23rd Jul 2021, 2:12 pm   #53
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

The Leeds switch (exchange) was Nortel, although I only visited occasionally. What a difference a few years have made!
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Old 23rd Jul 2021, 4:06 pm   #54
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Default Re: Telephone with Mercury button

Yes, IIRC, Nortel DMS 100 switches were used to host the 131 service and held the authcodes. The Nortel switches also provided the VPN service for corporate customers. The network was fully meshed, but was then re architected to be heirachical, using local and trunk nodes.

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