History of the Telstra Research Laboratories


A great Australian pioneer

Miles from nowhere, a phone call from the world

The making of One3

A great Australian pioneer

Much of Telstra's history as the nation's pioneering telecommunications service provider has to do with the conquest of distance and climate. Staff at Telstra Research Laboratories (TRL) have played a key role in helping Telstra overcome the problems of distance, environment and climate that are unique to Australia.

The history of TRL begins in June 1923, with the establishment of a one-person research unit within the former Postmaster General's (PMG's) Department. Sidney Witt was given a charter to "study the latest discoveries, inventions, and developments in electrical communications" and to advise the PMG on those "which are promising and likely to benefit the Department's telephone and telegraph services". This charter remains relevant today.

Over the intervening decades, TRL has played a key role in introducing television to Australia in 1956, in installing one of the world's first electronic exchanges in the Melbourne suburb of Windsor, and in developing one of the world's first digital radio telecommunications systems for the outback - a milestone in helping Australia defeat the tyranny of distance.

For over 80 years, TRL maintained its pre-emptive role in Australian telecommunications research, and continued to do so in a deregulated, competitive business environment. TRL staff were called on by Telstra to apply this tradition of excellence in research to the job of making communications easier and better for Australians, and add value to the organisation for Telstra shareholders.

up to the top of the page Miles from nowhere, a phone call from the world

In the 1970s, Telecom Australia made a commitment to provide customers in rural and remote areas of Australia with a reliable telephone service. At the time, people in the outback and remote areas either did not have a telephone service, or used any of the 10,000 private lines, often made from fencing wire, bottle tops and hand-cranked magnetos.

At the heart of the program was the digital radio concentrator system (DRCS), developed by TRL especially for Australia's sparsely settled land mass as a much cheaper alternative to a proposed satellite service. The system was based on the use of radio signals, beamed in concentrated bursts, to link customers to the nearest automatic exchange where calls were slotted into the national trunk network. Up to 13 repeaters were used in a single DRCS line, allowing a maximum distance of 600 km between exchange and subscriber. The mast, solar panels and radio transceiver used by customers of the service has become a symbol for modern telecommunications in the outback.

To increase system capacity, Telstra introduced a new generation of High Capacity Radio Concentrator Systems (HCRCS) for supporting Microlink (ISDN) services to rural areas. Apart from connecting the outback to the rest of the world, the HCRCS has provided thousands of new telephone services to remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait islands communities.

Australian Geographic produced this glossy booklet highlighting the DRCS system. See also this extract from Australian Genius.

up to the top of the page The making of One3

The origin of Telstra's Priority™ One3 can be traced to a request from corporate customer in 1988. The customer asked Telstra for a service that could automatically connect calls with a '13' prefix to the service branch nearest the callers' location.

Having no off-the-shelf technology to meet this request, Telstra turned to the Research Laboratories to develop its own solution. Within weeks, TRL staff had produced a proof-of-concept, demonstrating how databases and telephone exchanges could be linked under computer control to provide the service. This was an application of TRL's research into what was then a new generation of telephony control systems, the first "intelligent networks".

Soon, many businesses and government agencies had come to rely on Priority™ One3 for their communications needs. This presented Telstra with a new challenge - how to maintain service quality during rapid market growth.

TRL worked with staff across Telstra to devise a 'war games' approach - by simulating the full range of possible customer responses and load conditions, they would drive the service platform to its limits in the laboratory. This resulted in enhancements to the platform and to traffic management strategies. The Priority™ One3 platform was able to deliver high-performance, robust, advanced services to corporate customers.

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Last updated: Aug 2011