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The Miracle of Microwave and P.E.I.'s Connection

Started by DavePEI, November 29, 2012, 07:26:23 AM

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For many years, Canadian long distance calls were routed through US lines. In the 40s and 50s, a move began to construct our own long distance system....

The Miracle of Microwave, Sept. 23, 1956:


Text From CBC:

. The world's first long-distance call took place on Aug. 10, 1876, between Brantford, Ont. and the neighbouring town of Paris - a distance of about 12 kilometres. Alexander Graham Bell used existing telegraph cables to demonstrate the capabilities of his still-new invention.

. The call, between Bell and his father, was not a two-way conversation. The transmitter was in Brantford and the receiver was in Paris, so Bell, on the receiving end, had to send messages the other way by telegraph.

. A typical long-distance call between Ottawa and Vancouver in 1920 had to be routed through six U.S. cities. This took four hours to set up and cost $16.15 ($144.29 in 2003 dollars) for a three-minute conversation.

. A cross-Canada radio experiment in 1927 used telephone and telegraph wires to broadcast Dominion Day festivities from Parliament Hill. Its success led to the formation of the Trans-Canada Telephone System (TCTS), an initiative of seven telephone companies to establish an all-Canadian toll line.

. The TCTS line was completed in 1932 and declared open by Canada's governor-general, the Earl of Bessborough. This meant a caller in Halifax could reach Vancouver on all-Canadian telephone lines.

. When King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured Canada in 1939, TCTS provided telephone service on their train. Calls could be made among the rail cars, but calls off the train were possible only when it stopped at one of 31 designated places.

. Microwave technology was developed during the Second World War as an offshoot of radar. After the war, telecommunications experts determined that microwaves - very short radio waves - could be used to carry television, radio and telephone signals over long distances.

. An early microwave radio relay system was installed in the Maritimes in 1948 [See details below:]. It replaced cables under the Northumberland Strait, which needed constant repair due to damage caused by tides and currents.

. Between 1945 and 1956 the volume of long-distance calls in Canada doubled, putting a strain on the capacity of long-distance telephone lines.

. The microwave network was an expensive solution for TCTS and was held up by bureaucracy and infighting among its members. It got a much-needed boost when, in 1954, the CBC put out a call for tenders on a nationwide microwave system for television transmission.

. Because microwaves travel in a straight line and do not follow the curvature of the Earth, TCTS built towers at 48-kilometre intervals. The towers ranged from nine metres high in the prairies to over 100 metres high in the northern Ontario bush.

. The network comprised 139 towers over 6275 kilometres and cost $50 million ($336 million in 2003 dollars).

. The completion of the link from Sydney, N.S. to Victoria was heralded with a CBC Television broadcast called Memo to Champlain on July 1, 1958.

. Newfoundland was added to the network in 1959.

. By 1966, after various improvements to the system, one microwave channel could carry 1,200 simultaneous telephone conversations.

. It takes just one-fiftieth of a second for a microwave signal to travel from one coast to the other.

. In the early years users called the microwave system "jump jump" because of the way the signal jumped from one tower to the next."


Little P.E.I. - First commercial  microwave installation in the world:

Oddly little PEI played a role in developing the TCTS's microwave system.

Because of PEI's unique situation as an Island Province we became the site of the first commercial  microwave installation in the world.  In 1948, the first commercial microwave system in the world was installed between Tea Hill near Charlottetown and Fraser's Mountain near New Glasgow [N.S.] using pulse time modulation equipment developed at the Federal Electric Company of New Jersey giving 23 channels, to replace the often unreliable submarine links to PEI. This is the Maritimes link referred to in the article above.

I remember the Tea Hill installation very well, though I was young. It is one of the very many things which got me interested in both telephone and radio. We often passed it, and I was thrilled by the then, amazing technology.

Another microwave link was installed in 1951 between Egmont Bay and Moncton [Lutz Mountain, N.B.] using a 42-C Lenkurt 450 megacycle12 channel system.

In 1956, following PEI's Great Ice Storm (, the microwave radiotelephone system between Tea Hill near Charlottetown and Fraser's Mountain near New Glasgow [N.S.] was undamaged and the system with 18 long distance circuits was for some days the only connection between Prince Edward Island and the rest of Canada.

The Lutz Mountain to Egmont Bay system mentioned above was put out of service during the storm which the Tea Hill to Fraser's Mountain link survived.

Following the ice storm of 1956, the system below was installed from Fraser Mountain, NS., to Charlottetown to Hazel Grove, Summerside, Egmont then to Moncton, NB.. This system allowed the removal of many miles of storm damaged pole and toll wire plant, and ensured that the Egmont link would stay active even should another Ice Storm like that of 1956 happen again..

1958 - New Glascow, NS to Summerside:    

6 GHZ Collins, 120 Channels. This system consisted of seven stations; a terminal station at Egmont, a dual repeater at Hazel Grove, a dual terminal at Charlottetown, a repeater at Mt. Buchanan, a space diversity terminal at Fraser Mountain, and a master fault alarm station at New Glasgow.12 toll circuits

Charlottetown to Summerside System from Fraser Mountain to Mt. Buchanan,    12 toll circuits

Summerside to Moncton, NB.    through Hazel Grove, Charlottetown, Summerside    12 toll circuits

Charlottetown-Moncton, NB. and then from Egmont Bay to Moncton.    6 toll circuits

1968 - On Aug 18, 1968 a 120 channel Lenkurt 71F system extended the network from Egmont Bay via O'Leary. Lenkurt was a subsidiary of GTE specializing in microwave.

1970 - A new 960 circuit system installed between Nutby Mountain, NS and the terminal building at Churchill, PEI. From there, the signal was re-transmitted to Charlottetown. It was a Lenkurt 878 2 Ghz. 960 channel system.

1973 - The Charlottetown portion of the Collins system above was replaced with a Lenkurt 878 960 channel microwave system. The reason for this was to meet demand brought about by moving Summerside Long Distance operation to Charlottetown.

1974 - Summerside to Egmont portion replaced by a 450 channel Lenkurt system.

1979 - Two Lenkurt 878C3 systems were set up between Nutby Mountain, NS. to Tea Hill to carry television signals to Island Cablevision.

1979 - Network extended to Churchill, PEI from Nutby Mountain, NS. using a 2 ghz. Lenkurt 878C3 system. Also, in 1979, the Egmont Bay site was taken out of service and replaced by the new 130 channel link between Murray River, PEI, and Fraser Mountain, NS. This new link opened two years before Egmont went out of service, and was inaugurated on Feb 8, 1977. This system was powered by a 120 channel Lenkurt 71F system operating at 2 Ghz. 24 channels were reserved for future needs and emergency.

1986 - A new digital route was built with 672 circuits from Charlottetown, to Seal River to Hardwood Hill, Nova Scotia, then to Fraser's Mountain, and then on to Halifax. Microwave development continued on PEI to provide further linking to the mainland, and indeed, across PEI with increasing numbers of links and more powerful stations.

The success of the Island's first microwave installation at Tea Hill was watched closely by member companies of the Trans Canada Telephone System, and eventually, they adopted a link of microwave stations right across Canada. In 1958, ten years after the Island's adoption of microwave, the Trans Canada Microwave System was completed and covered the 3900 miles from Halifax to Vancouver with over 139 repeater installations across the country. This information on microwave installations on the Island relies heavily on Walter Auld's book, "Voices of the Island".

The Telephone Museum of Prince Edward Island.
The Telephone Museum of Prince Edward Island:
Free Admission - Call (902) 651-2762 to arrange a visit!
C*NET 1-651-0001


I have ammended the above article to include information about PEI's 1948 introduction to microwave via the telephone system.

The Telephone Museum of Prince Edward Island:
Free Admission - Call (902) 651-2762 to arrange a visit!
C*NET 1-651-0001