Beat the Clock

Beat the Clock

Don't phone home. New Year's Eve, 1999, will be 'the mother of all Mother's Days,'' according to Sprint Corp. spokesman James W. Fisher, 'and Mother's Day is the biggest call day of the year.''

Fisher said Sprint fears that 'people will drink their champagne at midnight, look around to see whether the lights go out and then, after about 10 minutes, pick up the phone and start calling to see if they still have service.''

Unless most people can be persuaded to keep partying, the public switched telephone network will be overwhelmed, said the FTS 2001 contractor's national media relations chief.

'In the fall we plan to begin a program to alert the public not to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy,'' Fisher said. 'We will have big warnings out in December.''

No one at the other end? Bell Atlantic Corp. senior manager John Eidsness said, 'When everyone in the country picks up the phone, who's going to answer?''

Eidsness said the dial tone comes from the telephone central office that assigned the phone number. The switch in that office can tell by voltage fluctuations whether the handset has been taken out of its cradle.

The switch responds with a dial tone if there is enough capacity to make a path for the call.

'It's the equivalent of the operator saying, 'Number please?' ' Eidsness said. 'The switch handles in turn each phone that goes off-hook.''

Bell Atlantic and other carriers, he said, study the busiest hour of the busiest day of the busiest month and try to size their switches to give dial tone to 99 percent of the phones that are off-hook'a fraction of the total number of all phones.

'We typically look at the balance of business and residential users and the day-night balance,'' he said. Depending on location, there are enough circuits to handle simultaneous calls from about one in four to one in eight phones. The figure can never exceed 50 percent, because someone has to answer to make a connection.

Voice-over. AT&T Corp. and MCI WorldCom Inc. have been busy this summer setting system clocks ahead to test their voice, IP, Integrated Services Digital Network, frame relay and packet infrastructures with their suppliers and other carriers to whom they interconnect, as well as with large user sites.

Test dates included the Aug. 21 Global Positioning System rollover, Sept. 9, New Year's Day through Jan. 3, Feb. 29 and Dec. 31, 2000.

AT&T said it found no year 2000 problems with seven-digit on-net to on-net voice calls or with network remote access calls.

—Susan M. Menke


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