― Looking for the roots of Japanese telecommunication and its technology development
Having keen interest to the recent development of information network , I visited the “NTT History Center of Technology” (Museum) recently in Mitaka, Tokyo last month. The museum was established in 2000 aiming to show the current technology an its development process in Japan. Now it displays a number of historical materials and equipment related to the telecommunication services and technology. The exhibition consists of “Tracing Development History” and “Searching Technology” corner, and the both are explaining how Japan has developed telecommunications, telephone services, and information equipment from the initial period until now. In particular, it focuses on the social impact in early days of telegraph and telephone systems, along with describing tele-graph/-phone mechanisms, technical background and functions of electronic devices. The museum is proud of quite rich treasury collection and sophisticated explanation on the technology background. The following is my visit record at that time. However, due to the time constrain and my limited knowledge, I couldn’t look much in the technology detail and mainly focused on the social background occurred in the historic process of Japan’s telecommunications .
♣ Outline of the composition and contents of the NTT Museum
The visit course of the Museum could roughly divides into two parts. One is for ” History” matter and the other is “Technology” issues. The “History” course begins with anecdotes during the early days of telegraph and telephone development. It shows how they were initially introduced and how they could progress to the next stage of full-scale use of them since 1950s after the War period. Then the exhibition indicates the circumstances of technological innovation and diversification from the 1970s, and how the development has shifted to the digital technology from the 1980s and it describes today’s multimedia, mobile and internationalization of telecommunication. These series of contents provide the recognition of the fact how telecommunication technology made change the way of social life and business world in Japan.
“Technology” section involves lots of exhibits in it to indicate the technological evolution of switching equipment, transmission tools, computer related telemachines, communication infrastructure, optical transmission, mobile tools, image processing technology, and others. New products and equipment that marked a new stage of communication are abundantly lined up in the exhibition, so you can really feel the social changes caused by telecommunication and the development of technology.
It is also fascinating we can see the mural paintings that depicts the many scenes during the introduction of telegraph and telephone during the late Edo and Meiji periods at the special exhibition hall. It would be great that several functional models of communication machine are provided at the first floor as well so that beginner visitors are able to testify the principles of telecommunications and the basics of technology.
♣ Telecommunications development and society in the exhibition
Exhibits highlights the telecommunications technology and its impact on society through kind commentary on the devices that had emerged in the each era. It has passed 150 years after the primitive telecommunication’s equipment was first introduced to Japan in the middle of 19th century. , The advancement of telecommunication and its technologies are remarkable during this time. Their evolution can observe well by seeing the communication devices in the exhibition, such as from simple telegraph tools to extensive telephone services, from manual switch devices to automated exchange machines, from analogue to digitization of communication machines, and advancing microwaves and optical fibers technology, spread of multimedia devices, and so on. This time, I mainly look at the exhibits from the historical perspectives of development in the Meiji era to the present days and try to focus it on the impact to society during this period.
First, let’s introduce from the early stories and the appearance of the first equipment
♣ The exhibition of Japan’s first telegraph and telephone
Large illustrations are decorated the wall of the basement floor which depicts the memorable scenes when telecommunication equipment was first introduced in Japan and the situations that the technology was quickly disseminated in the Japanese society. The first picture is illustrating the scene of Edo government officials surrounding a new telegraph device that was brought by American Admiral Perry in 1854. This is the first critical moment when Japanese knew telegraph machine in history. It is said that from that period the newly born Meiji government became recognized the importance of telecommunications. And it was in 1868 when the government took measures to establish telegraph system as an urgent matter. Then immediately the construction began between Tokyo and Yokohama, and the telegraph service was started in 1880. The museum exhibits a lot of photographs showing the early stage of devices like Morse Telegraph brought by Perry and the Breguet finger-type telegraph and others that were used in Japan in the initial stage.
As time passed, the telegraph systems had become to be greatly contributing to the modernization of Japanese society and industries as important tools seen in the railway development, shipment management, military operation, administrative and corporate communications. In addition, submarine cables made possible to begin overseas communication in the coming years.
On the other hand, telephone machine was invented in 1876 by an American engineer Graham Bell. But it was 1890 when first telephone service started between Tokyo and Yokohama in the Meiji period in Japan. It was said that the service charge was quite expensive at that time. In addition, the procedures of telephone exchanges were performed by the manual switching system by telephone operator. However, the telephone service that allowed direct voice communication with remote locations was extremely valuable and it was said the applicants had flooded soon. At the museum, the actual “Material No. 1 telephone” and “Magnetic manual exchange board” are on display. It is quite interesting to see the wall illustration that is depicting the spread of telephone networks at the time.
♣ Toward the Japan’s own technology in telecommunications
Since the Meiji era, telephone and telecommunication service were rapidly expanded in the Japan, but the technology dependence to foreign countries continued for quite long time. However, a number of challenges to seek independent technologies were being underway even under his circumstances. In this period, some notable advancing results were achieved while digesting technology from foreign countries. For example, the development of unloaded transport systems, the improvement of advanced loading cables and loading coils (1920), the development of photographic transmission equipment, T-type automatic exchanges, and the radars for military purpose. At the NTT museum, numerous products are displayed as typical exhibits. You can see there sophisticated loading cables, Fleming’s two-pole vacuum tube, de Forest’s three-pole vacuum tube, and many other examples of telephones.
♣ Telecommunications in the postwar growth period
It was the time in 1950s that real challenge of telecommunication businesses has started in the consumer market . First, “Denden Public Corporation” (1950), a NTT’s predecessor, took initiatives in this movement. It focused on expansion of the telephone network and improving services responding strong public demand at that time in Japan. Among them, the development of domestically produced “No. 4 telephone” device was noticeable. Until that time, from Kawabell type to the No. 3 type phones, all phone devices were just imitations of foreign products. But according to the explanation of the museum, the high-quality telephone products called No.4 NTT phone were first developed by Japanese hands at that time.
♣ Diversification of telecommunication since 1960
After the postwar economic growth period, Japan’s telecommunication system and technology have entered a new development phase along with changing economic situation and quality of social life. It has brought the broad range of changes in society, such as, the wide distribution of telephones, the evolution of switchboard from mechanical to electronic exchanges, the start of data communication services through computer networks, the emergence of automobiles and mobile phones, the development of various communication technologies, and such.
At the museum, many photographs and real goods are displayed showing the spread of public telephones, image transmission and facsimile, as well as indicating the start of mobile communication and electronic telephone exchange machines. All of them became essential tools for social life at that time. For example, D10 type automatic exchanges, various function of telephones like push phones, data communication tools, early stage of phones, facsimile machines, etc. These items are illustrating the environment that the telecommunications network has deeply penetrated into the social and business world. It also can detect the fact that technology was rapidly progressing during this period both in world and Japan.
♣ The digital technology and multimedia (since the mid-1980s)
Looking at the history of the telecommunications business since the mid-1980s, the technology and service have been further revolutionized and deeply rooted in the society. The communication tools have also made a major shift from the analog to the digital technology. As a result, various sound, video, and data was possible to transmit simultaneously through various telecommunication networks. Also, with the fast evolving mobile communications and spread of the Internet, the telecommunication went advancing to the new networking society. For example, the privatized NTT Co. (since in 1985) has introduced “Optical transmission” method for aiming at dramatic increase of transmission capacity. Mobile communications that started with automobile phones, have significantly expanded during short time. And, the growing communication wireless networks have brought high speed and huge capacity of telecommunication being comparable to fixed-line networks. In addition, while the miniaturization of mobile devices, the radio wave efficiency are remarkably advanced and the Internet communication network is expanding. It is during this period that satellite communication has become active.
At the museum, various optical electronics devices and equipment, multi-functional fixed phones and mobile phones, digital terminals compatible with ISDN, videophones, intranets, user equipment supporting multimedia environments, and engineering test satellite ETS -Experimental models of VI are extensively displayed. In the business field, the machines from telex to computer communications, Japanese language OCR, voice synthesis technology, image communication and image information providing system are also exhibited in the museum.
♣ Today’s Internet environment and communication world
With the spread of the Internet, the new communication system is now looked becoming reality in the broader world. Unfortunately exhibits in the museum didn’t much refer to the recent advancement seemingly due to the nature of the historical museum. Nevertheless, we can detect many achievement and directions that the Japanese telecommunication businesses are engaging in this field. For example, the introduction and development of OCN, voice communication and video distribution system using the Internet, “i-mode devices” that had previously marked a new era in telecommunication world, and several challenging activities such as the operation of the IPv6 Internet networks and others. In terms of communication software, you can observe some facilities reflecting current changes in the telecommunication world, like developments of various system control programs, unique hierarchical architecture of information system, large-scale database, software on the production technology, etc.
Currently major communication services have shifted from fixed-line telephone networks to wireless communication services, and even the basic platform of mobile communication have shifted from 3G or 4G to the 5G generation. In this situation, we are curious how NTT will cultivate the future telecommunications business by taking advantage of the vast technological assets that have been accumulated until now.
The telecommunications industry has now entered a new era of intense global competitions and changes. In the world of mobile devices, overseas manufacturers are leading the way in this field. Europe and the United States are now increasingly dominant in international communication businesses. Many countries are also intensifying competition in satellite communications too. Under these circumstances, it is very much interesting what direction of development will go in the telecommunication business in Japan in terms of the business and technology. The NTT Museum has clarified the history of technological developments in Japan and visualized the implication regarding communication technology in our social daily life. Although some difficulties to understand the technology background of machines and devices, but I could recognize to some extent about social significance of telecommunication world through observing the exhibition .
In the era of advancing mobile and Internet today, I felt that “History Museum”’ gave me a precious chance to adventure into the telecommunication world and was possible to acknowledge the NTT’s previous technology development footsteps.
- NTT技術史料館HP： http://www.hct.ecl.ntt.co.jp/
- NTT技術史料館 技術史のラウンジ hct.ecl.ntt.co.jp/floorguide/history_05.html
- NTT技術史料館紹介： https://electrelic.com/electrelic/node/897
- 「ビジュアル版 日本の技術100年」(5) 通信・放送 （筑摩書房）
- 「通信の世紀」大野哲弥 （新潮選書）
- 「電気通信物語」城水基次郎 （オーム社）
- 電話機の歩み https://www.ntt-east.co.jp/databook/pdf/denwakinoayumi
- 固定電話の歴史： kogures.com/hitoshi/history/tushin-denwa/index.html
- 日本の電信の幕開けー江戸から明治― ITUジャーナル 46 No. 7（2016, 7）
- プラットフォームサービスを巡る現状と課題(プラットフォームサービスに関する研究会 2018 Oct.18)