Microwave communications--the original cellular technology


Remember when these were more prevalent? they are only now a rare reminder of where the Cellular Telephone started its impact on the world. MIcrowave Communications. if you have ever watched shows like Magnum, P.I., or Emergency!, or Kojak, these were used by the business elite as far back as the 1970s (if not before). they were in limousines, the cars of executives, business jets, the like.

the phones themselves were usually called 'Radio Phones' or simply 'Microwave Phones' or other colliquial names. but basically they were the original form of wireless mobile telephone, now a useless museum piece today, and while one or two microwave towers may still stand today, still flashing their avoidance beacons, most are being dismantled in favor of more newer cellular towers. used to be those microwave towers were just as common. i am unsure of when the technology became obsolete, but i think they were still in use until at least the early 1980s

Fringe Reception

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I remember in the late 1960s, watching a similar tower being constructed and as far as I know, it's still in use between Bainbridge Island, Vashon Island and the mainland (Seattle). It's not ideally located, in fact its in a hole (valley) between the two high spots on the hill, but its on Ma Bell property where they installed the first ESS (electronic switching system) equipment in the area that ultimately replaced the original 'Panel-Pulse' mechanical works.

When talking to someone on Bainbridge Island, it was fun to whistle 2600 hz into the phone and the call would instantly drop but the link stayed open ... but that's another topic I won't go into. If I get a chance, I'll shoot some photos of it and add them to this thread. :)
I will add that in areas with still-functioning microwave communications or wireless telephones the service is more than cut in half. the coverage is extremely short-range at best, and parts for the now-ancient technology is probably harder to come by than parts for aging analog broadcast towers. iirc there may still be some use for those on emergency or civil services, who may make the switch to the now-auctioned off parts of the TV spectrum.

@ $5 per minute, who really wants a Radio Phone today?

I'm sure the catalysts used in those old towers must make scrap sellers a fortune though!

Our last Microwave Communications Tower was dismantled a few years back. it was located near Lowe Airfield in Kentucky (unsure which city-my dad and i just landed there it's just an isolated grass strip airport) even then the avoidance beacons were long cut from utilties years before the demolition.
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We may never know. they went out long before MythBusters!

and people worried about SAR emissions from older AMPS cellular phones. this kind of tower could give advertisements for tin foil hats!
Mythbusters already tested that one by trying to cook a turkey. I don't remember the full results. I think that they found that they weren't good for cooking.

As far as microwave communications, it is still alive and well. It depends on line of sight and this limits its usability. In terrestrial use, it is being replaced by fiber optics, but still remains in use.

The most common and expanding use of microwave communications is in satellite transmission.
all our old microwave point-to-point towers were either demolished or dismantled and the structure reused for cellular technologies/3G/EDGE.

The days of radiophones, at least in my area, are gone. there are different forms of microwave communications, the one i was referring to was wireless mobile telecommunications. some towers may still be up transmitting to civil/emergency services but they're not nearly as prevalent as they once were. people were concerned with the emissions and most went down long ago.

Fringe Reception

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Today, I shot photos of my local (above mentioned) Ma Bell (1967 ?) microwave tower site. The half-'fortune-cookie antennas' are the originals from day one - and I have no clue if they are still used. I cannot recall one other antenna added to that tower until the late 1970s ... and here it is today.


Fringe Reception

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I read some really interesting info on them and they were designed to survive a nuclear holocaust.

Maybe that's why they are still parked there and the basement still has a dedicated room full of 24 volt marine batteries to run the works during "power failures" (three power failures over the last year, so far here). Hmmm ... and yes, I still have two rotary dial phones available to use. :behindsofa:
The AT&T microwave towers were used for both civil and government communications. They were mostly built in the 50s and early 60s, and moved the Bell System's long-distance communications off of copper wires for a large part of the network. Some communications went over transcontinental cables, others over microwave links. The buildings supporting the towers were hardened against a nuclear blast, and some of them in high-danger areas were underground. The towers themselves were engineered to withstand all but a close (within 5 miles) blast. The microwave horns were covered with a protective shield to keep out not only the elements, but also radioactive fallout. The buildings were shielded with copper to protect the equipment against the Electromagnetic Pulse associated with a nuclear explosion. Foot-thick concrete walls protected the vital electronics and people inside the base installations of these towers. Thick copper grounds went deep into the bedrock beneath each tower. Fallout showers, backup generators, sleeping facilities all existed to keep the network up in times of war.

AT&T Long Lines Microwave Towers Remembered