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Cable Technology Feature Article

July 14, 2008

New Telecom Handbooks

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

I don't recommend you take along either Ray Horak's “Webster's New World Telecom Dictionary” or “Telecommunications and Data Communications (News - Alert) Handbook,” both published by Wiley Publishing, with you on your next trip to the beach, lake or mountains this summer. First of all, they're long. The latter runs some 730 pages long, and the former is well, a dictionary of some 545 pages.
The Handbook is the sort of thing one either has to, or should, read as the beginning of a career in communications. That applies to just about any segment: wireless or wired telecom company, cable TV, satellite or data communications, as the book covers topics such as transmission system fundamentals, enterprise phone systems and messaging, legacy public switched networks, wide area data communications networks and local area networks.
The difference between a similar overview of several decades ago, and today's version, is that there are chapters dealing with broadband access networks, wireless, video, IP-based communications, the Web and Internet. The toughest sections always deal with regulatory issues, as those issues change over time. Horak covers those issues as they stand now.
I'd say the Handbook reminds me of the James Martin books I once pored over. More than once, I'd add.
The Dictionary obviously is not something you read, but have to refer to from now and then. It contains about 4,600 terms. The difference between the dictionaries I used to work with and the present volume is the inclusion of terms such as VoIP, storage area networks, 802.11, 10Gig Ethernet  and  Bluetooth. Sadly, none had been invented at the time I began my communications career.
There is one accommodation a person has to make between the well-researched definitions and the marketplace, though. Consider the definitions of "broadband" and "wideband." Horak rightly notes that "broadband" is a somewhat imprecise term, though noting that the International Telecommunications Union defines broadband as a transmission rate faster than the "primary" rate of 1.544 Mbps in North America or 2.048 in most other parts of the world.
Narrowband is defined as 64 kbps, again an ITU definition. Wideband typically has been defined as a transmission rate between 64 kbps and 1.544 Mbps. That's what is taught in communications programs and properly noted in books such as Horak's.
The real world is quite another matter. There now appears to be a move to market "wideband" as a way of distinguishing it from "broadband," where wideband represents more bandwidth than broadband. That makes a muddle of the definitions, but in the world where "standards" sometimes emerge from the market rather than from the standards bodies, one adapts.
You will find a bit more humor sprinkled in than you might expect. Those of you familiar with the Harry Newton products produced in the past will understand. I wouldn't claim you'll enjoy reading either of these two tomes. I would say they provide a useful foundation for a career in a business which swims in technology and acronyms.
Horak, by the way, is president of the Context Corporation, a telecom consultancy.
Light summer fare, these books are not. At the start of a career, though, I must admit they are important. Horak has done yeoman's work to produce these companion volumes.
Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

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