Long Distance Telephone Service established between Hongkong and Canton, The Far Eastern Review October 1931

HF: Peter Crush has sent this article extracted from the Far Eastern Review of October 1931.

HF: I have retyped the original version to aid clarity and searches.

Thanks to SCT for proofreading the retyped version shown here.

A new era of rapid telephone communication in China began on September 1, when long  distance telephone service was established between the cities of Hongkong and Canton. This was made possible through the progressiveness of the Hongkong Telephone Company, Ltd. and the Canton Municipal Telephone Administration. The new service was formally inaugurated by Sir William Peel, Governor of  Hongkong, calling Mr. Lin Yun-koy, Chairman of the Kwantung Provincial Government. A feature of the ceremony was the sending of pictures and facsimiles of documents including Chinese characters by means of telephone  and apparatus. Demonstrations were also conducted showing the operation of combination – sending and receiving teleprinters whereby messages were typed on one end and simultaneously transmitted to and recorded on the other end.

The service is rendered through a specially designed lead covered and steel taped armored cable which was placed underground along the entire route in order to minimize the possiblities of interruption due to atmospheric conditions or other external forces. Both managements realized that to furnish an absolutely dependable service it was necessary to place the cables underground throughout practically its entire course. The operating practice is based on the most modern long distance traffic methods, the key note of which is the completion of calls on a no-delay basis while the subscriber waits on the line.

The cable consists of 20 pairs of wires in 10 quads and provides 20 physical circuits and 10 phantom circuits over which 30 conversations may be held simultaneously. Although the cities are situated only 85 miles apart (air line measurements) the actual length of the cable is about 120 miles due to the nature of the country traversed and the need for a protected right-of-way. The design of the cable is such that for the greater part of the route it was placed in a trench about two feet deep without using any special conduit protection.

Long Distance Telephone Service Now Links Hongkong And Canton, FER Oct 1931 Image 1

The route from Canton runs through various types of country including low swampy land, rocky mountainous country, river crossings, a railway tunnel and finally across the harbour from Kowloon to Hongkong. The work of laying the cable commenced from the Canton end on January 17, 1931, and was completed on August 10. After leaving Canton the route follows the railroad for the greater part of the distance. A special train was utilized in those parts to transport the cable, the laying of which was done mostly at night directly from the drums mounted on railway cars.

When long water crossings were encountered, some of which were in excess of 1,000 feet, junk boats were employed to carry the cable across. The cable sections at those points were constructed of special wire armour for submarine protection. Floods frequently interrupted the progress of the job. In many cases the cable had to be raised above the ground in order to make the splices (joints) as it was important that the inside of the cable be kept dry. Several times splices were made under difficult conditions three feet below flood level. Work had to be temporarily abandoned on several occasions due to high water conditions. The submarine cable which crosses the harbour from Kowloon to Hongkong is about 1.2 miles long. This section of the cable was fabricated and shipped in one length thereby eliminating the necessity for making splices and also permitting the cable to be laid directly into position.

The testing and splicing work which was, perhaps, the most features in the successful completion of the job followed closely upon the laying of each section. Each length of cable was tested to ascertain its electrical characteristics and several lengths were then joined together to form sections about 1.2 miles long. When these sections were completed, dried air under pressure was applied in order to make sure that both the cable and splices were air-tight. The next operation was the placing of loading coils in a sealed case in a concrete man-hole at the end of each section and, after further tests, joining the several sections together through the loading coils so as to produce continuously balanced circuits.

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The cable for the project and the special switch-board equipment on the Canton end were supplied and installed by the China Electric Company, a subsidiary of the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation which is also the parent company of the Shanghai Telephone Company. The cable, teleprinters and telephoto apparatus were manufactured by companies also associated with the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation.

Transmits Pictures

Following opening of the new Hongkong-Canton telephone service the mode of transferring photographs and documents as described in the Hongkong Weekly Press is as follows:
The photograph or document is inserted in the transmitting apparatus and the current switched on. The matter to be sent is affixed to a drum which slowly revolves. An intensified light beam is directed on to the picture and the reflected light from this beam affects a photo electric valve which controls the current to be passed out to the line after amplification. At the receiving end the received current is again amplified and passed through coils which affect the movements of a small suspended magnet upon which is fixed a mirror.
The reflections of this mirror are transmitted through lenses to sensitized paper or a film.  The vibrations on the mirror are, of course, in complete accord with the vibrations or varied reflections of light caused at the sending end by the light and shade on the item being transmitted.

A number of photographs and letters have been transmitted already over the line, and the reproduction is perfect.

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The teleprinter is, in effect, a distant typewriter. The demonstration model fitted in the offices of the Telephone Company is connected by wires in the toll cable to another one in the offices of the Canton Telephone Administration in Canton, and a typist without any technical skill whatever can proceed to type messages in Hongkong, which are received in Canton, and vice versa. The message is typed on to a strip at both ends and is cut up and pasted on to a form, if required, to make it up as a letter.

In a report published by the Overland China Mail the cost of the undertaking is placed at £120,000 , 1931, and this journal gives interesting details of the manner in which the work was done, saying the operations began at the end of January, 1931, and were completed on August 4.

Mr. Burnett, of the International Telegraph and Telephone Company, was in charge of the work and had associated with him Mr. Graham, Mr. Barkwith and Mr. Westerhout, all of the Standard Telephone and Cables Company.

Under them they had a labor force of 150 Chinese. The laborers had to be trained before starting work. They had never seen or heard of a telephone cable before. But they were quick learners and, with the capable tuition they received, attained a stage of very reasonable proficiency in two or three weeks. The training was continued with productive work.

Throughout the six months taken to lay the cable no trouble was experienced with the labor force. This is a tribute to the tact which must have been displayed by those in charge of operations.

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The labor force was divided into four groups, each under the charge and control of one of the experts mentioned before. The camps were widely separated, being some 15 to 20 miles apart and engaged on different sections of the work.

Starting from Canton a mile of cable was laid per day. That represented 20 per cent of the completed job. Trenches had to be dug as they went along and there was, of course, more work after the cable was in the ground. Each section is 1⅛th miles in length and is made up of six lengths. Each of these lengths had to be tested for various electrical quantities and characteristics before it was joined up. These tests had to be made under all sorts of conditions. It is generally hard work and was made difficult by inclement weather conditions.

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As far as possible the cable has been carried along the bottom of railway embankments but circumstances did not always permit of this being done. Deviations had to be made to allow for the geographical conditions of the country through which the cable was carried. The cable has been carried over hills, through valleys and through rivers.

Three large rivers had to be negotiated. One of them was 1,000 yards wide. That is the river at Shek-lung. At these points locally engaged sampans were employed and the labor force augmented. The cable at river points is of a special type made to withstand possibility of damage from the punt poles of sampans. It is heavily armoured steel wire and will withstand considerable illusage. It is very necessary that this should be so, because a fault at any of these points will dislocate the entire service.

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Work was held up for some time by excessive floods in the vicinity of Shek-lung and Sheung-ping. At these places the cable was submerged in 15 to 30 feet of water. The water level in these places at the time was rising at the rate of four to five feet in 24 hours. The cable was later tested and found not to have been adversely affected by the flooding. But work in these sections had to be abandoned for some six weeks or so.

The foreign staff lived under canvas for a period of about four months. They had to carry along their own food supplies and get their water from either Canton or Hongkong. Only great difficulty in the matter of food supplies was experienced on one occasion, and that was due to the dislocation of traffic owing to an accident at Shating. The Europeans then had to come into Hongkong by trolley to obtain supplies.

The further the camps moved from Canton the more serious became the bandit question. To guard against these marauders each camp had to maintain an armed force of Nationalist Guard. There was only one real scare and that was at Ping Wu when it seemed there was some possibility of a raid. Bandits were known to be in the vicinity. But nothing happened.

The Chinese labor force did not seem to be greatly perturbed on that occasion. They appeared to have every confidence in the armed guard at the camps. They continued their work without interruption and fear.

For the most part it was very hot, and at nights there were plagues of flying beetles and insects, also mosquitoes.

Surprisingly little sickness was experienced by either foreign or Chinese staffs. They came right through with a clean bill of health. Also there were no casualties.

The boundary or border was passed about the middle of June, and thereafter the cable was carried for the greater part of the remainder of the was along the Taipo Road.

The greatest height at which the cable has been laid is about 400 feet above sea level.

Long Distance Telephone Service Image 8

Source: Far Eastern Review, October 1931

This article was first posted on 20th October 2021.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. The Hongkong Telephone Company, 1925 to 1933, Far Eastern Review article
  2. Cable & Wireless telephone, cross-harbour cable cut, newspaper article 1949
  3. Hong Kong Telephone Building, Nathan Road
  4. The demise of payphones in the MTR (and elsewhere) – the writing is literally on the wall
  5. Proposed world-wide radio-telephonic system for Hong Kong, newspaper article 1938

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