The Hongkong Telephone Company, 1925 to 1933, Far Eastern Review article

Peter Crush has kindly sent the following article about the Hongkong Telephone Company which was first published in the Far Eastern Review of September 1933.

Many thanks to SCT for proofreading the retyped article shown below.

And thanks to Peter for improving the clarity of the first two images below.

Please note the  images do not appear in the same position below as in the original FER article.

Notable Year Of Progress In Working Of The Hongkong Telephone Company FER Sept 1933 Image 5 Peter Crush

Notable Year of Progress Recorded in Working of The Hongkong Telephone Company

by J.P.Sherry, Manager, The Hongkong Telephone Co., Ltd.

Prior to 1925 the Hongkong Telephone Company, as such, was non-existent. The system in Hongkong was operated through the Oriental Telephone & Electric Co., from London. In 1925 however, the Colonial Government gave a franchise to the Hongkong Telephone Company, on condition that within a fixed period they would convert the entire system then operating to the most modern type, and furthermore that all overhead distribution, within city limits, be replaced by underground cables.


Hongkong Telephone Company New Version British Empire Fair Peter Crush

The last mentioned work was tackled in a determined fashion in 1925, and by 1928 approximately 80 per cent of the circuits were served by direct underground connections. This work was carried out without any additions to the normal staff.

In 1930 the whole system was changed to direct automatic working. This cut-over, one of the most difficult of its kind, being a change over from C.B.S. system to full automatic working, and done without any addition to the normal staff, was successfully accomplished. In most cut-overs of this kind the complications attendant upon the cables, circuits, and the exchange sections of the change overs are usually dealt with by experts specially imported for the job. In the case of the Government Post Office at home, men are provided from all over the country to assist in the change over. The new system is a complete success and has received enthusiastic reports from the Press.

From 1925 onwards the Company has experienced rapid progress, the present number of telephones operating in Hongkong being close to sixteen thousand.


Hongkong Telephone Company New Version Kowloon Exchange Building Peter Crush

In other directions of telephone development the Company has not been slow. In 1931 teleprinters were introduced into the Colony, and have operated successfully since that date. Also in 1931 the Company established trunk communication between Hongkong and Canton. This cable sufficient to carry 30 conversations was the first of its kind to be introduced into South China. The engineering difficulties in the way of laying this cable were enormous, but with indefatigable energy they were tackled by those deputed to the work, with the result that the cable was connected some time ahead of schedule. This cable has since operated successfully, and has proved a boon to business men in South China. Coincident with the introduction of the trunk cable a system of picture transmission was introduced for demonstration purposes and worked perfectly.

Notable Year Of Progress In Working Of The Hongkong Telephone Company FER Sept 1933 Image 3 Peter Crush

The Company has also introduced various developments to the Colony within recent years, in the shape of the most modern type of rural automatic exchange work. This is operating satisfactorily in what is known as the New Territories, and has supplied a greatly needed want in these areas.

All these modern innovations have been introduced in a climate which is forever striving to undo the work of engineers. Throughout the whole of the summer months the humidity is such that, books, radio sets, pictures and clothes have to be specially stored in drying rooms, in order to prevent them growing fungus and rotting during humid periods. Telephone apparatus however, is required to stand up not only to the bad weather and an abnormally heavy calling rate, but to give a high grade of service. This requires a standard higher than that required elsewhere.

The charge for telephone service, approximately £9 a year for an unlimited service, is as low as can be found anywhere in the world.

At the recent British Empire Fair held in Hongkong the Telephone Company installed a complete public address system for the purpose of the exhibition. The Company’s own exhibit was given the place of honour, and due to its attractiveness drew tremendous crowds. Demonstrations were given on a large working model of a step by step automatic exchange, on teleprinter working and also on a special innovation of the Company’s, the “Loud speaking telephone.” This being a special phone designed for busy men, and is far in advance of any other type yet designed. The Company is shortly putting this into production. Public address systems have since been fitted into hotels and churches in the Colony with marked success.

Despite these achievements the Hongkong Telephone Company is forever striving to do more and, at the present time telephone manufacturers from all over the world realize this and send samples of their products to the Company for testing under the difficult humid conditions prevalent in the Colony.

Supplementing  the foregoing additional details of interest regarding the activities of the Hongkong Telephone Company were given in an address recently by Mr. C. Gordon Mackie, Chairman of the Company, on the occasion of the Company’s Annual General Meeting on March 22 last. Pertinant portions of this address were as follows: “Speaking from the Chair at the last Annual Meeting, I pointed out the rapid progress which the Company was making and indicated that your Board were then considering a proposal to extend the Automatic Exchange Equipments both in Hongkong and Kowloon, and you will be pleased to learn, therefore, that an order has been placed with Siemens Bros, of Woolwich, London, for an additional 4,000 lines of switching equipment for Central Exchange, and 2,500 lines for Kowloon and that the actual work of installation is now in progress. This represents an increase of approximately 50 per cent in Exchange capacity and is in keeping with the progressive policy of your Company in putting down in advance ample equipment embracing all modern improvements whereby it is enabled to give an efficient telephone service and to supply such service on demand.

The whole of the equipment will be manufactured at Woolwich and favorable terms were obtained on this order.

Notable Year Of Progress In Working Of The Hongkong Telephone Company FER Sept 1933 Image 4 Peter Crush

In July, 1932, two small Automatic exchanges were installed at Taipo Market and Fanling and are affording a first class service to those subscribers who are connected thereto. The data obtained from the operation of these Exchanges will be very useful to the management in determining what demand exists for telephone service in rural areas and whether progress is such as to justify the opening of further similar Exchanges from time to time in other districts.

In the matter of radiotelephone communication with far distant points such as Shanghai, we have kept in touch with Imperial and International Communications Ltd. and a recent letter to hand advises that negotiations are still proceeding with Government and that radio communication should be established in about one year from the completion of such negotiations.

In connection with the Canton Trunk Service, we have been able to observe the results of a full year’s working and these, in my opinion, justify the confidence which animated your Directors when they authorized the putting down of the Trunk Cable. This service has been in operation now since September 1, 1931, during which time it has functioned day and night without interruption.

During the year under review, 877 additional Exchange Lines and 264 Extension Lines were connected up and over 5,000 circuit miles of Underground Cable and Covered Distribution were laid down.

In conformity with the desire of your Company to afford subscribers all the advantages of modern progress in matters affecting telephone communication, Teleprinter Service was introduced to the Colony during the year and I have no doubt that in the course of time, when commercial houses realize the immense value of this class of special service in certain businesses, the number of Teleprinter installations will rapidly increase.

This article was first posted on 19th August 2020.

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  2. The demise of payphones in the MTR (and elsewhere) – the writing is literally on the wall
  3. Telegraph Bay, HK Island – location of the first submarine telegraphic cable into Hong Kong, 1871
  4. Submarine Cables – Maps 1901 + 1991 worldwide / Hong Kong networks
  5. The Gutta Percha Company – link to Eastern Extension Telegraph Company and Hong Kong

One comment

  • Peter Crush

    The British Empire Fair, which the article describes as having been held “recently” was held between 24 and 27 May 1933. Product display booths were set up on the ground floor and in the Rose Room of the Peninsula Hotel at Tsim Sha Tsui. An aviation stand was also set up by the Far East Aviation Co. Ltd on the open lawn next to the K.C.R railway fence opposite the hotel. Here, three static aircraft were exhibited and in the afternoon of the fair’s last day, an aerobatic display was performed by a single-engine plane over the harbour, having taken off from Kai Tak aerodrome

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