I am a regular reader of your newspaper, and recently, I have read articles that delve into the history of the Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) as background information to try to analyze the present financial state of that organization. The most recent is the article that appears in your Friday April 6, 2018 issue entitled “Before all hell broke loose at BTL,” by Colin Hyde.
Back in December of 2012, as BTL was advertising its 4G Network, I wrote an article entitled “Belize’s 3G Telecommunications Technicians” to highlight some of the people who were integral to the organization’s success even before privatization. My article provides details of developments between 1979 and 1982, that would supplement what was touched briefly by C. Hyde in paragraph 16 of the above-stated article. I am submitting the article as a contribution to the discourse, and hope that you will find it useful to share with your readers.
The source of the information is my personal experience working as an Electronic Exchange Maintenance Technician in the Switching Department of the organization from August, 1979 to February, 1982.
Thank you in advance for sharing.
Marion E. Lambey
BELIZE’S 3G TELECOMMUNICATIONS TECHNICIANS
Graduates of the Telecommunications Foundation Course sponsored by the Belize Telephone Authority (B.T.A), in conjunction with Plessey Telecommunications Limited of Beeston Nottingham in the U.K. The photo was taken at the steps of the Albert Cattouse Building in Belize City on December 2nd, 1979 by Mr. Harry Noble, a senior manager within the organization at the time.
Pictured from left to right: Stooping; Ashley Wallen, ? McKinstry, Paul Quiroz, Sitting; William Locke, ? Bejos, Wellington McCoon, Derrick Gordon, Anthony Moody, Miguel Montero, Standing front row; Dennis Mathews, Agustin Gomez, Ray Leadbetter (Plessey Instructor), Marlon Vernon, ? Escalante, Standing back row; Ralph Nunez, Haitian Technician, Michael Butler, Marion Lambey.
The excitement of the present generation of Belizeans who are privileged to be direct participants in heralding the arrival of Fourth Generation (4G) Telecommunications Network to Belize has inspired me to reflect on that stage in my life when I too was directly involved in the arrival of what was then cutting edge telephone technology to Belize.
It was in the summer of 1979 when the National Telephone System (NTS) of Belize was government-owned, and was administered by a Quasi-Government Statutory Body named Belize Telephone Authority (BTA). BTA, in conjunction with the government of Belize, secured a loan and underwent what I believe was up to that point, the most far reaching of its expansion programs, both from a technological and human resources viewpoint.
Technologically, the trust of the program was the replacement of the Strowger Step-by-Step switching systems at the Albert Cattouse Building (in-town), the Kings Park, and the Belmopan telephone exchanges, and also the XP series switches at the Corozal and Orange Walk exchanges, to new Electronic Reed Main (ERM) Systems. These new systems were bought from Plessey Telecommunications Limited.
With the exception of some international outgoing and incoming (trunk) circuits at the Kings Park Exchange, all Strowger equipment was put out of commission. The serviceable parts of the XP Series switches removed from the Corozal, Orange Walk, and San Ignacio exchanges, were used to upgrade systems at the Stann Creek (now Dangriga) and the Punta Gorda exchanges. Additionally, new Electronic Reed Small (ERS) switches were installed at San Ignacio, and at the then newly established exchanges in Ladyville and San Pedro Town.
The new electronic telephone exchanges, in comparison to their Strowger and Cross Point predecessors were much more quiet, faster in operation, more reliable, took up much less space, and were less expensive in the long term. They employed reed relay cross-points for switching, and programmable electronic call processors for controlling and monitoring the setting up of switch paths through the exchange.
Very soon after the completion of the commissioning of the new electronic exchanges in 1981, Belize became recognized as a regional leader in the field of telecommunications, especially as pertains to international access. Some of the new features that excited subscribers at the time were conference calling, the time clock, and more advanced tones. These more advanced tones were generated by modern designs in tone generators.
The expansion program saw the capacity of the Kings Park Exchange increase from 1,000 to 3,000 subscribers, while the Belmopan Exchange expanded from 300 to 800 subscribers. Corozal and Orange Walk increased from 200 to 500, while the other district town exchanges saw increases by at least 100 percent. There were also meaningful expansion and improvements in the Transmission Department; notable among them was the replacement of the transmission tower that I saw being erected at the Kings Park Exchange around 1972 to 1974 while I was a student in first or second form at Belize Junior Secondary School #1 (now E.P. Yorke High School).
BTA was privatized and it became a government owned company named Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL), in 1987. Some years later, a private entity was made to own majority shares in BTL. Under that ownership, BTL underwent yet another name change to its present name of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL).
The upgrade in quality of human resources was equally as impressive as the technological upgrade. Prior to the expansion program, BTA’s maintenance technicians were generally drawn from individuals who showed dedication and potential by having taken correspondence courses via institutions like the National Radio Institute (NRI), the National Technical School (NTS), International Correspondence School (ICS), etc. Former employees of the Government Printers were another source.
The new expansion program saw BTA, under the leadership of Chief Engineer Mr. Benny Smith, and newly employed university-trained engineers Edilberto Tesecum (Switching Department) and Ernesto Torres (Transmission Department), sought a more formally educated pool of technicians. They made sure that in addition to their traditional means of advertisement, their vacancy for new technicians was prominently placed on bulletin boards at the most prominent Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Institution in Belize’s history — the Belize Technical College (BTC).
Enter myself and seven other BTC, 1979 graduates pictured above. Four were Associate Degree Holders (two from the traditional Arts and Science Sixth Form, and two from the Engineering Sixth Form). The other four were graduates of the Senior Secondary Course (High School) leading to G.C.E “O” Level. In addition to these eight BTC graduates, the other two new employees were one with an Associate Degree in Science from St. John’s College (SJC) Sixth Form, and one who came from the employment pool, with prior work experience.
Beside the Plessey Instructor, the other seven pictured above, were existing BTA employees with varying numbers of years of experience. Of this group, one (Mr. Ralph Nunez) was a Technician Grade 2, while the other six were assistant technicians. New employees with Associate Degrees were hired as Technician Grade 2, while high school graduates entered as Assistant Technicians.
All new employees were enrolled in the training program, and were required to sign a bond committing to remain in the employ of BTA for two years after completion of the eleven-month training. The training entailed being in a classroom environment for the aforementioned Telecommunications Foundation Course for three months, and thereafter an additional five months of in-classroom training in electronics. This theoretical training was substantiated with three months of supervised practical training where the trainees were taught how to troubleshoot, diagnose, and repair faults in discreet component circuits, and integrated circuits in addition to participating in the commissioning of the new exchanges.
I referred to the technicians pictured above, as “BELIZE’S 3G TELECOMMUNICATIONS TECHNICIANS,” assigning the 2G designation to the technicians who before us traveled to Milan, Italy for training on the XP Series switching system. These include our most admired and respected supervisor, Senior Technician Mr. Gregory Gill, my role model as a technician and student of telephony, Mr. John Baldwin (Tech 1), Mr. Robert (Bobby) Cadle (Tech 1), and Mr. Nephtali Castellanos (tech 2). I believe Mr. Raymond Charley, who, by the time I came on board was a supervisor in the External Plant Department, was also trained in Italy along with others who I am unable to recall at this time. The ace technicians in the Transmission Department were Bro. Omar Hassan, and a Williams both technician grade 1. Another Williams in senior position was Mr. Fred Williams, who was the External Plant Engineer.
I reserved the 1G designation for those pioneering technicians who transitioned into BTA from its