Traffic Service Position System (TSPS) Description and History

From Privateline.com article on TSPS History.
Edited and Researched by Tom Farley
Contributing writer J R Snyder Jr

TSPS was the system that killed the cord switchboard, the ubiquitous icon of telephone lore from the beginning, until the mid-1980s.

This photo of a very early TSP in Cleveland was a different version of the TSPS consoles that were installed in New Jersey for trials. The final product in New Jersey omitted the keys to the left of the multi-leaf file because the function those keys served had been incorporated into the primary functions to the right of the multi-leaf.

Northern Electric was also installing consoles in very small Toll Centers like Greenwood, SC, Greenville, OH and Hinesville, GA, although they were much less automatic and still required a lot of operator "ticketing and timing." The difference between TSP and TSD was that TSD attempted to take on all of the cordboard functions with a less developed processor that meant essentially strapping the TSD machine trunks across the local toll center crossbar. TSD met the needs of the Independent phone companies that had small Toll Centers in "territory islands" where they were surrounded by Bell or other Independent's Toll Centers. It probably wasn't intended to consolidate or centralize operator and billing processes, that was being developed as Traffic Operator Position Systems (TOPS) by Northern Electric. One of the largest applications of Northern Electric's most advanced TSD system was in Las Vegas in the 1970s.

The first AT&T system was TSP with more advanced processing but still primarily tied to one switch. As the system was developed it evolved to TSPS. As an aside, the Traffic Service Position was originally a station at a console, TSPS became the system that networked distant callers and consoles to provide operator services. Thus, a TSP console became a TSPS console once part of the Traffic Service Position System.

From an operators' perspective TSPS radically changed operator call handling and created a new operator services culture. The mechanics of call processing had similarities but there were big differences from the cord switchboard in the challenge of the job. The TSPS centers seemed more sterile and the sounds of cords slipping back into their sleeves rapido, the multiple lights blinking...the end of an era.

The Traffic Service Position System permitted operators to handle calls from distant locations much farther than had been technically possible. Generally until that time, the farthest Toll Center operators could be located from it's most distance Central Office and customers, was about 50 miles for technical reasons. TSPS took that concept apart by not only consolidating and centralizing a lot of remote small Toll Centers into large TSPS centers, those centers were located very far away in seemingly random far-flung locatons. If you lived in Santa Fe, NM your call could would likely no longer be answered in Santa Fe but in Eugene, OR, hundreds of miles away. In turn a customer in Eugene, OR could reach an operator in Pueblo, CO which actually is geographically closer to Santa Fe than Eugene.

Gone was the local operator with local knowledge and geography became that much smaller due to one more advance of the telephone system.


TSPS console

TSPS console. Click to enlarge (734K)

Did you know?

The Bell System was world famous for its industrial design research.

Click on this link to see what they studied for operator consoles (167K). This diagram shows a stylized woman at the seat of their new cordless switchboard. Before 1972 no switchboard was designed with men in mind, there being no male operators. As J R Snyder Jr relates, "I'm a small guy, 5'7'' and about 140 pounds and I didn't have many problems at the cordboards. But any guy 5' 10' to 5'11' or over was pretty uncomfortable. The boards were sized for women, in fact not being over a certain height and size was a job requirement at one time."

From United States Patent 5,046,183, Dorst , et al. September 3, 1991:

Semi-automated operator assistance telecommunication calls In the present mode for operating the public telephone network, toll and assistance operators are still required for a large class of these calls. For example, toll and assistance operators are required for processing calls such as station-to-station (station) collect calls; person-to-person (person) calls including sent paid, collect, and calling card calls; and bill-to-third party calls. . .

In the past, the cost for setting up 0+ and 0- calls has been sharply reduced through the introduction of systems such as the Traffic Services Position System (TSPS) No. 1, and the Operator Services Position System (OSPS), both manufactured by AT&T Network Systems, which require that operators only be connected to a call during the call setup time and that operators may be recalled when needed for such operations as collecting an overtime charge on a coin call, notifying a customer of the elapsed time and charges for a call, or in response to an originating customer flash because of, for example, poor transmission or a poor connection. All of these conditions are detected by timing or in response to calling customer signals. . . .

From the following patent, selected history, operation, and references, for the Traffic Service Position System. More information at http://www.uspto.gov

Method and apparatus for automating special service call handling

United States Patent 4,054,756
Comella , et al. October 18, 1977


The TSPS is comprehensively described in R. J. Jaeger, Jr. et al. U.S. Pat. No. 3,484,560, issued Dec. 16, 1966, and also in the Dec. 1970 issue of the Bell System Technical Journal. . .

FIG. 1 illustrates in block diagram form the manner in which a Special Service Announcement System (SSAS) is added to an existing TSPS office to automate special service calls in accordance with the principles of our invention.

1.1 Prior Art TSPS System

With the advent of TSPS, many of the functions previously performed by an operator at a cordboard were automated. More specifically, a customer at a coin station CS would make an initial deposit and then dial a 1 followed by 7 or 10 digits. The local office LO routes the call to a TSPS trunk TRK1 and down conductors T1 to the TSPS network NET. Stored program controller SPC, which is a duplicated processing unit for performing arithmetical and logical functions on data in accordance with its stored program [Computer memory, ed.], controls network controller NTC to establish connection P1. The local office transmits the calling and called digits to digit receiver DR via conductors T1 in the normal manner.

The TSPS rates the call and displays the charge and initial period information to an operator at a position such as position POS. A new network connection (not shown) is then established between conductors T1 and position POS by TSPS network NET. While the operator at position POS informs the calling party of the requisite coin deposit, outpulser OTP is controlled by the SPC to outpulse the digits in the called number via path P4 and conductors T2 to toll office TO. When the calling subscriber deposits coins at station CS, distinctive tones are generated thereat indicating the type of coin deposit, i.e., nickel, dime, quarter. While the customer is depositing the coins, the toll office TO establishes the call to the called station in the normal manner. When the called party answers and the operator has determined that the requisite amount has been deposited, the call, under the control of the operator, is cut through by trunk TRK1 directly from the local office LO to the toll office TO.

The TSPS system is also adapted to handle special service calls (such as person-to person, collect, credit card, charge-to-third number, and time and charges) originated from either coin stations such as CS or regular stations such as CSB. Generally, these calls are processed by an operator at position POS, who requests information from the calling station and then utilizes the received information to request whether or not the called station or third party station accepts the call. For further details of how TSPS processes typical calls see page 2435 et seq. in the December 1970 Bell System Technical Journal.