Sidetone: Summer 1996


25 High Park Blvd. Toronto M6R 1M6 (416) 536-9252
  • Joel Eves
  • Stephen Purdey
Sidetone is a regular publication of WTT Communications Ltd. distributed, free of charge, to customers, staff and friends.
Editor this issue:Steve Purdey
Vol. XXXIIISummer, 1996No. III


The number of calls from folks looking for second-hand phone systems is up at Wes­tern Telephone. More and more people, especially those setting up new bu­si­nes­ses, are seeking ways to cut costs. Several times a week, buyers call in search of cast-offs - looking for ways to economize and keep start-up costs low.

Almost without exception, we turn these people away. Despite the fact that Western's business telephone systems are built from 'used' components, their selling price is roughly comparable to that of a new, off-the-shelf digital system. The advantages we offer are defined in terms of durability, simplicity and repairability, not by the cut-rate prices often associated with second-hand equipment.

There are several reasons why our product is not cheap. One is the fact that it is fully refurbished - 'like-new', even though it may be not second-hand, but fourth or fifth-hand (our rental equipment circulates among many customers). A more important reason, however, is that 1A key systems are installation labour intensive. Instead of quick-mount Key Service Units with plug-in set and line ports, we build entire cross-connect fields with wired station and feature programming. Rather than 3-pair station wiring, we run 25-pair cables to each telephone, often with distribution terminals or satellite cross-connect fields at important system nodes. These differences add up to increased labour costs which cancel the advantage gained in not having to purchase any newly manufactured materiel.

We offer no apology for taking a labour-intensive product to market in a business environment that demands low labour costs. Quite the opposite. We believe that a substantial labour component in our product serves two relevant functions: first it encourages craftsmanship and fosters a sense of 'ownership' betweeen the installer and the product; and second, it puts people, and in particular employment, ahead of profit. It is our opinion that both craftsmanship and employment have suffered from the impact of digital technology, to the detriment of those in the workforce and to the detriment of society as a whole.

Everyone has heard of the 'jobless recovery' now occurring in Canada's eco­nomy, and in the global marketplace as a whole. The struggle to compete seems to require a displacement of people by machines in order to reduce to a minimum the labour component in production. Efficiency, we are told, is the key to success, for nations as much as for local business: and that means 'doing more with less', cutting back on the workforce, and holding the line on wages. Why is labour victimized by economic restructuring when the economy is supposed to serve the community? And, more to the point, how can business sur­vive if unemployed consumers cannot afford the goods that business produces?

A major part of the jobless recovery problem is the huge wage gap between developed and developing economies. Investment capital moves swiftly around the world, attracted by the growth opportunities offered by low labour costs. Under pressure from low-wage economies, producers here feel obliged to chop high-wage costs from production, eliminating jobs. When labour cannot be cut entirely, as with installation of key systems, it is pared to a bare minimum.

Are labour cuts the only response to the global demand for efficiency? The an­swer is 'no', but options are hard to imagine given that, with in­ter­national capital mobility, the world is now not a global village, but a global factory. If industrialized economies expect to maintain their standard of living, and if that standard is to be affordable, then employment opportunities must be abundant and wages must remain (relative to poorer economies) high. For this to occur, political leaders must regain control of international financial in­sti­tu­tions and limit trade between nations to goods and services, not in­vest­ment capital.

This argument for financial self-sufficiency is not popular, nor is its re­a­li­za­tion imminent. In the meantime, businesses such as Western Telephone can do little more than hold the line against the attack on labour by refusing to capitulate to the demand for less human input to our product. We do so by re­duc­ing our need for new material (by recycling used equipment), thereby al­low­ing a higher labour component. This approach preserves jobs while allowing our workers to practice the skilled craftsmanship that 1A key telephone technology requires.


Rod Brouse collects telephones. His Mississauga apartment boasts a wide variety of 1960-79 Touch-Tone sets, including Princess phones in unusual colours, all hooked up and working. The phone is a familiar item to Rod, who recently took an early retirement package from Bell Canada after twenty years in Marketing.

Rod now manages apartment buildings in Mississauga and Sudbury. Adding phone lines as his business grew, he decided in April it was time to buy a key system: something to fit the location's telephonic theme. With help from Dominion Telephone Systems, Rod found his way to WTT. A three-line, two-station system was installed in April and expanded to five stations in June.

Rod also maintains a home office in Sudbury, where he has just installed a key system prebuilt in WTT's shop for owner installation.


University of Toronto's New College is the latest student residence to choose WTT for service and management of their house phone systems. The college started renting their key systems from Bell Canada in the 1960s, when the complex was built. In the 1990s, Bell began forcing customers to "upgrade" from analog key systems to digital by claiming inability to service the older.

Acting under pressure from Bell, New College converted to multi-line Centrex sets for their house phones in 1994. Telephones immediately began to disappear, as light-fingered students found they plugged into standard residential phone jacks. (Later, the students would discover that Centrex sets don't work on an ordinary phone line.)

When Bell was unable to produce a "theft-proof" Meridian set, the college returned to its reliable, though ailing, 1960s key systems. After all, why would anyone steal a 6-button telephone that plugs into a 50-pin outlet. As a first step in gaining control of their telephonic future, New College purchased 24 6-button sets from WTT in February, 1995. Three months later Bell removed their phones, replacing them with the college's WTT sets. At this point Bell ceased billing for the two key systems, in effect abandoning their key equipment and cables.

New College's second step toward telephonic self-sufficiency was to find a company that would repair and maintain the house key systems they now owned. Last fall, Joel Eves and Steve Purdey met with Dean of Men David Pelteret and other representatives of the university to discuss service options. The result was a gruelling, four-hour service call, in which WTT dealt with several chronic problems and got a taste of the condition of the two systems. This was the first of several visits in which problems were dealt with as they arose, on a "pay-as-you-go" basis.

The specific experience gained in these repair activities enabled WTT to determine a cost for bringing the key systems up to a serviceable standard. Last month, New College took the third and final step by commissioning WTT to rebuild both systems and enter into a fixed-cost service management agreement. Work on the upgrades began July 2 with Wilson Hall, the women's residence; The overall project will be completed by mid-August.

To provide optimum response to customers in the university and its environs, WTT will set up a service facility in Trinity College later this summer. The workshop and spare parts storeroom will support eight on-campus key systems, and an additional two located nearby.


Photo of Steve Purdey

Twenty-seven-year veteran Steve Purdey returned to full-time WTT employment in June. Steve joined the firm to help install campus radio systems in 1969, and soon accepted the challenge of taking our services to the world.

In 1973, he was instrumental in landing a six-year cable installation project for Bell Canada. In the eighties, Steve brought in a number of lucrative Bell contracts, including the sale of explosive atmosphere telephones and the dismantling of on-site step-by-step PBX systems.

In 1992, Steve completed a major key system sale to CBC Radio News. This has led to an ongoing blitz of radio stations across North America.

Recently, Steve has been serving as Vice-President and helping out on a part-time basis while studying political science at U of T. Next academic year he will earn an M.A. with a specialty in the environment. During his summer stint at Western Telephone, Steve will be working on major client development and corporate organization.

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