June 29th - At Chasewater, I stopped to study something I’d not taken much notice of before - a microwave transceiver antenna between the boating lake and Innovation Centre. Painted brown to blend in, It’s pointing towards Pye Green, but could be anywhere in-between, too, like a telephone exchange or similar. On top is a standard ‘drum’ microwave antenna, with a transceiver amplifier halfway up. The nameplate on that suggests an 8MB link, and is almost certainly a broadband connection for the conference facilities, as I suspect the Innovation Centre was originally too far off the beaten track for a decent phone connection. Together with mobile phone network data backhaul, this is the only widespread use of such links still in use.
June 9th - Sad to note that like other towers in the backbone microwave network, Turner’s Hill mast in Rowley Regis is looking very bare now. The BT Tower in Birmingham now has next to no antenna on it, and No Man’s Heath and Pye Green are also looking sparse too. Turner’s Hill has only a few left, and like the others, are symbolic monuments to a past communications era, a lapsed cold war and the increasing ubiquity of the internet. I loved these installations, they fascinate and haunt me, but like so much cold war technology, their time has now gone.
November 12th - It was on my return that afternoon that I spotted a relic of times past, fitted high up on the gable wall of a house on the Walsall Road in Darlaston. It’s an Ionica antenna. You don’t see many of those about now.
Ionica were a pre-internet age telephone company that promised much, yet failed in the dot com boom. Launched in the early nineties, they offered cheap telephone line packages. What was unique was that the technology they offered was based on microwave transmission, rather than the copper wires BT used. If you signed up, engineers came out and installed one of these octagonal 3.5GHz microwave antennas, which pointed at a base station in the locality. The idea was fine, but never covered it’s costs, and as they were narrowband, would have been useless for the internet connections that were to come later. The company value was inflated to over a billion pounds in 1997, but collapsed in 1998. The network was wound down by BT, and only a few remnants like this antenna survive.
Like the Rabbit zone phone, a curious idea in a time of great change.
October 15th - A late afternoon spin around Brownhills, and my attention was snagged by the cellphone base station near the old cement works on Coppice Side. I recently featured a picture of Pye Green communications tower and noted that the microwave network was being dismantled. Whilst that’s true, Pye Green and others like it are still hubs of the telecoms network. Microwave transmission, rather than providing high bandwidth channels for live TV and suchlike like it used to, is till used for backhaul and interconnection purposes for the mobile phone network. The plethora of small drum antenna on this tower are pointing variously at Sutton Coldfield, Pye Green, Birmingham and Tameway Tower in Walsall. The shorter tower to the left is a Tetra unit providing support for emergency networks secure communications.