It’s getting a little ridiculous. Telecommunication service providers are coining new acronyms so fast, I’m sure they’re already labeling themselves TCSP’s. If not, I’ll be due a royalty.

I first noticed that telecom was becoming the acronym business when “ISDN” started being bantered about. I think it was the mid-nineties. Which sounds like yesterday, and was almost 15 years ago. Back then, my significant other was in the business, and even she joked that “ISDN (Integrated services digital network) stood for “I still don’t know”.

The telecommies had a sense of humor back then. That was back before management concluded that a mish-mash of endless acronyms equalled a layer of mysticism. A mystique that protects profits like the Popemobile helps Catholics sleep at night.

I’ve been following the telecommies for years now, watching them smugly recite acronyms ranging from “POTS” (plain old telephone service) to ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) and every imaginable, and undecipherable acronym in between. Who’ll ever forget “kbps” (kilo bits per second) or PBX (Private branch exchange? What I remember is the mind numbing sensation that occurred when the telecommies started spewing their acronese (I’m sure there’s a royalty coming for that one) until I said, “man, this is way too irritating, give it to another project manager”.

That’s telecom, and that’s the way they like it. Confuse the user, and the profits roll in.

Two very diverse personalities eventually provided me the perspectives that helped crack the telecode for me though. One, a co-worker who thought he was funny always joked about telecom being sold in “units”. Ultimately, offerings like MPLS (a system that manages packets of data) make him accidentally smarter than he actually was. Another, a brilliant woman I once married, explained to me that whenever the answer to a question seems mystical, remember the real world problem that the question answers.

In the final analysis, it’s all just sending and receiving little bits of data. Sure, there are lots of ways to transport ‘em. But there are lots of ways to send bananas, too. You don’t see producer farmers marketing their SBBT (send bananas by truck) service, or the PBAM (Put in Boxes And Mail) product. But they could. Only UPS, FedEx and other parcel carriers have adopted even a fraction of acronese as a method to obfuscate their way to profits. Still, it works.

So the next time you’re dragged into the data dungeon and help hostage by a bunch of rogue letters whose meaning you can’t decipher, remember this. “Bits of data, sent and received.” It’s really just that simple.
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  1. Good point! It really is as simple as getting data from point A to point B and understanding cryptic abbreviations isn't cause for scare. In fact, knowing what all those letters mean isn't likely to make much difference in getting telecom work done, ever. However, as with other commodities, it's important to understand the tools and facilities available\applicable for getting the job done. As you mentioned, you won't be using trucks and boxes for telecommunications but you might replace your ATM network riding on ISDN circuits for a private IP, Layer 3 (redistributing OSPF and EIGRP to BGP) MPLS network backed up with VPN running through IPsec tunnels over a DSL connection, dot com.

  2. That's what she said.