I am sometimes asked what the best, single, piece of advice I can give to anyone in telecommunications is. You may assume (and you wouldn’t be far wrong) that it’s “read the General Conditions of Entitlement” or the relevant licence/operating conditions of your jurisdiction.That would probably be the third piece of advice.

The number one slot is firmly taken by the soundbite “A lack of use isn’t a lack of utility”. Which basically means, in telecommunications terms, that just because you don’t see traffic, doesn’t mean the line isn’t in use.

This may sound like an oxymoron, but there is a story that illustrates the point well.

A network in the United Kingdom had some capacity issues. It was broadly to do with the size of the database that authenticated a voice caller using the legacy “wholesale call origination” product. For those not familiar with legacy UK telecoms, this was a product mandated to be supplied to the whole industry on an equivalence basis by British Telecom at the time. It was more commonly referred to as “Carrier Preselect” and enabled BT’s competitors to provide a voice service to the former incumbent’s customers.

The network in question’s logic was that they’d pick up any legitimate users they disabled through fault reporting, so they removed the database entries for all lines that hadn’t made a call for the prior 12 months.

They forgot one thing.

They had the contract to provide the service to all the emergency phones at every railway level crossing in the country, a fair number of which they just unilaterally disconnected.

Thankfully the phones are tested in routine inspections and the problem was quickly identified and rectified. But it does illustrate perfectly that a lack of use is by no means  of a lack of utility.