Lest We Forget


Compiled by Faruq Bostaman

Brunei gets Dial-a-Country service

MARCH 1, 1980 – The new exchange in Telephone House came online last Thursday – and immediately many phones in the capital stopped working.

Director of Telecommunications Douglas Scholey said, “We do have problems.

“You can’t determine everything in a new system until it is in operation so I’m disappointed but not surprised.

“We have a software bug in the new Central exchange.

“There is a fault in the memory program system which is hard to detect and it will take us a couple of days to sort it out.”

ABOVE & BELOW: General Adviser to High Highness the Sultan and Yang Dipertuan Pehin Dato Isa places the first direct dial international call from Brunei to London; and Director of Telecommunications Douglas Scholey anxiously gets ready for the big switchover

It was a long tense countdown before the cut-over to the new exchanges.

With the minutes ticking by until 1pm and the VIPs waiting, the old exchanges were closed down one by one.

“It’s a bit like a spacecraft lift-off,” the General Adviser to His Highness the Sultan and Yang Dipertuan, Pehin Dato Isa said.

“Let’s just hope there is no blast off,” Scholey said, Waiting with Pehin Dato Isa to pull out tiny wedges to activate the new circuits were Acting State Secretary Dato Abdul Rahman bin Dato Haji Mohammad Taib; Director of the Economic Planning Unit, Datin Hajah Jusnani binti Haji Lawie, and Acting Director of Establishment Dato Haji Zakaria bin Datu Mahawangsa Awang Haji Sulaiman.

At exactly 1pm the VIPs pulled the cords to remove the wedges and suddenly it looked as if long strings of white beads or tiny shells were emerging from the equipment.

Pehin Dato Isa then made a direct call to London, through the just opened international automatic exchange, to speak to Dato Haji Ali Daud, a former magistrate and Director of Immigration who is now based in Brunei House in England.

Although Dato Haji Ali Daud had been pre-warned about the call the phone rang for a long time before he finally replied.

As it was 5am in England this was understandable.

The only point that marred the occasion was when guests returned to their offices in the capital to find their phones had suddenly gone dead.

First tests showed that only 23 per cent of the phones on the new Central Exchange were working.

Urgent calls were made to Tokyo and three experts from the Nippon Electric Company were asked to come to Brunei to remedy the fault.

Thanks to help from Royal Brunei Airlines, the men arrived on Sunday and by 2.30am on Monday had solved the main problem.

By midday on Monday most phones were working again, although some – particularly in Anggerek Desa area – were still out.

However, by Wednesday many subscribers were still finding their phones were working one minute and not on the next.

Many calls were also being cut-off in mid-conversation.

“It will take us about a week to sort out every odd problem.

“There are still a few niggling things,” Scholey said.

He added that one problem was caused by people not reading instructions and literature properly and still ringing old numbers.

Scholey also emphasised that with the new exchanges numbers have to be dialled within 10 seconds of the phones being picked up, otherwise the engaged tone would start.

People would also be cut off if they pause for 10 seconds or more between dialling each digit.