Simplex Technologies Inc.
Simplex Technologies Inc.
P.O. Box 479
Portsmouth, New Hampshire 03802
Fax: (603) 427-0701
Web site: http://www.simplextech.com
Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Tyco International Ltd.
Incorporated: 1895 as Simplex Wire & Cable Company
Sales: $200 million (1997 est.)
SICs: 3357 Nonferrous Wiredrawing and Insulating; 3643 Current-Carrying Wiring Devices; 3498 Fabricated Pipe and Fittings; 3812 Search and Navigation Equipment
Simplex Technologies Inc. is a world leader in the design, manufacture, and servicing of cable products. The Simplex facility in Newington, New Hampshire, has more annual throughput capacity for undersea fiber-optic cable than any other single cable facility in the world. Simplex manufactures long-length undersea fiber-optic telecommunications cable as well as cable and cable assemblies for use in data-gathering systems for the U.S. Navy. Other products include flexible pipe capable of transferring oil, gas, water and other fluids beneath the sea, and power cables for electric utilities. Simplex also performs marine-engineering services related to its cable operations. The company sells its products to the U.S. Department of Defense and to telecommunications companies. Simplex is an ISO 9001 certified company.
The Early Years: 1842-1952
The history of Simplex Technologies may be traced to 1842, when a partnership was formed between Charles A. Morss and Oliver Whyte in Boston, Massachusetts, for the fabrication of steel-wire products, such as bird cages and fire screens. Whyte retired within a few years and Morss began to experiment with the making of insulated wire. In 1885, at about the time that Thomas Edison was lighting the first electric street lamps in New York City, Morss bought special machines to experiment with the making of a new kind of anti-induction telephone wire. This wire was a complete failure; nevertheless, it was the company’s entry into the industry from which it would one day receive international recognition. After continued experimentation, by year-end 1885, Morss produced a mile of wire known as TZR, or Underwriters’ Wire. Used as a test to light street lamps in Boston, that mile of wire produced such impressive results that it brought in a rush of orders—and firmly established the electrical-wire division as an important part of Morss & Whyte. The production of electrical and communication cables soon became the main business of the company. In 1890 Morss & Whyte bought the Simplex Electrical Company, which had been formed to sell TZR wire and an arc lamp made in England. In 1895 the Simplex Wire & Cable Company was incorporated for operation in Cambridge, Massachusetts—and the name of Morss & Whyte became history.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the name Simplex stood for quality wire and cable. Having established itself as a flourishing business, Simplex expanded into research and development of new products in the field. In 1890 the company completed an unprecedented five-mile length of underwater telephone cable that was laid in Lake Michigan between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. Despite the severe Michigan winters and the huge ice floes of the Mackinac Straits, one circuit of this cable was still in operation as late as 1931, when it was retired. Simplex was soon confronted with the problem that was to thwart American cable-makers for more than 25 years: vulcanized gutta percha (a rubbery substance derived from the latex of some tropical trees), was the best material available for insulating subterranean cable in the late 1920s. Unfortunately, the entire supply of gutta percha, most of which came from Malaya, was controlled by well-established British cable-makers not eager to compete with an American company. Furthermore, as early as the mid-1880s, chemists had found that rubber was not completely impermeable. The only solution was to extrude a lead sheath around the rubber insulation—a bulky and expensive addition.
During the 1920s two Simplex research scientists, Dr. John T. Blake and Charles R. Boggs, found that proteins—always present in natural rubber—were the causes of water absorption. Work at the Simplex Laboratories showed that these proteins could be isolated by repeated centrifugal action on liquid latex. In 1926 the company applied for a deproteinized rubber patent, which became the basis for “the famed family of Anhydrex - insulated power and communication cables. Thus it was that this typically American firm forced the first real breakthrough toward a lightweight, moisture-proof cable,” according to the company publication Transoceonics by Simplex.
The first Anhydrex-insulated submarine cable was manufactured for the Coast Guard in 1933 to connect the Florida mainland with the Fowey Rocks Light. The success of this operation induced the Coast Guard to order hundreds of miles of Anhydrex cable to replace older types of cable along the Florida coastline. Another noteworthy project was carried on during World War II for the Signal Corps’ communications system in Alaska, where Simplex laid 3,300 miles of Anhydrex-insulated cable in deep icy waters. During the war, much of the company’s work was done on a 24-hour basis and under strict security regulations. For instance, Simplex and AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories (Bell Labs) joined forces to manufacture one million feet of special submarine cable for Soviet Russia. “This cable, shipped in 1944, is believed to be in place across the Caspian Sea,” according to Transoceonics. During the war Simplex produced many types of cable for all the services, but concentrated on producing submarine cables mainly for the Navy and the Coast Guard.
After the war, Simplex management realized its Cambridge plant was too small to accommodate the increasing number of orders coming from the Department of Defense and from a growing number of commercial cable users. Furthermore the Navy, Coast Guard, and Signal Corps expressed a strong desire that their contracts be filled in a more secure area. The company decided that the submarine cable division should be located in an entirely separate facility to be constructed on the banks of the Piscataqua River, a deep-water tidal river in Newington, New Hampshire.
Newington Plant and Submarine Telephone Cable: 1953-76
The Newington facility, designed and built to be responsive to the unique demands required of an ocean-cable manufacturer, opened November 26, 1953. By this time submarine cable-making and laying had been refined to the point that spanning an ocean was almost a routine operation: there were 18 active telegraph cables across the Atlantic alone, and many more had been retired after years of service. But a submarine-telephone line had a special requirement: to carry the human voice by means of electrical impulses over long distances. The inherent difficulty lay in the fact that electrical impulses tend to weaken over long distances. On land it was simple enough to use amplifying equipment to boost voltage energy every few miles to transmit data over thousands of miles, but how could amplifying stations be built in mid-ocean? As far back as 1919, Dr. C.E. Buckley of Bell Labs had worked on this problem before he proposed the solution reported in Transoceonics: incorporation of “the amplifying stations within the cable itself. These amplifiers, more commonly called ’repeaters,’ were to be in the form of electronic components linked together lengthwise in a flexible housing.”
World War II slowed down the finding of solutions to many secondary problems; namely, how to protect the delicate tubes and circuitry inside the cables from the strains of the laying operations and the pressures of hundreds of fathoms of water; and how to manufacture repeaters that could give years of trouble-free service. After the war, Dr. Buckley and his associates at Bell Labs, Western Electric, and Simplex cooperated in a development program aimed at proving or disproving the practicality of repeatered cables. The first commercial application of the new designs came in 1950 when two Simplex submarine telephone cables were laid to link Key West, Florida, and Havana, Cuba. Then the Air Force requested that a 1,400-mile telephone cable be laid from Florida through the Bahamas to link the Air Force bases there. Although the numerous islands of the archipelago eliminated the need for repeaters, tests of the improved design of this cable and of the Key West-Havana project gave conclusive proof that the dream of a transatlantic telephone cable could become a reality.
On December 1,1953, AT&T announced plans to link North America and Europe with a transatlantic telephone cable. The project was a joint venture of AT&T, the British Post Office, the Canadian Overseas Telecommunications Corporation and the Eastern Telephone & Telegraph Company (a Canadian subsidiary of the Bell Telephone System). Simplex built the American portion of the cables and with the help of Bell Labs, supplied research and development data to Submarine Cables Ltd.—a British firm responsible for manufacturing the other sections of the transatlantic cable. Two repeatered cables were laid: one for transmission from east to west, and the other for transmission from west to east. The cables were placed 20 miles apart to allow for easy retrieval in any future grappling operation needed for repairs. The system was in place and opened for public use on September 25, 1956.
At Simplex Technologies Inc. every employee is responsible for safe operations and uncompromising quality. These characteristics are inherent in the company’s corporate culture; they are designed and built into its facilities, products and processes…. Simplex aims to be a healthy and safe plant, a good neighbor to the environment, a model OSHA facility, and the world leader in the design, manufacture and quality of cable products.
While the second Atlantic cable was being laid, Simplex produced 1,250 miles of telephone cable armored with 36 repeaters to link the United States with Alaska’s telephone network. This project was completed shortly after the official opening of the transatlantic cable. These successful ventures nurtured another dream, that of connecting California to the Hawaiian Island by submarine cable. Simplex turned out the major share of the two cables required for two-way transmission and armored all the repeaters for the link, which came into use by year-end 1957.
In 1974 Simplex became a wholly owned subsidiary of Exeter, New Hampshire-based Tyco International Ltd. Then, in 1994, Simplex Wire & Cable Company changed its name to Simplex Technologies Inc. in order to highlight the nature of its business as it expanded beyond cable manufacture into new market areas. “From 1953 until about 1976,” Simplex Marketing Services Representative Ed Miles wrote in a company missive, “about 90 percent of Simplex business was the making of surveillance cables that linked hydrophones for the U.S. government. All around the U.S. coastline, a virtual spiderweb of Simplex cables connected hydrophones that could detect and disseminate the movements of ships and submarines. The hydrophones could pick up each ship’s ’fingerprint’ to determine whether or not it was a friendly ship.”
Focus on Undersea Fiber Optic Cable: 1976 and Beyond
Simplex did not rest on its laurels. In 1976 the company began the research that led to its most noteworthy innovation: the design of an undersea fiber-optic cable. After a ten-year joint venture with Bell Labs (later known as Lucent Technologies), in 1986 Simplex completed OPTIC AN-1, the world’s first undersea repeatered fiber-optic cable (an electrically powered in-line optical repeater joined the cable sections). Then, in 1988, Simplex connected the United States to the United Kingdom and France by deploying the world’s first transoceanic optical-fiber telecommunications cable, dubbed TAT-8. “This revolutionary one-inch-thick, state-of-the-art cable,” Union Carbide reported in its spring 1997 issue of Kabelnews, “carried 40,000 simultaneous conversations by transmitting pulses of laser light from the United States to Europe and represented a 100-fold increase of capacity over the advanced transatlantic copper cable Simplex used in the 1950s.” TAT-8, a repeatered undersea telecommunications 5,580-kilometer-cable, was the eighth transatlantic telephone cable, but the first one based on fiberoptic technology. The annual operating cost per voice channel was only a fraction of the per-voice-circuit cost of its coaxial predecessors, such as TAT-7.
From 1986 onward, Simplex dedicated itself almost exclusively to the research, development, and manufacture of undersea fiber-optic cable. According to the Kabelnews, Simplex’s later commercial cable—utilized for both transatlantic and transpacific routes—used “four hair-thin glass fibers and carried 320,000 simultaneous equivalent voice-grade circuits.” Although these cables and later Simplex fiber-optic cables continued to deliver clear, reliable transmissions, the introduction of True Wave Fiber using Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) technology from AT&T allowed for the production of “cables having much more carrying capacity at lower cost per transmission.” These WDM technology-based cables contributed to significant successes in global communications. Indeed, commented Ed Miles, “Wavelength Division Multiplexing, which can send data at several different wavelengths, is the major breakthrough in fiber-optic technology…. With WDM, circuit capacities are increased, allowing more room for undersea communications…With the breakthrough of WDM technology and our [Simplex’s] ability to make long lengths of fiber-optic cable,” Miles further remarked, “the cost per circuit keeps dropping and the potential for increasing capacity keeps growing.”
And, indeed, there was a continuing need for greater circuit capacity because of increased use of telephone networks by emerging countries, the ever-growing number of fax, data, and video transmissions—and the volume of communications traffic occasioned by the advent of the Internet. In April 1995 Simplex began to prepare for the installation of the Brazil Domestic “Northern Route” by manufacturing 1,670 kilometers of repeaterless undersea cable—that is, cable in which the sections were joined by optical amplifiers at the terminal stations, rather than by the electrically powered in-line optical repeaters used for the repeatered fiber-optic cable. This system was designed as a festoon cable to connect 14 cities along the northeastern coast of Brazil by way of a terrestrial cable tapping into the Americas-1 undersea fiber-optic cable Simplex had installed in 1994 to link the United States, St. Thomas, Trinidad, and Brazil. The Brazil Domestic system—the world’s largest non-repeatered cable system at the time—was put into operation in the fall of 1996.
At the end of February 1997, Simplex loaded the C.S. (Cable Ship) Global Link with the final section of what would become the world’s longest undersea fiber-optic cable system at that time: the Fiber-optic Link Around the Globe (FLAG). Under the FLAG contract, Simplex provided AT&T Submarine Systems Inc. (later known as Tyco Submarine Systems Ltd.) with nearly 15,000 kilometers of undersea fiber-optic cable, a major part of the total 26,987 kilometers of cable needed to link the United Kingdom to Japan. The FLAG system passed through parts of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Mediterranean, and various other seas—as well as several landing points throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Southern Asia. The FLAG cable system was scheduled for service by year-end 1997.
Moreover, Simplex maintained the working relationship it had established with the U.S. Department of Defense in 1953. The company manufactured all the Sound Surveillance System cables and arrays installed by the U.S. Navy and provided it with 4,800 nautical miles of fifth-generation undersea surveillance cable, the first version to contain fiber optics. Simplex manufactured and deployed more than 50,000 nautical miles of Quad, and various kinds of coaxial cables for the Department of Defense and continued to design and manufacture cables to meet the Navy’s changing operational needs.
The company also filled contracts for additional cable systems, especially contracts from Tyco Submarine Systems Ltd., for the manufacture of the Pan American cable system; for an undersea fiber-optic cable for the Bermuda-United States-1 cable system; and for the Atlantic Crossing-1 (AC-1) system. This latter system comprised a pair of eight fiber-optic undersea cables spanning from the east coast of the United States to the United Kingdom and Germany. The AC-1 cable system combined WDM technology and erbium-doped fiber amplifiers to transmit at ten gigabits per second, per fiber pair, for a total of 40 gigabits per second—a rate double that of mid-1990 cable systems. Thus, counting from the OPTIC AN-1 system installed in 1986 to the AC-1 system scheduled for completion in November 1998, Simplex had been involved with the manufacture and installation of more than 140,000 kilometers of undersea fiber-optic cable.
As the 21st century drew near, Simplex Technologies Inc.’s dedication to quality and reliability—as well as its continuous commitment to the design and development of cable for all types of environments and applications—ensured its position as a world leader in the cable industry.
Filaroski, Doug, “Global Link Docks in Newington,” Foster’s (N.H.) Daily Democrat, February 22, 1992, pp. 3, 12.
“Simplex: Keeping Ahead of the Submarine Cable Revolution,” Kabelnews, Spring 1997, pp. 6-7.
Snee, Tom, “Simplex Lands its Largest Contract in Company History,” Foster’s (N.H.) Daily Democrat, August 15, 1990, pp. 5, 17.
Transoceonics by Simplex, Cambridge, Mass.: Simplex Wire & Cable Company, 1956, pp. 13, 14, 17
“Undersea Circuits Keep Humming in Simplex’s Optical Fiber Cable,” Dupont News Release, January 1977, p. 2.
Welcome to Simplex … A World Leader for Over 150 Years, Newington, N.H.: Simplex Technologies Inc., 7 pp.
—Gloria A. Lemieux