A Dictionary and a Handbook
Hundreds of telecom books are published each year, but it is unusual to find a really good one. There must have been a blue moon (I'll have to check my almanac) this month, for I found two new and quite remarkable books by the same author, Ray Horak. One is a dictionary and the other an encyclopedic work, both covering the full range of voice, data, fax, video, and multimedia technologies and applications that comprise contemporary telecommunications. Further, they do so in such a plain-English, commonsense manner that you don't need to be a serious telecom student or professional to benefit from them—any layperson with a serious need to know will find them to be of great value. Finally (and this is rare in a technical book), both are actually relatively easy and certainly interesting reads, with liberal doses of fascinating historical context. In fact, they are even strong on entertainment value, with humorous observations and quotations sprinkled throughout. Horak has written each book in a different style for a different purpose, so they are best acquired together—as a set.
Webster's New World Telecom Dictionary
Webster's New World Telecom Dictionary, by Ray Horak, ISBN-10: 047177457X, ISBN-13 978-0471774570, Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007.
In order to communicate effectively in a contemporary telecom conversation, one must speak a special language rife with technical terminology, much of which is in the form of abbreviations, acronyms, contractions, initialisms and portmanteaux. To add to the confusion, many terms have multiple very precise—and occasionally imprecise—meanings, depending on the context. Writing a telecom dictionary must be a formidable task, one which only either the very brave or very foolhardy would even attempt. I'm not sure into which category Ray Horak falls, but his Webster's New World Telecom Dictionary is an excellent piece of work.
Dictionaries are in alphabetical order, of course, with chapters thrown in for symbols and numbers. Because the introduction of symbols requires special treatment, within each of the 28 chapters Horak organizes the approximately 4,600 definitions in ASCII order, perhaps as an accommodation for the binarians among us. The book includes an appendix of standards organizations and special interest groups, which can be useful if you need more information on a subject or need to know exactly to whom to complain about a standard or specification, both of which terms are defined clearly in the dictionary, of course.
Comparisons: Comprehensive and Correct
In my opinion, the best telecom dictionary ever written, aside from Webster's, is the Communications Standard Dictionary, by Martik H. Weik. That book unfortunately is out of print, with the final 3rd edition dated 1996. At 1095 pages, it is a bit overwritten and way too technical for most purposes, reading much like an IEEE dictionary. At this point, it certainly is out-of-date.
A handful of other telecom dictionaries and encyclopedias are currently in print, by far the most popular of which is Newton's Telecom Dictionary. Because Newton's dominates the market and has done so for many years, any telecom dictionary or encyclopedia is inevitably compared to that work. Webster's New World Telecom Dictionary is no exception, particularly because Ray Horak was the contributing editor to Newton's from the 12th through the 22nd editions.
Although Webster's defines only 4,600 terms in comparison to Newton's highly dubious claim of some 24,500 terms, Webster's definitions are much better researched, much more precise, and much more efficiently worded (that is, there is much less "fluff"). Even if Webster's almost certainly will gain in bulk as future editions expand the coverage of the telecom domain, it contains all of the essential telecom and IT terms, and defines them clearly and concisely. Webster's includes many humorous definitions but, unlike Newton's, they are all relevant and meaningful. For example, Horak lists three types of standards—de jure, de facto, and du jour. According to him, a du jour standard is defined as follows:
"From French, meaning of the day. The popular standard of the day. One day 10 years ago, ATM was really hot and a lot of people made a lot of money talking about ATM and selling products based on ATM. It seemed like only the next day that IP was really cool. (I made this one up.)"
Other humorous definitions include analogue, endianess, Hellenologophobia, hoot 'n' holler, OCD, PC, and WMBTOTCITB-WTNTALI. All of these, and more, serve to lighten the load, so to speak, but none of this humor detracts from what is a serious book on a serious subject. Newton's, on the other hand, is so full of personal observations and anecdotes, irrelevant humor (?), and inaccurate definitions as to make you wonder why bother to make the comparison at all. Horak states that he wrote Webster's partly to atone for his sins in contributing to Newton's, but mostly to put an authoritative reference book in his own hands, and those of others involved in litigation support. He apparently does a fair amount of work as an expert witness in intellectual property (the other IP) cases and on innumerable occasions has been asked to define and opine on terms such as link, circuit, channel, call, connection, switch, router, and PSTN. Now he can testify in court with one hand on the Good Book and the other on Webster's.
Webster's New World Telecom Dictionary is an excellent piece of work. Ray Horak and his technical editor, Bill Flanagan, have collaborated to create a well-written, authoritative work that clearly sets a new standard for telecom dictionaries. I highly recommend it to anyone serious about telecom.
Telecommunications and Data Communications Handbook
Telecommunications and Data Communications Handbook, by Ray Horak, ISBN-10: 0470041412, ISBN-13: 978-0470041413, John Wiley & Sons, 2007.
Unless you have really big hands, you may wonder how it is that a tome of 791 pages that weighs more than 3 pounds could possibly be called a handbook. Well, the term "handbook" actually is fairly imprecise, but Ray Horak's Telecommunications and Data Communications Handbook certainly is not. Actually, it is about as compact as it can be, given its encyclopedic nature, and it is very precise, indeed. The book covers the entire telecom landscape, from wireline to wireless, from copper to radio and fiber, from electrical to optical, and from the customer premises to the cloud. It discusses voice, data, fax, video and multimedia technologies, systems, and applications in great detail, and in the LAN, MAN, and WAN domains. The handbook explores every relevant technology, standard, and application in the telecom and datacom space.
Horak is a well-known telecom consultant, author, writer, columnist, and lecturer. The Telecommunications and Data Communications Handbook is based on his best-selling Communications Systems and Networks (1997, 2000, 2002), but is considerably more technical and broader in scope. It is exceptionally well-written in Horak's plain-English, commonsense style, making it just as helpful to the neophyte and layperson as to the serious student or seasoned IT professional. Horak makes liberal use of well-constructed graphics to illustrate system and network architectures, topologies, and applications.
The Handbook begins with an excellent table of contents (20 pages) and ends with an excellent index (29 pages), both of which are crucial to a good book. After all, it doesn't make any difference how good the information is if you can't find it. The book is logically organized into 15 chapters and 2 appendixes.
Chapter 1 is devoted to fundamental concepts and definitions, thereby building a firm foundation of concepts and terminology upon which subsequent chapters build. Terms such as two-wire, four-wire, circuit, link, channel, switch, and router are clearly defined, compared, and contrasted. Chapter 2 explores the full range of transmission systems, including twisted pair (UTP, STP, and ScTP), coaxial, microwave, satellite, Free Space Optics (FSO), fiber-optics, powerline carrier (PLC), and hybrid systems.
Chapter 3 examines voice communications systems: KTS, PBX, Centrex, and ACD. Chapter 4 discusses messaging systems in detail, including facsimile (fax), voice processing, and e-mail and instant messaging, concluding with a detailed discussion of unified messaging and unified communications. Chapter 5 is dedicated to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and addresses Numbering Plan Administration (NPA), regulatory domains, rates and tariffs, signaling and control systems, and network services. Chapter 6 returns to fundamentals, this time in the data communications domain, with detailed explanations of Data Communications Equipment (DCE) such as modems, codecs, CSUs, and DCUs, and then moves on to protocol basics, code sets, data formats, error control, compression techniques, network architectures, and security mechanisms.
Chapter 7 deals with conventional digital and data networks such as DDS, Switched 56, VPNs, T/E-carrier, X.25, and ISDN. Chapter 8 treats Local-Area Networks (LANs) and Storage Area Networks (SANs) exhaustively, including transmission media, topologies, broadband vs. baseband, equipment, operating systems, and standards. This chapter covers 802.3, 802.11, HiperLAN, Bluetooth, IEEE 1394, Fibre Channel, and iSCSI in considerable detail. Chapter 9 is devoted to broadband network infrastructure, including both access technologies (for example, xDSL, CATV, WLL, PON, and BPL) and transport technologies (for example, SONET/SDH and RPR). Chapter 10 offers an exhaustive study of broadband network services, including Frame Relay, ATM, Metropolitan Ethernet, B-ISDN, and AINs.
Chapter 11 discusses wireless, with an emphasis on mobility, covering both broad concepts and technical specifics of Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR), paging, cellular (1G, 2G, 2.5G, 3G, and beyond), packet data radio networks, and mobile satellite networks (GEOs, MEOs, and LEOs). Chapter 12 thoroughly treats video and multimedia networking, including a detailed discussion of video and multimedia standards (for example JPEG, MPEG, and H.320), Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), and IPTV. Chapter 13 exhaustively and insightfully explores the Internet and World Wide Web (WWW), including a thorough discussion of the IP protocol suite. Chapter 14 briefly examines convergence, and Chapter 15 examines telecom regulation, with a focus on the United States.
Appendix A is something of a decoder for abbreviations, acronyms, contractions, initialisms, and symbols. Appendix B gives a complete listing of relevant standards organizations and special interest groups, including full contact information, in case you need more information or want to offer comments on a particular subject.
It is hard to make a valid direct comparison to this book. The Irwin Handbook of Telecommunications, by James Harry Green, is good, but less complete, less technical, and drier, if such a combination is possible. The most recently published 5th edition also is apparently out of print. The Voice & Data Communications Handbook, by Regis "Bud" Bates, is written at a lower level; and, the
The Telecommunications and Data Communications Handbook compares more correctly to some of the more seminal works of Gilbert Held or James Martin, but covers a much wider range of subject matter and is a much easier and more pleasant read.
The Telecommunications and Data Communications Handbook is written for the academic and professional community, but is just as relevant to anyone who needs to understand telecommunications system and network technologies and their meaningful applications. It is an exceptional work that should be on every IT professional's bookshelf...when not in his or her hands.
—John R. Vacca