Nortel started out in the late 19th century as the telephone-manufacturing arm of Bell Canada, originally building telephones based on the designs of a leading U.S. telecom manufacturer, Western Electric Co. For a time it also produced a host of consumer electrical products like fire alarms and radios, and served as a major supplier for the Canadian military during WW II. But by the late 1960s, Nortel began exploring digital telephone switches, long before other telecommunications companies, including U.S. behemoth AT&T, which became its eventual customer. In 2000, Nortel was spun off as an independent corporation by its parent company.
MacDonald, a technology writer for various newspapers, including the Ottawa Citizen and the Financial Post, and a former Canadian federal government economist, ably documents Nortel's history with a mixture of reportage and analysis. He calls the government's sanctioning of Nortel's monopolistic position as the preferred supplier for Bell Canada "a covert industrial policy"--one that allowed the company to grow into the international player that it is. What's in store for the future? MacDonald speculates that Nortel and its California-based competitor Cisco Systems will join forces. But then who would want to risk a bet on any predictions in the topsy-turvy world of technology? --Paul Weinberg