The history of telecommunications

Tuesday, 13th November 2018

Telecommunications, defined as the exchange of information over significant distances by electronic means, has come a long way since the days of smoke signals in the prehistoric era. Nowadays we are spoilt for choice with ways to communicate both personally and professionally.

Whether you prefer to send a text message from a mobile phone, make a phone call from your desk phone or have a video call with international colleagues from your computer it’s quick and easy thanks to the multi-trillion-pound industry that telecoms is today.

We have created a timeline of the history of telecommunications to give you a better understanding of how telecommunications became as big as it is today.

The Very Beginning

Telecommunications arguably began in the prehistoric era when smoke signals were used in Africa, America and Asia in order to encode information over geographic areas. In 1672 the first experimental acoustic/mechanical telephone was created by Robert Hooke when he discovered that sound could be transmitted over wire or string into an attached earpiece or mouthpiece. Then in 1790 the first fixed semaphore telegraph, a system of conveying information by visual signals, was created.

The 1800’s

In the early 1830’s Samuel B Morse created what is commonly known as Morse code as well as the telegraph. Some 20 odd years later most of Britain and the USA had telegraph stations and so Cyrus Field laid the first transatlantic cable. It connected England and the USA. The first dots and dashes were flashed by signal lamps at sea in 1867 but this did not become as popular as Morse code.

1876 was a huge year for telecommunications as the phone was created by Alexander Bell. The following year was birth to the acoustic phonograph by Thomas Edison. While trying to improve and finalise the model of the telephone he realised that if he attached a needle to the phonograph diaphragm he could record spoken words and play back sound. Telephone via light beam, aka photophones, were a result of Alexander Bell using the money he earned from creating the telephone to setup a lab and work on improving it further. The photophone transmitted sound in a beam of light which resulted in the first ever wireless phone call in 1880.

Nikolai Tesla transmitted radio waves wirelessly through a transmitter in 1893. There was a legal battle from Guglielmo Marconi who alleged that Nikolai Tesla copied his work however this was later found to be untrue.  Marconi continued his work on wireless telegraphy and was able to send his first long distance wireless transmission over 2km making him the man to first give us radio in 1896.

The 1900’s

1915 was another historic year for Alexander Bell who made the first coast-to-coast call by phone to his assistant in North America from a landline. This call made long distance communication all over the country a reality. The first working TV set was created by Philip T. Farnsworth in 1927 when he discovered that you could encode radio waves with an image and project them back onto a screen. This year also saw the first UK/US radio-telephone service.

The first experimental videophones were created in 1930 by AT & T as a two-way experimental videophone called the Iconophone. This allows people to see, hear and respond to people in real time. 4 years later the first commercial radio-telephone service between the US and Japan allowed people to speak across the Pacific Ocean, although this was successful the calls were not of a great quality due to the distance. In 1936 the world’s first public videophone network was introduced in Nazi Germany.

The first ever telephone call made from an automobile phone in 1946 with limited capacity mobile telephone service. 10 years later a 36 circuit transatlantic cable was installed, going from Newfoundland to Scotland. This made phone calls much less expensive than the older radio telephone system. 1962 saw the Commercial Telecommunications Satellite Act passed, allowing telecommunications to go into space. A mere 2 years later a paper was published which proved that fiber-optic communication could be possible.

Public videophone network trials began in 1965 in North America and the first computer network was invented four years later. A major leap forward for telecommunications came in 1973 when Martin Cooper invented the first official cell phone which later became the prototype for Motorola’s first mobile phones. It took an entire year to recharge the battery of the first mobile phone, can you imagine?!

1978 saw the first spam email sent out, something that we all know is now a regular occurrence on computers, mobile phones and even desk phones. The first commercially automated cellular network was launched 3 years later in Japan. Another major occurrence was in 1983 when the internet was officially born.

The 2000’s and present day

VoIP phone calls became an option in 2003 which resulted in long distance charges no longer being applicable. Then, in 2006 “Googling” was recognised as a term in the dictionary, something that we now do regularly from our computers, cell phones and desk phones.

Telecommunications as we know them today have come a long way. They allow us to connect with family and friends across the globe as well as giving us the ability to run global corporations. Looking back, a lot has happened in the world of telecommunications in the last 181 years and we can’t wait to see what happens with telecoms in the next 181 years.


Want to find out how our telephony solutions can help you increase your productivity and reduce your costs? Or are you just looking for some friendly, impartial advice on the best tools to make communicating a breeze? We can help! Contact us today via our live chat, call 0333 3603 423, or email enquiries.uk@enreach.com.

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