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Although telecommunications has a long history, it has evolved greatly for the last few decades. In the 1980s, multiple homes used to share a single telephone line, although each house had its handset, they were connected to the same single line, if one house received a call on their headset, headsets of all the houses would ring simultaneously. The houses could also hear the conversation if one of the houses was on the line talking to someone on phone.

The new generation is likely to find it funny, it is indeed funny if we compare it to the technology that we have today, as everyone has their phone, their accounts, their own Skype, Google, FaceTime accounts. The old telephonic system, which was once expensive, has now become obsolete, as the advanced telephonic system has overtaken.

telephone exchange

It all started with the invention of the telegraph in the 1830s and 1840s, Samuel Morse was the man who invented it. The invention revolutionized technology and made possible long-distance communication. It worked through electrical signals when transmitted over a wire laid between stations, where a telegraph could reach significant distances in minutes. The technology soon evolved to become more advanced and the telegraph system started working commercially in the 1930s in London. Subsequently, subsea wires were laid between France and England in the 1950s.

In 1861, a German inventor, Johann Reis, developed a telephone that transmitted his voice to another room, then in 1874, Edison created a quadruples telegraph that was capable of sending two signals in each direction simultaneously.

The telegraph system had become the backbone of business in the 1870s. Western Union, however, had a monopoly on the telegraph system in the United States (US). Gardiner Greene Hubbard, a Boston-based attorney wanted to create something in order to end the Western Union monopoly,  for that, he funded Alexander Graham Bell, a Scottish scientist, to improve telegraph lines, however, he never imagined the heights Graham Bell would reach in his endeavour. Bell worked with fellow scientists and experimented with harmonics, he initially wanted to send multiple telegraph messages down one line, however, then he came up with an idea to send speech by wire, although many other scientists conducted similar experiments, Bell and his fellow scientist Watson were first in successfully developing a robust device that had commercial potential. Bell was also the first scientist to the patent office, but patents for similar phone-like devices were also submitted by his rivals shortly, most notably Edison, but many other scientists claimed to have invented the devices first. However, nothing takes away anything from Bell, he is credited to be the first man to develop an electromagnetic telephone that leads to the commercialization of telecommunications and Bell’s patent was the beginning of a great revolution that revolutionized communication.

Initially, the device was not advanced and it had no network, the phone lines were strung between two fixed points, subsequently, many developments happened and Thomas Edison contributed to it greatly. Edison’s main experimentation revolved around the electrical transmission of sound around the same time as Bell and he ended up developing his version of the phone. Edison’s telephone was a bit improved compared to Bell’s, although similar. Utilizing the development of Edison, Western Union decided to enter the telephone market and created a company named American Speaking Telephone Company. The subscription of both Edison and Bell telephones started in the United States. A company named The Telephone Company started in the United Kingdom, using the patents of Bell. Australia in the following year also developed a telephone line in Melbourne. Things changed with the development of the telephone exchange.

development of the telephone exchange

In 1878, the first commercial telephone exchange was established in the United States, the question of whether Edison’s telephone infringed on Bell’s patent was also a hot debate. Instead of fighting it legally, Wester Union decided not to build its independent telephone company, allowing the merging of its company with The National Bell Company. The American Bell Company then evolved into AT&T, a renewed American company that is still operational, where the company has contributed greatly to shape telecommunications in the 20th century. Many inventors and scientists started experimenting with the telephone exchange, the first successful experiment was done in New Haven, Connecticut, where it transformed the telephone from a point-to-point device to a network that enabled subscribers to connect.

In 1892, AT&T started working on long lines network in Chicago, however, it could not be successful until the invention of the induction coil in 1899, this enabled the network to work successfully in the entire United States by preventing signal distortion on longer lines. The AT&T Company eventually succeeded in connecting San Francisco to New York in 1914 and the telephone networks then started spreading rapidly across the world. National networks were connected to form an international network. The Atlantic Ocean proved to be a challenge for scientists, although the telegraph cables had spanned the ocean successfully, the reception, however, was poor as it took two minutes to transmit a Morse character. The cables of the time were not able to handle voice communication across the ocean, so better repeaters, insulation, and improved repair technology were the need of time. The first telephone link between America and Europe was made possible in 1972 with the help of radio. Calls were booked weeks in advance and they cost $6 of that time per minute, if we convert it to today’s amount, it is a huge amount.

AT&T built its first microwave link in 1947 with the help of radio, using radio relay stations, they connected New York to Boston. In the 1950s, the existing cable-based networks were updated with new microwave links in the United States and Europe, where it proved to be much cheaper and easier to maintain, however, the cable system was still in use because microwave links were not suitable if the line of sight could not be maintained. The first transatlantic cable called TAT1 connected Newfoundland to Scotland in 1956, where 35 simultaneous telephone calls and 22 simultaneous telegraph transmissions were recorded as a result. In 1964, the United States and Japan were connected with the help of TPC-1 cable, this was done via Hawaii, however after a short time, communications satellites started working and cable systems seemed to be obsolete.

As a matter of policy, European countries had to choose nationalized telephone monopolies, however, AT&T was a private entity that piqued the interest of many. AT&T and the US Department of Justice struck a deal in 1913 that would allow AT&T to continue its monopoly as long as it was compliant with the regulations of Federal Communications Commissions, it also allowed local providers to connect to the long-distance network and gave AT&T the upper hand. It was during this period that many great telephonic developments happened, for instance, direct dialling was invented during this time as well as digital exchanges and telephone numbers. AT&T’s research centre was also established that made many innovations, discoveries, and inventions, it was named Bell Labs, named after Graham Bell. Some of the innovations are listed below:

  • Unix operating system developed in 1969
  • Fax machine developed in 1925
  • First practical photovoltaic cell developed in 1954
  • C programming language developed in 1972
  • First binary digital computer developed in 1939
  • First transistor developed in 1956
  • Forerunner of Wi-Fi developed in 1995
  • Cosmic microwave radiation discovered in 1978
  • The Digital cell phone invented in 1980
  • Mechatronics Engineering originates partially from it.


history of mobile phones

The decade of the 1980s was another turn in the field of telecommunication, AT&T was dominating for a long time lost its dominance and the competition began in the telecommunications industry. During this time, many providers started entering the market in the whole world. In 1991, Brian Wiles moved to Europe to work, there he realized that communication with colleagues in the American office would be expensive, using the typical phone lines, so he came up with a unique idea and created NetFone. It is the first internet calling software in the world, where typically, the conventional telephone providers charged calls depending on the distance or destination, however, internet calling’s cost would be the same regardless of distance or destination, this revolutionized idea made internet calling common and this also increased the competition, both from internet and traditional telecommunications providers. The difficult competition led to the demise of AT&T that was purchased by SBC, however, be noted that the company is being run with the same name.

The telephone industry that we know today is way too advanced with a variety of tools, software, and Apps. They have developed all these things by integrating all the traditional tools, the same way Bell created the telephone by taking ideas from telegraphy. The once highly expensive calls are now cheaper or free, the once monopoly could be used by anyone. Any person can create a service or build his application, there is no monopoly anymore. Now low-cost telecommunications services are being offered with the help of easy-to-use APIs, which means that App owners now can verify customers with automated voice calls, this turn in history is the greatest in telecommunications history. The era offers a wide range of services, App, tools, software, the industry keeps getting evolved and in the future, we may see even more innovations and advanced systems that would shock us.

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