History of the Telephone — from Bell to VoIP and Beyond

Everyone knows the story of Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone.

There’s the story of Bell’s first words, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see

you,” that’s indelibly printed on our brains from childhood. However, what some

don’t know is that the telephone was developed in a similar form simultaneously

by Elisha Gray, who lost the patent battle by only a few hours in 1876.

Bell was successful chiefly because he understood not only electricity and

the workings of the telegraph, but had a thorough understanding of acoustics,

which most inventors weren’t all that familiar with. While focusing on the

mechanics, they weren’t taking into account the rare qualities of sound that

made transmitting speech so much more complicate than simple clicks of the

telegraph. With a background in music and acoustics, Bell could address these

issues more freely.

Chance happening plays role in acceptance

The telephone may not have attained such wide acceptance if, as if by

serendipity, the Centennial Exhibition hadn’t been scheduled in Philadelphia for

only a few months later. Tucked away at a small table in an conceal corner, Bell

did not hope to garner much attention until he drew the attention of the Emperor

Dom Pedro de Alcantara of Brazil, who was amazed by the invention. closest,

all the scientists in attendance were clamoring to study the new invention.

At first telephones were seen as a fad that were more for entertainment

purposes than commerce, until newspapers and edges began grudgingly using them

to convey information quickly by virtue of free phone installations. The

publicity from this made them closest more popular and soon phone exchanges

were set up in most major cities.

In the 1880’s metallic circuits were developed that allowed for long distance

calls, which grew in popularity slowly because of the cost. Later, in the

1890’s, this was conquer by the development of the party line so that families,

especially in rural areas, could divided the cost of a line.

Direct dial overcomes operator interference

Until 1891, calls were put by by exchange operators, but this was done

away with by a Kansas City man who invented the direct dial system because he

was paranoid enough to think that the operators were sending his business calls

to competitors. He was an undertaker.

In 1927, the first transatlantic call was made over radio groups. During both

World Wars, telephone advancements grew by leaps and bounds because of heavy

spending by the Defense Department. Innovations resulting from war-time

experiments included Bell Telephone’s first mobile telephone system, which

connected moving vehicles to landlines via radio. Surprisingly, this was as

early as 1946, a year that also saw the development of coaxial cables for major

transmission improvements with less interference.

In the 1960’s, telephones were so much a part of the scenery that Bell

Telephone could no longer continue to use the alpha-numeric codes for telephone

exchanges (remember using numbers like Normandy-7610?) and switched to longer,

all numeric numbers. At the same time, transatlantic cables were being laid to

adjust to the increased need for intercontinental telephone communication.

One of the most important shifts in telephone history was the set afloat of the

first telephone satellite in July of 1962. TelStar was a joint venture between

Bell and NASA and revolutionized telephone communications like nothing that had

come before. Satellites in geosynchronous orbit could now be used for long

distance calls without the need for laying endless lines of cable and did away

with the problem of frequent cable damage and repair.

Fiber optics move sound at the speed of light

Fiber Optic Cables were first used for telephone transmission in 1977, when

both GTE and AT&T laid Fiber Optic lines in Chicago and Boston. By the

mid-1980’s, fiber optic cable was the preferred method of telephone

transmission, since it could carry a much higher quantity of calls with much less

interference. Since it also carries information faster and farther and resists

lightning strikes, the advantages soon became obvious to the computer and other

industries in addition.

When the United States government deregulated telephone service, AT&T, the

telephone communications giant, was closest overwhelmed with competition from

MCI, Sprint and hundreds of smaller local companies and soon fiber optic lines

were snaking around the country, being dropped along side natural rights of way

such as gas lines and railroads. Telephone costs dropped and a new telephone

service dramatical change had begun.

Cellular phones take the next step forward

In 1973, Dr. Martin Cooper of Motorola Corporation made what was probably the

first cellular telephone call on a portable handset called the Dyna-Tac. After a

successful test run, he took it to New York to introduce the technology to the

public. By 1977, the cell phone had gone public, but these first models were

cumbersome and generally used by those who were used to keeping in touch by

two-way radio. By no method were they considered something that everyone should

have or already want. They were initially considered a replace the mobile

phones already in existence. The difference with cellular was the use of small

“cells” for range of service in order to increase the capacity of calls handled,

dramatically increasing the number of calls capable of being made by

mobile/cellular phone at one time in one area.

The first cellular sets used analog technology operating at 800 Megahertz

in a continuous wave. Over time, the strength needs of callers increased and the

industry standard moved to a more reliable 1850 MHz with PCS. In 1988, the

Cellular Technology Industry Association was formed to develop guidelines for

cellular service providers and steer developments and improvements in the cell

phone industry. There are now well over 60 million cellular telephone customers,

a staggering number for a service that has been commercially obtainable for only

thirty years.

Next stop, digital!

While the majority of users nevertheless have analog cell phones, the new frontier

is definitely digital. instead of using a continuous wavelength for

transmission, digital chops up the wave into discreet bytes of information and

sends them in “pulses” of data. The up side to this is that digital signals tend

to be more obtain when transmitted than analog. It’s also a more efficient use

of bandwidth and provides clearer, cleaner sound quality. If you transmit video

clips or photos (like with the new video or picture cell phones) digital is much

faster, and will be the choice hands-down when you’re integrating the cell phone

and the Internet.

There is a caveat; however, in that digital currently transmits by three

different technologies. This can rule to some problems with coverage. If you are

on a TDMA (time-division multiple access) system and traveling in an area that

has digital coverage that’s CDMA (code-division multiple access), you could run

into problems.

The answer for now is the combined analog-digital technology that providers

are touting. This offers the great coverage of analog when needed and the great

speed and quality of PCS/digital.

Telephone conferencing arrives on the scene

The first real “audio conferencing” could be said to have been the party

lines set up back in the early years of telephone use, although at that time the

advantages of a party line for multiple users weren’t grasped except as a way to

save money. In fact, the fact that several people in different locations could

pick up and talk on the line at the same time was considered a nuisance and was

actively discouraged as “eavesdropping.”

When party lines were phased out, the idea of multiple conversations were

forgotten until businesses began seeking ways to carry on meetings via telephone

in order to save travel expenses and link teams together over distances. The

concept was revisited with new parameters; this time restrictions needed to be

in place, and the lines had to be open only when needed and desired.

Soon companies around the globe were offering to coordinate conference

calling for companies based on either flat rates, monthly fees or based on call

quantity, with a trained operator setting up connections between each participant

on a dedicated line so that groups of up to ten could talk simultaneously. Their

bulk long-distance rates enabled them to pass savings along to their customers.

Telephone manufacturers like Polycom, AT&T and Panasonic also jumped on the

bandwagon, developing office telephone systems that enabled users to dial a

client, put them on keep up then call up a third party and connect the three

callers into one conversation.

The Internet soon brought competition, however, to audio conferencing and the

cost of long distance telephone calls. already with lower rates based on bulk

purchasing and group rates, Internet telephony is gaining ground on traditional

telephone audio conferencing because it’s so much cheaper.

VoIP, the Internet and the eventual decline of traditional telephone


Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) soon became popular for telephone

communications because it avoids the toll charges of standard telephone

connections. Dial-up internet connections provided near “toll-quality” voice

communications, and with broadband connections the increased data throughput

enabled businesses to use VoIP in conjunction with other Internet sets like

data sharing and video conferencing. With the money saved using VoIP, it seems

obvious that using analog phone lines for telephone conferencing will soon be a

thing of the past.

Most VoIP audio conferencing technologies give you the capability to network

multiple groups or parties from different geographical locations, making it

simple to keep up an international sales staff meeting. Web conferencing solutions

using VoIP from companies such as Voxwire, TTCGlobalTalk and VoiceCafe can

provide almost unlimited conference room seats for a meeting, limited only by

the bandwidth of the VoIP server.

As the Internet becomes a standard part of any suite of office equipment,

analog telephone sets, audio conferencing and their equipment will soon

become out of use. Audio conferencing will be done more and more on the Internet

using VoIP based web conferencing sets offering powerful collaborative

sets that go beyond just simple voice communications. For placing calls,

digital phone sets like Vonage and Packet8 that implement VoIP over

broadband connections will step in to offer less expensive, more comprehensive

calling options to meet the needs of individuals and companies going into the


This article on the “The History of the Telephone” reprinted with


Copyright © 2004-2005 Evaluseek Publishing.

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