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A Short History of Telecom

Speaking and writing are key elements of our human existence and our interaction with the world around us. Since the beginning, humans have found many forms of effective communications, both orally and visually, evolving through the generations from rock carving and papyrus to video chat and text messaging.

Today, Some of our most important interactions happen via mobile text messaging and chatting. They are the lifeblood of our modern relationships, and our bridge to the most important connections in our lives. Industry data shows that the total volumes of voice traffic on networks has decreased significantly, and the trend continues as OTT voice calls, texting and chatting make their mark on mobile usage. Generationally, most millennials prefer text messaging and chatting on social media, and shun speaking on the phone.

Do they realize that this most modern of technologies actually was born with the telegraph, which was invented in the 1840’s? Electronic messaging actually started with Samuel B. Morse and other inventors, whose telegraph revolutionized long-distance communication, enabling transmission of complex messages across telegraph lines. His first telegraph message “What Hath God wrought?” sent from Washington to Baltimore, came at an opportune time as advances in railroad and shipping transportation had enabled long distance travel, but long distance messages were still sent via pony express and specially hired couriers.

The telegraph consists of a small electronic signal transmitted over wired lines, a dot of noise that travels from the point of initiation to the receiver. The dots and dashes of sound could then be translated into letters and words. Every message had a set structure, and were usually sent as a packet of signals to denote the beginning and end of the telegraph transmission. Although the telegraph had fallen out of widespread use by the start of the 20st century, replaced by the telephone. Then again in the 21st century, telephones are being replaced by first fax machines and now the Internet. It was the telegraph that laid the groundwork for the communications revolution that followed.

Samuel Morse

Once the telephone was invented soon after in 1876, communications technology developed rapidly. Within 75 years of the first telephone transmission, radio and television became mainstays of 20th century life, fueled by world wars and changing lifestyles. Their common underlying technology was the transmission of radio waves to carry communication signals. Those radio waves are still at the core of modern mobile communications.

By the mid 1980’s cellular technology had developed into an accessible technology, which was also based on transmitting signals over radio waves. Machine computing and personal computers also began surfacing on desktops, and they too helped us connect to the world around us. Soon dial up beeping tones which signaled attempts at connecting computers to the world wide web became the ubiquitous sound of the end of the 20th century. Even simple chat, which began in strangely ominous AOL chat rooms has become the highly personal and instant communication of chat and group calls over the internet. Often bypassing regular phone lines, chat has become a staple of modern communications.

What would Sam Morse think if he could see how his invention has morphed into billions of text messages, emojis and images sent over billions of mobile devices around the world? What Hath God wrought indeed!