A Look Back

Black phoneWe take our communications networks for granted today and it’s easy to forget the history that brought us here. I thought today I would highlight a few of the key dates in the history of our industry. And in future blogs I am going to write more about a few of these important events. I am amazed at how much of this happened during my life time. It’s very easy to forget how recently cell phones appeared, for example.

1915 – First Transcontinental Phone Call. Alexander Graham Bell placed that call in San Francisco to Thomas Watson in New York.

1919 – Telephone Switches and Rotary Dial. Rotary dial phones and switches took the operators out of the business of completing local calls. This took many years to implement in some rural areas.

1920 – Frequency Multiplexing. Frequency multiplexing allowed different calls to be carried at different frequencies, meaning that telephone lines could now carry more than one call at the same time.

1947 – North American Numbering Plan. AT&T and Bell Labs came up with the 10-digit numbering that we still use today in the US, Canada and much of the Caribbean.

1948 – ‘A Mathematical Theory of Communications’. Claude Shannon of Bell Lab’s published a paper of this name which founded information theory and that outlined how the copper telephone network could also be used to transmit data and not only voice.

1951 – Direct Long Distance. Customers could now dial 1+ and make long distance calls without an operator.

1956 – First Transatlantic Call. A call was placed on the first undersea cable that was constructed from Nova Scotia to Scotland.

1962 – First Digital Transmission. The first call was transmitted from a customer over a T1.

1963 – First Touch-tone Telephone. The familiar key pad replaces the rotary dial phone.

1968 – First 911 Call. Was implemented in Haleyville, Alabama.

1973 – First Portable Cell Phone Call. I think this date will surprise younger people.

1975 – First Use of Fiber Optics. The US Navy installed the first fiber optics link aboard the USS Little Rock.

1978 – First Public Test of Cell Phones. 2,000 customers in Chicago got the first trial cellphones. This was followed by another trial in Baltimore in 1980 with commercial service launched nationwide in 1982.

Mid 1990’s – Voice over IP. Commercial providers began offering telephone calls that could be completed over Internet connections.

2000 – 100 Million cell phone subscribers in the US, up from 25,000 in 1984.

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