Telecommunications Technology 101: Phone, Radio, and Television

Adam Alred • 06 Feb 2023 • 6 min read

“Telecommunications”. It’s a term that’s synonymous with the phone, but one that’s used to describe the various ways information is transmitted over long distances – because it’s not just limited to use with the telephone itself.

From TVs to radios and even the Internet, all of these devices and communication methods are considered different parts of telecommunications. But how did these inventions come about? And which device came first?

To answer this question, we’re going to look at the evolution of telecommunication technology and telecommunication technology trends to reveal a brief history of telecoms.

What is telecommunication technology?

As we’ve already established, telecommunications encompasses the use of a range of devices in order to interact with another person a substantial distance away. However, in order to qualify, these devices need to be connected by cable, telegraph, telephone, or via broadcasting technology – such as Wi-Fi is 5G.

Thus, the field of modern telecommunications itself is typically divided into two main categories – wired and wireless communications:

  • Wired telecommunications: unsurprisingly, devices in this category function through the use of cables and other physical means of transmitting information, such as copper wire, fibre-optic cable, and coaxial cable.
  • Wireless telecommunications: in contrast to wired communication, wireless communication naturally lacks wires, instead using radio waves or other forms of electromagnetic energy to transmit information.

Thanks to these two communication categories, we now have numerous different devices in use today that can be used to get in touch with people all across the world, connecting us like never before and expanding social and business opportunities.

When was telecommunications invented?

While you might think that telecommunications is a relatively recent invention, the truth is actually the opposite.  In fact, the first example of telecommunications in use comes from the Greek author, Homer, who mentioned the use of signal fires to communicate in his great work, the Illiad.

And Homer didn’t provide the only early examples, as you can see in our timeline below:

A timeline of telecommunications technology

  • 1200 B.C.E.: Homer writes about using signal fires in the Illiad
  • 700 B.C.E. to 300 C.E.: carrier pigeons are used in Greece to carry messages
  • 1876: Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone
  • 1885: the first long-distance telephone line is established between New York and Chicago
  • 1894: the first transcontinental telephone line is established
  • 1913: the first cross-country radio telephone service is established
  • 1933: the first commercial television broadcasts begin
  • 1962: Telstar, the first commercial communications satellite, is launched
  • 1969: the first successful test of ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet
  • 1973: the first public demonstration of mobile phone technology
  • 1990: the first commercial Internet service providers begin operation
  • 1992: the first text message is sent
  • 2007: the first iPhone is released
  • 2019: the 5G wireless network standard is deployed

Of course, ever since the early 2000s, telecommunication technology has come a long way, with telecommunication technology trends constantly evolving.

For example, the convergence of different forms of communication has led to the development of new services, such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and the Internet of Things (IoT), and things are only going to advance further in the future.

The evolution of the radio

When most people think of music and entertainment, their mind likely jumps straight to the radio. But in terms of the history of telecommunications, radio is so much more than this.

The potential for radio was first discovered by James Clerk Maxwell and Heinrich Hertz in the 19th century when they uncovered the existence of radio ways. Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor, then developed the first practical radio communication system as early as the 1890s, creating the world’s first telegraph system!

Then, in the early 20th century, radio broadcasting began in earnest, with the first commercial radio station, KDKA, launching in 1920. And while the development of television broadcasting in the 1930s and 1940s eventually led to a decline in radio consumption, it’s once again seeing a resurgence in the modern day thanks to their easy accessibility.

Ham radios, in particular, are seeing a boom in popularity, and are actually some of the most powerful pieces of communication technology available to ordinary people, with some being powerful enough to reach astronauts in space!

On top of this, advances in technology, such as the development of FM radio and satellite radio, have helped to keep this communication media alive, ensuring it remains an important source of news, music, and entertainment well into the modern day.

Telephone development

We’ve already talked about the history of the telephone at length in our article of the same name. So, to cut a long story short, the patent for the first functioning telephone was presented to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. And the first successful telephone call was then made by Bell to his assistant, Thomas Watson, on March 10, 1876.

After this, the first commercial telephone exchange opened in 1878 in New Haven, Connecticut, and by 1885, there were 47,900 telephones in service across the United States.

During the 20th century, the telephone industry continued to evolve, with the first transcontinental telephone line being completed in 1915, and direct-dial long-distance service being introduced in 1951.

The widespread adoption of the telephone quickly followed and led to the development of new technologies, such as answering services, caller ID, and the cellular phone, which has become one of the most widely used devices in the world.

The invention of television

Although forms of visual information have been around for centuries, it wasn’t until the invention of the cathode ray tube (CRT) by German scientist, Karl Ferdinand Braun, in the 19th century, that television took its first step into existence.

CRT itself was developed into the first electronic television system by Scottish inventor, John Logie Baird, in the 1920s. Baird’s system was mechanical and not very practical, but it created the basic groundwork for how televisions would eventually work.

After this, it was up to Vladimir Zworykin, a Russian-born American inventor, to develop the type of electronic camera tube that could be used to transmit images electronically during the 1930s, bringing TV one step closer to completion.

Finally, in 1939, RCA, the company that Zworykin worked for, debuted the first all-electronic television system at the New York World’s Fair. This system, known as the National Television System Committee (NTSC) standard, became the foundation for the first commercial television broadcasts in the United States.

Following on from this, color television was eventually introduced in the 1950s, and by the 1970s, it had become the standard for television broadcasting. And once cable television emerged, it was swiftly followed by the advent of streaming services.

Today, when people say they are watching TV, they are just as likely to be consuming entertainment on a tablet or smartphone as on a television set.

The founding of the internet

Assuming you were paying attention to our timeline, you won’t be shocked to learn that the internet came into existence as early as the 1960s!

In fact, the United States Department of Defense began funding research into ways to connect computers and share information after World War II. This funding and research led to the development of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) in 1969.

ARPANET was initially used to connect government and academic researchers, but its success led to the development of other networks, such as the National Physical Laboratory Network (NPL) in the United Kingdom and the Cyclades Network in France.

These networks then formed the basis for the development of the global Internet used today. In the 1970s, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn developed the TCP/IP protocol, which became the standard for transmitting data over the Internet. This allowed different networks to communicate with each other and allowed the Internet to expand rapidly.

The first public demonstration of the Internet finally occurred in 1972, and the first email was sent in 1971. Finally, the first commercial Internet service provider (ISP), known as The World, went online in 1989, which in turn led to the creation of the World Wide Web in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, making the Internet more accessible to the general public.

After finding its feet, the 1990s saw the true rise of commercial Internet services, such as America Online (AOL) and Prodigy, and the introduction of the first Web browsers, including Mosaic and Netscape Navigator.

By the end of the decade, the number of people using the Internet had grown to more than 100 million. And with the advent of Web 2.0 in the 2000s, the Internet has become an integral part of people’s daily lives.

Today, there are more than 4.9 billion Internet users worldwide, with many of them using the Internet for a wide range of activities, including communication, information-seeking, entertainment, and commerce.

Making use of telecommunications with VoiceNation

Telecommunications have truly come a long way in recent years, and we’ve no doubt that they’ll continue to develop in the future, but if you want to take advantage of them in the modern day for your business, then you should consider working with VoiceNation!

Whether you need a Virtual Receptionist, a Live Answering Service, or simply a Live Chat function, we can help.

Get in touch with our team today to learn more about what our services can provide and view our plans & pricing packages.

Don’t forget to browse our other articles as well, such as our pieces on the evolution of communications and what is VOIP.

By Adam Alred

VP of IT @ VoiceNation