EXPERIMENTATION | Internet and Telecom: A Brief History

Experimentation is at the root of technological success. Technological success forges reality from fantasy or the fantasy remains just that— an idea with little or no value other than personal satisfaction.

Add a note hereExperimentation with telephony and radio proceeded almost in parallel. Bell’s invention of the telephone took place around 1875 to 1876 when he built models and demonstrated technical feasibility. His early working samples enabled people to talk to each other over wire conductors across distances that far exceeded the range of direct human speech and hearing. Experimental development would continue throughout the late 1800s and into the 20th century as patents were granted and the first services became available.

Add a note hereFrom the start, the telephone industry was dependent on lines, simply two pair of wires connecting two telephone instruments. Over time, it became obvious that if all the lines were connected to a single, centralized location where any telephone user could be connected to any other user on demand, service and usefulness would be greatly improved. With this capability, the central office (CO) came into being.

Add a note hereTen to twelve years after Bell’s initial experiments, Guglielmo Marconi read about and began experimenting with Hertz’ work with electromagnetic waves. Marconi believed that magnetic waves could free telegraphy from the constraints of wire and cable. After significant development work in the 1880s, and a convincing demonstration of sending signals over water between the shore and an island in Bristol Channel 8.7 miles distant, he changed the name of his company, ‘‘Wireless Telegraph and Signal, Ltd.’’ to ‘‘The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd.’’ He received an English patent on the wireless in 1896.

Add a note hereFarnsworth and Zworykin conceived television in the early 1900s. However, neither knew of the others work, and it was well into the 1930s before serious experimentation was started on today’s so-called ‘‘analog’’ television system. Radio had become a commercial success both in terms of broadcasting and receiver manufacturing. In addition, the art and science of broadcasting audio or speech using electromagnetic waves was well known. Most of the experimentation was about getting pictures—‘‘video’’ over the same medium.

Add a note hereEarly telephone companies built and installed lines by stringing wires on poles or other convenient supporting structures where the right to use could be arranged. The poles or rights to use other supporting structure might be owned by the same company or by another entity. Over time, a collection of groups of private lines grew across the city and landscape. Ownership and rights to use these assets were traded, bought, sold, and bartered. Companies went into and got out of the business. Some succeeded while others failed.

Add a note hereTelephone lines were similar to the lines used by telegraph operators to transmit messages using a code conceived by Samuel B. Morse in the early 1800s.

Add a note hereTelegrams—written messages—were the end result of a process that started with a spoken or written message given to a telegraph operator who encoded it into dots and dashes and sent it to another telegraph operator using a telegraph key. The second operator received the dots and dashes, decoded it, wrote it out on paper, and delivered or had it delivered by a third party to the person or entity it was intended for.
Add a note hereTelegraphy was adopted by the railroads. Their rights-of-way easily and conveniently supported cross-country, intrastate, and interstate lines. Command and control of trains as well as switching trains to other tracks with speed and efficiency couldn’t be accomplished without telegraphy. Can you imagine what it might be like to dispatch and control trains with messages delivered by the Pony Express? Over time, this capability migrated to public use in exchange for money and became a commercial business. In similar fashion, the telegraph key and typewriter were motorized and morphed into the Teletype machine and eliminated the need for the skilled Morse Operator. The Teletype machine spawned Telex (international) and TWX (Domestic) services that lasted well into the 1980s when they were largely replaced by facsimile technology standardized by the CCIT (later renamed ITU).

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