Internet and Telecom: A Brief History

Alexander Graham Bell is credited with inventing the telephone sometime after Samuel B. Morse came up with the telegraph key and code, making smoke signals obsolete technology. Somewhere along the way, in the more recent past, computers learned to talk to one another over telephone lines. And then along came the Internet.

Add a note hereThat’s almost enough history for practitioners. However, a perspective on the past is well worth a quick read because understanding some of the history, especially since 1982, provides insight into the changes the Telecom industry has undergone and how that has, or will impact media and entertainment industry operations in the future.

Add a note hereKeeping our focus on practical considerations it makes sense to start somewhere in the early part of the past century. After all, radio and telephones came from similar inventive roots and had electrical or ‘‘electronics’’ in common. It’s also instructive to observe that the two parted ways when digital electronics went solid state. With digital electronics—initially the switching transistor—devices could count and keep track of items or service transactions, calculate, or measure interesting, valuable operational and accounting characteristics of the business.

Add a note hereSomeone figured out how to convert an analog signal into digital form, and the telephone world went for it with a vengeance. On the other hand, radio and television receivers didn’t warm to digital techniques until well after integrated circuits with divide and multiply capability became cost effective for use in tuners. Other similar events along the way could be mentioned, but suffice it to say that broadcasting and consumer electronics lagged the telephone industry in adoption of digital technology by many years and did so, one painful step at a time.
Add a note hereThe telephone industry was digital in nature from the start. For example, the basic business transaction unit, or service function, was and still is, a phone call. The line was in use or it was free. It could be used or one had to wait. One person could talk to one person at a time (until party lines were figured out). One operator could connect two parties to make conversation, later capitalized by the industry in the form of a telephone call.

Add a note hereAlmon B. Strowger, a Kansas City undertaker, invented the stepping switch to allow customers to decide between his establishment and a competitor without undue influence of the wife of his competitor who just happened to be the local telephone operator. The stepping switch enabled the industry to continue in a mechanized and automated fashion, without operators, one telephone call at a time, the staple of long distance telephone bills.
Add a note hereAudio—the staple of radio—was analog and stayed that way. In 2003, radio broadcasters began upgrading transmission facilities to digital transmission.

Add a note hereVideo might be characterized as digital in nature—at the very least it’s highly structured. Pioneer inventors Philo Farnsworth and Vladimir Zworykin both conceived a fixed, repetitive scan structure. Farnsworth reportedly conceived his version while plowing successive rows in a field.

Add a note hereHistorically, telephony, radio, and television share a common business life-cycle behavior. Still in relative infancy, the Internet seems to be evolving in similar fashion. The life-cycle includes three distinct phases starting with experimentation, moving into growth and consolidation, and finally into a mature state where the technology continues to evolve and the business segment makes a continuing contribution to the economy over a long time.

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