With over six out of every seven people on the planet using it in one form or another, the telephone surely must be the most commonly used technological device of today’s world.
The invention of the telephone is often attributed to Alexander Graham Bell, who in 1876 was the first to obtain a patent on a sound transmitting “apparatus.” But truth be told, many other inventors had been working on similar technologies ever since the 1830’s.
An essential complement to the telephone, the switchboard, was also invented in 1876 by Hungarian engineer Tivadar Pusks. In spite of its crucial importance to future of telephone networks, it would still be many years before switchboards became commonplace.
The earliest telephones from the 1870’s until the mid-1890’s were sold in pairs that would be connected together over a distance to facilitate communication between, say, a residence and a workshop.
The creation of a telephone network through the use of switchboards began in Lexington, Massachusetts, in 1894. The operators were almost exclusively women, and for the next half-century, this was how all long-distance phone calls in the United States were relayed.
In 1951, “area codes” were introduced for eleven cities across the United States, creating the ability to make automatic long-distance phone calls that bypassed the switchboards. Still in use today in or close to the same location, except for the one in San Francisco, these area codes were: 215 (Philadelphia), 216 (Cleveland), 312 (Chicago), 313 (Detroit), 318 (San Francisco), 401 (Providence), 412 (Pittsburgh), 414 (Milwaukee), 415 (Oakland), 617 (Boston), and 916 (Sacramento).
For decades to follow, things then remained pretty much unchanged until the popularization of Mobile Phones and VoIP telephony.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
The latest majorly different way to transmit phone calls is known as VoIP, short for “Voice over Internet Protocol.” It was invented by Alon Cohen and Lior Haramaty in 1994, and introduced to the market in 1995 with the release of the first VoIP software by VocalTec.
Today, there are dozens of companies such as Skype or Vonage offering VoIP telephone services at rates that are usually much less than traditional landlines or mobile phone rates.
While extraordinarily price competitive, three disadvantages commonly mentioned with VoIP phone services are, 1) You cannot make emergency calls (911) through your VoIP service, 2) Your number will be unlisted, which may make you more difficult to find, 3) Your phone will not function when there’s a power outage.
Mobile phones experienced an explosion in popularity in the 1990’s, driven by lower cost and expanded networks. However, it may surprise you to know that the first successful mobile phone took place in 1946, from a car in St Louis, Missouri.
Ten years later, the first automatic car phone was introduced in Sweden. That contraption, constructed with vacuum tubes and relays, weighed close to 90 lbs.
Even though the technology transmit phone calls wirelessly is old, the use of cell phones did not take off in earnest until the 1990’s. At the end of the 1980’s, only one in seventy Americans use some kind of mobile phone, and many of those were the kind installed into automobiles. Ten years later, the number of American mobile phone users had jumped to one in three. Take another leap to the year 2011, and the number of cell phone subscriptions surpassed the population; which means that on average, every American now uses a mobile phone.
Across the globe today, in world of 7 billion people, there are 5.9 billion cell phone subscribers. Put that in contrast to 1.26 billion landline telephone services. The mobile phone revolution is over in a mere two decades.
With a background as a translator, writer and publisher, Kent J Davidsson currently works in the utilities and communications industry. For quotes on communication services, including phone, Internet and television, please write to him and his team via e-mail write email@example.com.