It’s fair to say that we are all experiencing very changed days.

Many, if not most of us, are now working from home, away from the office environment we’ve become used to. Rather than having our desks, phones and computers as we normally have, monitors are now sitting on stacks of books and desk phones are trailing wires across dining tables. We are yet to find out how many headsets have been lost so far due to becoming involuntary cat toys.

However, maybe we are now paying a bit more attention the the technology that allows us to communicate. The computer you and I use to do our daily tasks – typing documents, filing correspondence, maintaining company systems. The cloud, where the majority of our work programmes are situated and where we can access everything from our invoicing to our customer relationship records. The phone on our desk, where we can talk to colleagues and customers, handle incoming enquiries and call suppliers to clarify lead times.

All these things are essential for most days working in the office. Speaking personally, I felt a new appreciation for my desk phone once I had it set up at home. There was a definite sense of relief when the lights came on, and I made a successful test call to one of my colleagues on the SureVoIP Technical Team.

So I felt it was a good time to learn more about this handy device, and phones in general. How did we go from one phone per village, to a pocket device that also takes photos?

First Beginnings

The phone’s very first beginning was with the telegraph. It does seem a little strange to compare modern phones to the system with dots and dashes that allowed authorities to catch the infamous Dr Crippen, but the underpinning technology between the telegram and the telephone is similar.

The first phone patented by Andrew Graham Bell was essentially a telegram device modified to send an encoded voice signal using electrical impulses, instead of the usual dots and dashes of Morse code. This ‘encoded voice’ could be sent between two devices connected with copper wire, allowing a voice message to be passed from one device to the other. Add to this the concept of the phone exchange (invented in the 1870’s), and you could contact multiple devices from one device, with a switchboard in the middle making sure you reached the right person.

We’ve moved on a lot since 1878, and I’m quite hopeful that new Exchanges are no longer built using wire scavenged from ladies’ undergarments or teapot lids (both of these strange items appeared in the construction of the first Telephone Exchange).

Fast forward through coin-operated phone boxes, Buzby and trim phones, and we reach the very first mobile phones.

This was the first time the user was free to make a call from wherever they were, not from wherever the phone was.

The very first mobile phones were available as an option in expensive cars. Making a call was as easy as dialling the rotary dial on a contemporary phone of the time. But receiving a call was much more problematic. As the network of coverage ‘cells’ was patchy, an operator had to locate the nearest phone station to your car, and send the call there. The call was then sent on wirelessly, to be received by the phone located inside the car.

Placing a call from one place to another without using copper wires to join two physical devices seems easy in an age where we can call, text and stream just about anywhere, but a lot of things had to be worked out to allow it to happen.

So That’s What The ‘G’ Stands For

Two things we hear a lot come from this process of development. The network of sending stations was divided into hexagonal cells – where the US gets the word ‘cell phone’ from. The levels of interoperability and technical development involved was measured in Generations. The 1st Generation was the development of the analogue copper wire network, 2nd Generation refers to the digital network, 3rd Generation uses broadband, and the 4th Generation is IP-based. This is where the commonly used terms ‘3G’ and ‘4G’ come from, and what they refer to.

Our journey started when each village had a maximum of one phone, long distance calling required you to book a timeslot weeks in advance and Exchanges were made from old teapots. It ends with today, when VoIP allows a fully featured, business-grade phone service to be delivered over an internet connection to anyone, anywhere. We can play games on our mobile while waiting for a bus, or watch our favourite programmes.

A lot of things had to be developed to get the technology to this point, and a lot of things have to happen behind the scenes to make the technology work. So I hope you might now have a little more respect for the familiar bunch of plastic, wires and circuitry sitting on your desk. Everything from the keypad to the microphone that picks up your voice has required years of development, and the ease of use we are used to requires the ongoing cooperation of multiple nations, companies and individuals working to a common goal.

Read more about what’s next for the UK phone system

Read more about changes in our phone system

Chat to us about your current telephony requirements

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