Telecommunications Technology 101: Phone, Radio, and Television

Adam Alred • 06 Feb 2023 • 5 min read

“Telecommunications” is a term used to describe the ways information is transmitted over a distance. Services such as telephone, television, radio, and Internet are all considered different parts of telecommunications, but the field of modern telecommunications is typically divided into two main categories: wired and wireless. Wired telecommunications involves the use of cables and other physical means of transmitting information, such as copper wire, fiber-optic cable, and coaxial cable. Wireless telecommunications, on the other hand, uses radio waves or other forms of electromagnetic energy to transmit information.

The telecommunications industry has undergone significant changes in recent years with the advent of new technologies and the convergence of different forms of communication. This has led to the development of new services, such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as changes in the way that people communicate and consume media in both their professional and personal lives.

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: First successful test of ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet

1973: 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.


Most people think of music and entertainment when they think of radio, but in terms of the history of telecommunications, radio is so much more. James Clerk Maxwell and Heinrich Hertz discovered radio waves in the 19th century. Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor, developed the first practical radio communication system in the 1890s, creating the world’s first telegraph system. In the early 20th century, radio broadcasting began in earnest, with the first commercial radio station, KDKA, launching in 1920. The development of television broadcasting in the 1930s and 1940s led to a decline in radio consumption, but radio has remained an important source for news, music, and entertainment. Advances in technology, such as the development of FM radio and satellite radio, have also played a role in the evolution of the medium over time.


Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first United States patent for the invention of an “improvement in telegraphy” in 1876 and is credited with inventing the first operable telephone. The first successful telephone call was made by Bell to his assistant, Thomas Watson, on March 10, 1876. Bell’s invention was a direct-current (DC) device, which had a number of limitations. In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the carbon microphone, which improved the clarity of telephone calls and paved the way for the telephone to be installed in businesses and homes. The first commercial telephone exchange opened in 1878 in New Haven, Connecticut, and by 1885, there were 47,900 telephones in service in the United States. At first, telephone calls depended on human operators, but in 1891, Almon Strowger, whose main job was as an undertaker in Kansas City, Missouri, invented the Strowger switch, which automatically connected telephone calls. This eliminated the need for human operators. During the 20th century, the telephone industry continued to evolve. The first transcontinental telephone line was completed in 1915, and direct-dial long-distance service was introduced in 1951. The widespread adoption of the telephone 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 the cathode ray tube (CRT) by German scientist Karl Ferdinand Braun in the 19th century was the first step toward the invention of television. The CRT 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. Vladimir Zworykin, a Russian-born American inventor, developed an electronic camera tube that could be used to transmit images electronically during the 1930s. 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.

World War II slowed down television innovations and adoption, but during the post-war era, television became increasingly popular, and by the 1960s, it had had fundamentally changed how people experienced news and entertainment as well as how they experienced marketing. Color television was introduced in the 1950s, and by the 1970s, it had become the standard for television broadcasting. The next great television shakeup was the introduction of cable television, 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 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 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 was in 1972, and the first email was sent in 1971. The first commercial internet service provider (ISP) was The World, which went online in 1989. The World Wide Web was created in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, making the Internet more accessible to the general public.

The 1990s saw the 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. With the advent of Web 2.0 in the 2000s, the Internet has become an integral part of people’s daily lives. Search engines, social media, and e-commerce platforms have all changed how people communicate, shop, and conduct their 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.

By Adam Alred

VP of IT @ VoiceNation