A brief history of wireless communications

In recent years, the telecommunications industry has seen significant advances in technology. Some of which have been a result of technological developments and breakthroughs in science and others have been driven by adaptation of well-known principles and more recently by consumer needs.

Since its inception, the nature of telecommunications has driven the demand for increased connectivity. This article outlines the how far we have advanced as well as where we are looking to be in the not so distant future.

Where did it all begin?

Although clearly worlds apart from today’s technologies, the true definition of telecommunications can reach all the way back to times past when humans used smoke signals and carrier pigeons to communicate wirelessly. These are the simplest, earliest forms of wireless communications.

A modern approach

In 1684 a British scientist named Robert Hooke invented mobile panels which coded the letters of the alphabet. This is one of the earliest examples we have of what we would consider our modern definition of telecommunications.

Further elaborate schemes appeared towards the end of the 18th century, when inventions such as the optical telegraph, created by French physicist Claude Chappe were designed and built. This device transmitted coded words over long distances.

Following this, large-scale signalling towers were developed and erected in cities in France and countries nearby. These were precursors to radio communications.

From these technologies, we were able to learn some of the very basics of the science behind telecommunications and it was mainly the obstacles that were faced with these communications systems that paved the way for modern fixed wireless systems such as microwave, millimetre-wave and infrared links.

Radio communications

The very first use of radio transmitted coded information was a result of the works of Maxwell and Hertz with their pioneering experiments using electromagnetic waves and the very first papers detailing radio communication systems were described by Tesla in the late 1800’s.

Around the same time, Marconi patented the telegraph and demonstrated the use of mobile communications with ships crossing the English Channel.

These technologies continued development for over a hundred years as people began to unravel the intricacies of telecommunications. The next major advancement came during the second world war, when military research was driven around radar and remote sensing.

Subsequent applicants emerged from these technologies, including TV broadcasting in the 1940’s.

In the 1970’s AT&T Bell Labs devised cellular systems and continued to drive advancement in technologies, standards and spectral efficiencies as well as lowering prices which would lead to commercial acceptance.

Huge growth in the consumer sectors during the 1980’s and 90’s gave rise to the modern wireless mobile services we know today.

From then, until now, much has moved forward within the telecommunications industry as consumer’s demand faster, more reliable connectivity. The development from 1G to 4G and now into LTE and beyond to 5G has accelerated the rate of advance in most technologies.


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