Report: Timeline of Communication Systems

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  1900 - 2000 A.D.

First broadcast talk

Invention of the short-wave radio

Invention of television in Germany and Russia

Invention of microwave transmission

Long-distance coaxial cable systems and mobile telephone services are introduced in the USA.

Sputnik, the first satellite, is launched by the USSR
First data transmissions over regular phone circuits.

At the beginning of the story of today's global data networks is the story of the development of satellite communication.

In 1955 President Eisenhower announced the USA's intention to launch a satellite. But it in the end it was the Soviet Union, which launched the first satellite in 1957: Sputnik I. After Sputnik's launch it became evident that the Cold War was also a race for leadership in the application of state-of-the-art technology to defense. As the US Department of Defense encouraged the formation of high-tech companies, it laid the ground to Silicon Valley, the hot spot of the world's computer industry.

The same year as the USA launched their first satellite - Explorer I - data was transmitted over regular phone circuits for the first time, thus laying the ground for today's global data networks.

Today's satellites may record weather data, scan the planet with powerful cameras, offer global positioning and monitoring services, and relay high-speed data transmissions. Yet up to now, most satellites are designed for military purposes such as reconnaissance.

ARPAnet online

ARPAnet was the small network of individual computers connected by leased lines that marked the beginning of today's global data networks. An experimental network it mainly served the purpose of testing the feasibility of wide area networks and the possibility of remote computing. It was created for resource sharing between research institutions and not for messaging services like E-mail. Although US military sponsored its research, ARPAnet was not designed for directly martial use but to support military-related research.

In 1969 ARPANET went online and linked the first two computers, one located at the University of California, Los Angeles, the other at the Stanford Research Institute.

Yet ARPAnet did not become widely accepted before it was demonstrated in action to a public of computer experts at the First International Conference on Computers and Communication in Washington, D. C. in 1972.

Before it was decommissioned in 1990, NSFnet, a network of scientific and academic computers funded by the National Science Foundation, and a separate new military network went online in 1986. In 1988 the first private Internet service providers started offering access to NSFnet to a general public. After having become the backbone of the Internet in the USA, in 1995 NSFnet was turned into a consortium of commercial backbone providers. This and the launch of the World Wide Web added to the success of the global data network we call the Net.

In the USA it was already in 1994 that commercial users outnumbered military and academic users.

Despite the rapid growth of the Net, most computers linked to it are still located in the United States.

Invention of E-Mail

Introduction of fiber-optic cable systems

Launch of the World Wide Web

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Timeline of Communication Systems
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Fiber-optic cable networks
Fiber-optic cable networks may become the dominant method for high-speed Internet connections. Since the first fiber-optic cable was laid across the Atlantic in 1988, the demand for faster Internet connections is growing, fuelled by the growing network traffic, partly due to increasing implementation of corporate networks spanning the globe and to the use of graphics-heavy contents on the World Wide Web.

Fiber-optic cables have not much more in common with copper wires than the capacity to transmit information. As copper wires, they can be terrestrial and submarine connections, but they allow much higher transmission rates. Copper wires allow 32 telephone calls at the same time, but fiber-optic cable can carry 40,000 calls at the same time. A capacity, Alexander Graham Bell might have not envisioned when he transmitted the first words - "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you" - over a copper wire.

Copper wires will not come out of use in the foreseeable future because of technologies as DSL that speed up access drastically. But with the technology to transmit signals at more than one wavelength on fiber-optic cables, there bandwidth is increasing, too.

For technical information from the Encyclopaedia Britannica on telecommunication cables, click here. For technical information from the Encyclopaedia Britannica focusing on fiber-optic cables, click here.

An entertaining report of the laying of the FLAG submarine cable, up to now the longest fiber-optic cable on earth, including detailed background information on the cable industry and its history, Neal Stephenson has written for Wired: Mother Earth Mother Board. Click here for reading.

Susan Dumett has written a short history of undersea cables for Pretext magazine, Evolution of a Wired World. Click here for reading.

A timeline history of submarine cables and a detailed list of seemingly all submarine cables of the world, operational, planned and out of service, can be found on the Web site of the International Cable Protection Committee.

For maps of fiber-optic cable networks see the website of Kessler Marketing Intelligence, Inc.