7 May 2020

The history of the telephone: A revolution in communication

Guides & explainers
There are few devices that can instantaneously take you to the other side of the world while you pace around your home – and the telephone is one of them.

This communication tool quite simply changed the world as we knew it, opening up limitless opportunities and connecting people like never before. We’re taking a look at how this once rare, revolutionary and exclusive device became a mainstay in the personal, business and everyday lives of people around the globe.


The dawn of dialling

Alexander Graham is widely renowned as the inventor of the telephone back in 1876; however, his wasn’t the first. An Italian inventor, Antonio Meucci, created the original, basic model some 27 years earlier – although it was Graham who won the patent and made the very first phone call. He famously transmitted a call to his assistant stating “Mr Watson, come here. I want to see you.” The limitless potential of the device and what it made possible for communication meant investors were in plentiful supply, so Graham’s research was healthily funded and led to the first telephone line being constructed between 1877 and 1878.

Three years later, almost 50,000 telephones were in use, and the rest is history.

That was the telephone in its most basic, primitive form, only capable of working within a local network. But the appetite for enhanced communication capabilities only increased, so throughout the late 19th and entire 20th century, telephones underwent a dramatic evolution that would lay the foundations for how we live our lives and communicate today. The first payphone was introduced in 1887.

From the 1890s to the 1930s, the classic ‘candlestick’ phone burned bright, taking its place in businesses and the homes of the wealthy. 1915 saw the first long distance phone call be made – a major step that opened up a world of possibilities for a host of companies. In 1930, the candlestick was replaced by the rotary, to then be usurped by the push-button phone. This then evolved into the portable, cordless model, paving the way for the real game-changer; the mobile phone.


Communication, set free

This constant innovation and focus placed on the technology showcased one clear, simple truth – people like to talk. For both personal and professional reasons, communication is key. Throughout the late 20th century, we were happy to put up with a ‘busy line’ forcing us to wait to make a call. Why? Because making that call was so important; and it was certainly preferable to sending a telegram.

Physical distance no longer meant social distance, the kids going on holiday with grandparents were no longer out of reach, and your best friend moving away no longer meant waiting months or years to hear their voice again. There’s a reason every person remembers the momentous day they received their first mobile phone; and the reason is that that mobile was your key to the wider world.

The idea that phones could open doors that were once firmly shut changed the way businesses would operate forever – both internally and externally. An order could be placed in seconds, a customer could get an immediate response to a query, and businesses could contact suppliers and government bodies at the touch of a button. Streamlined efficiency became king.

This ease of communication brought with it brand new sales opportunities and the ability to expand to offices overseas – all connected by the telephone. What underpins all of this is the fact that a phone call is personal. It’s far easier to create a real relationship with a client by talking rather than typing, and sensitive issues are dealt with better through real, instantaneous dialogue, rather than a back and forth via telegram, post or email.


The future is calling

Mobile was just the start, and as phones got smarter, they became so much more than a way to make a call. So now these powerful, multifaceted communication devices are commonplace, what’s the next big development for the telephone? In the business world, it’s the move to cloud-based telephony – and all the potential this brings for a company. The number of global business subscribers to voice cloud technology is expected to reach 204.8 billion in 2020 [Future Market Insights], and all these users are redefining what a phone can be.

This technology introduces softphones: programming that allows calls to be made over the internet using a general, all-purpose computer. With this is place, a phone doesn’t need to be a phone – opening up real flexibility and scalability in communications. On top of this, cloud telephony also offers immense potential for caller experience optimisation and creative branding – making it an exciting prospect for the worlds of business and technology alike.

The importance of the telephone is underlined by the simple fact that we couldn’t imagine a world without it. Friends, families, colleagues and clients stay connected through the ability to communicate with each other at all times and in all places. The appetite for this technology was palpable from the get-go, and as the world expanded and become more globalised, the telephone remains the glue that keeps us all together.

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