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A Brief History of Data Communications

By Incognito on July, 11 2017

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Follow the timeline as we highlight some of the major evolutions in the network communications technology, including many different people and a variety of unique devices:

1940: Small Step for Man, Great Leap for Communications

With morse code, the telephone, and radio signals behind him, George Stibitz took networking technology a great leap forward when he sent computing commands over a teletype machine from his model at Dartmouth College to his Complex Number Calculator in New York.

1943: Teletype Computation

Stibitz's successful telegraph prompted a new method of computation, which was quickly used for loop-based teleprinters and automated telegraphs. An IBM adaptation of this technology was able to transmit punched cards at a whopping 25 bits per second (bps).

1948: Teletype Modems to Sage

Telephone systems using early teletype communication modems were used to transmit multiple images across the United States to Semi-automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) computers. This increased the amount of data being transferred but also resulted in slower speeds at the receiving end.

1958: American Telephone and Telegraph Bring the Digital Subset

Speed was boosted by over 4 times, sending a new record of 110 bits per second through American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) computer modems, called Digital Subsets. These Digital Subsets linked SAGE computers across the United States and Canada.

1962: AT&T Releases Bell 103 Data Phone

The first civilian commercial computer modem, the Bell 103 Data Phone, allowed digital data to be transmitted over regular unconditional telephone lines. These modems were extremely expensive and were not typically used for personal communications.

1962: Intergalactic Computer Network

J.C.R. Licklider leads the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to create and link a network of computers across the world, effectively known as the Intergalactic Computer Network. This would allow data and programs to be shared by any of the connected computers.

1965: Wide Area Network

The first wide-area computer network is created by Thomas Marill and Lawrence G. Roberts, linking PCs across multiple systems. This served as the precursor to the ARPANET, a project which Roberts would manage.

1977: The Hayes 80-130A

The first personal computer modem, the Hayes 80-130A, was designed by Dennis Hayes and Dale Heatherington. The device allowed computer users to connect directly to their phone lines to create a personal network, something never experienced before.

1981: The Hayes Smartmodem

An improved iteration, the Hayes Smartmodem, is released. This device offered 300 bits per second speed in an affordable body. It also enabled users to perform new functions like initializing, hanging up, and auto dialing. A 1200-bits-per-second version of the Hayes Smartmodem was released soon after.

Mid 80s: Modems Hit the Fast Lane

IBM PC clones dominated the PC market, leading to a new ear of internal Industry Standard Architecture (ISA). Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) modem cards were designed for additional PC compatibility, extending WAN reach. This marked the era of Broadband Services.

Modems that enabled network communications came in a variety of shapes and sizes, and pushed bits per second way up, from 1200 to 4800, to 9600, 14400, 28800, and beyond.

1989: The World Wide Web

Consumer demand for more visual imagery, a better web-browsing interface, and more online content prompted Sir Tim Berners-Lee to create an Information Management proposal. This would eventually become the foundation for what we use today, the World Wide Web.

Mid 90s: Lower Costs and Faster Speeds

Home broadband entered the market in 1991, and people all over the world began accessing the Internet using Berners-Lee's World Wide Web. Prices for commercial PCI modems plunged and vendors began to ship out modems as standard components of PCs and laptops.

1996: The 56K

Brent Townshend created the technology for the first 56K modem, a model which used a bitrate of 56.0/33.06 kilobytes per second, doubling the speed and power of previous modems. The 56K gained immediate popularity due to its price point. Local Area Networks (LANs) started becoming popular in commercial businesses.

Early 2000s: Analog Out, ISDN, ADSL, and Cable In

Major companies began moving toward new approaches to gain faster modem speeds. All digital phone lines (ISDN) surfaced as an alternative to analog. Cable TV modems gathered a great amount of attention. Phone companies soon figured out how to deliver digital data more economically through Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Lines (ADSL), boosting speeds over existing telephone copper deployments.

2002: 3G Arrives

Commerical third-generation wireless connection (3G) was launched, offering application services like wide-area wireless voice, mobile Internet (a fascinating feature), video calling, and on-the-go TV. LANs were commonly used in businesses and in customer homes. To meet the standards for 3G, a system was required to provide peak data rates of at least 200 kilobits per second (kbps).

Mid 2000s: The Wireless Age Matures

Broadband Internet services and wiress access networks quickly became mainstream technology due to the convenience and ease of access. Users no longer required two phone lines to connect to the Internet. File sizes for videos, video games, music, and pictures increased, and more vendors released hardware models that could connect wirelessly to user devices, like early iPhones and tablets.

2009: Enter 4G/LTE

4G and LTE represented the new generation of cellular standards, satisfying the speeds required by heavy file sizes. New features were constantly introduced into customer premises equipment to enable functions for Internet service providers and end users. The 4G standard set peak speeds at 100 megabits per second for high-mobility communication and 1 gigabit per second for low mobility. 

Providing a Better Quality of Experience

During the later part of this decade, major markets across the world became saturated with Internet-enabled devices. Internet penetration rates quickly approached 100%, meaning everyone had access to the web in various ways. Reaching this peak caused a shift in consumer attitudes. Speed was still important, but quality of experience, including service activation speeds, was now critical to success.

2011-2014: How Fast can we Go?

4G is ubiquitous. Fiber optic communications gained popularity. Hardware manufacturers continued to develop new features within modems so that new services could be enjoyed by the end-user. 10 gigabits per second was tested while 1 gigabit lines were made available in the United Kingdom and United States.

2015: Network Function Virtualization – The Next Evolution

Fiber becomes commonplace. Bitrate speeds are at an all-time high. Removing functionality from physical gateways and enabling cloud-based services is the next big broadband trend. Virtualization enables operators to manupulate modem functions through software, instead of relying on built-on hardware. Speed of service increased steadily. 

2017 and Beyond

The fulcrum pivots from human triggered communications to AI triggered communications. Smart cities and smart homes, the Internet of Everything (IoE), mobile communications, and evolving consumption habits increases spectrum utilization. Low frequency (sub 1Ghz) for IoT and millimeter wavelenghts (60Ghz) for short distance. Ultra-low latency high bandwidth applications such as smart car with collision avoidance or robotic medical procedures. The fifth generation (5G) opens new opportunities for humans and machines to communicate.

What will the future hold? Only time will tell...

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