A timeline of business communication systems

A timeline of business communication systems

Did you know that mobile phones date back to the 1940’s? Well, maybe not the smartphones we think of today, but the captains of industry were experimenting with mobile communication devices nearly 75 years ago.


Once technology improved, big business spearheaded the birth of mobile phones for the masses. Companies realized the potential for profit, of course, but also the possibilities of better, faster business communication every day. Faxes and conference calls soon gave way to digital signatures and web conferencing and then, as they say, the rest is history.


We researched the origins of business phone systems (okay, we geeked out on it big time) and compiled this interesting timeline of communication innovation. We’ve come a long way in 200 years (most notably in the past 35):


The first telegraph is invented. It serves just one house and runs on static electricity. Before 1816, visual semaphore systems, drum signals, messenger pigeons and smoke signals were all used to send messages.


The electromagnetic telegraph is invented, but the first long-distance telegraph lines in the US won’t be in operation until 1844. After that, telegraph lines steadily spread rapidly around the world.


The first fax system is developed. It is reliant on perfectly synchronized pendulums on both ends of transmission. The first commercial service arrives in 1860. It is used to transmit signatures for banking transactions.

Alexander Graham Bell secures the first patent for the telephone. It is an immediate success, getting international attention at the Philadelphia Centennial exposition. Within ten years, more than 150,000 telephones are purchased.


You could call the first commercial teletype machine the forefather of texting. Born in 1908, teletype machines become a popular way to send text over telegraph lines, mostly to share stock prices quickly.


The key phone system is developed. It’s a user-powered way of having multiple phone lines at one business location. Key systems remain in use today.

Long before the first cellular service, the first mobile wireless telephone system goes into service is St. Louis. Most early phones are installed in cars with high powered external antennas and large heavy batteries.


Mobile service improves to the IMTS protocol. People can call remotely at a range of 30 miles, but phones cost between $1,000-2,000, wait times to place a call range up to 30 minutes and the cost per connection averages about $1/minute.


The first Xerox fax machine makes it possible to send photo-like copies of documents over a phone line. The machines are very expensive though. Even at the height of their popularity in the 1980’s fax machines cost $20,000.


Companies begin to have their own automated private phone networks, aka Private Branch Exchanges (PBXs). The automated PBX system allows businesses to handle many incoming calls without a receptionist.


Touch tone dialing is invented. Users can more easily navigate phone messaging services and menus. Combined with the invention of the PBX, touch tone dialing leads to the rise of pre-recorded voice instructions to guide users through automated menus.


The first cellular phones are released in the United States. Despite short battery life and analog calls that are not encrypted, getting a new cell phone is definitely cool. Unfortunately, anyone with a scanner can listen to your calls!


Pagers arrive on the scene. They are initially popular with people who are on-call such as firefighters or doctors. However, because pagers are about one-tenth of the price of early cell phones, they catch on like wildfire.

Second generation (2G) cell service is released, featuring digital encryption and the ability to send SMS text messages. Personal texting wouldn’t take off until 1999.


Simon by IBM is the first touchscreen phone with apps and the ability to connect to the internet. It weighed more than a pound, had battery life of about an hour and retailed for $900.

Old cell phone

The first VoIP software emerges. Voice over internet connections existed as early as 1973, but the first practical use was in 1995.


3G cell service brings newfound internet capabilities. Cell phones begin to adopt email and internet browsing capabilities, surpassing personal digital assistant devices.


Mass market VoIP service begins. With the rise of reliable broadband internet, telephone service migrates to digital transmission. Cloud systems take over from PBX systems, transferring most of the relay equipment to multiple external locations, providing redundancy in case of power outages. VoIP also allows for voice to text capture, automated text responses and leads to HD Audio, thanks to wider band sound that nearly doubles the audio range.


4G cell service is released. Data download speeds increase by 10x. Which brings us to the doorstep of 5G. In 2019, 5G cell service promises to increase data download speeds tenfold again. Phone systems will provide better high bandwidth streaming services to more people.


What are the next telecommunication innovations? If the history of phone systems is any indication, the technologies of the future have already been invented and it is only a matter of time before they are adopted by a wider range of people. In the meantime, don’t let your business fall behind, make sure you have a phone system that is affordable and packed with powerful features. Explore NPP discounts on business products and services, including deals on business communications.