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History of the landline: From traditional phone lines to VoIP

Posted by Amina Addow on Jul 24, 2019 4:07:15 PM
Amina Addow
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These days, when you want to make a call you'd normally pick up a smartphone due to its pocket-sized convenience and versatility.  It'd be easy to forget that before VoIP was introduced cord heavy hardware phones were once the norm and using the internet and phone simultaneously was impossible.

Let’s take a look at the history of this device showing that making phone calls is as important as ever and why this switch to broadband-only communications will be historic.


Before VoIP - The First Home Phone

Alexander Graham Bell sailed by steamship from America to Britain to present his device already popular in the United States. Queen Victoria, purchased two, an occurrence that would forever shape communication in the United Kingdom. When Bell’s invention arrived, another phenomenon in Victorian society rose to prevalence, the office, creating a large market of businessmen.

Bell and his Partners provided systems where calls could only be made to the other end of their phone line. Only capable of connecting private circuits found in a large house or factory.

The desire for telephones proved to be massive, especially the desire to speak directly to suppliers and customers. From there, networks of phone lines were established through the use of switchboards as an operator would have to take an electrical plug and physically plug in the socket to connect someone

Access For The Masses

Early phone boxes expanded phone use, making it no longer only accessible to wealthy individuals and business people.

Despite the Great Depression, the middle-class was growing and therefore an opportunity opened to increase the number of individuals using the telephone. To succeed in this new market, the General Post Office had to make the telephone itself look attractive. Manual operators still remained until the 1970s due to the heavy cost of automation, but this shifted the workforce from female operators to engineers.

The GPO was ready to expand the usage of the telephone and brought in press advertising with colourful imaginative artwork to make it more attractive to subscribers. In 1935, the 999 phone lines were established to resolve this and market the telephone as a needed life-saving device.

The Effect of WWII

As WWII broke out the desire and necessity of phones shifted from civilian use to military use. During the Blitz, operators continued to work and due to a shortage of available lines often had to determine calls by priority and restrict calls. Once the war ended, thousands returned to civilian life and repairing and expanding the network became a priority, despite limited resources.

The later scale of the network made it difficult to modernise. The challenge of limited resources prevented many from having telephones. The concept of “party lines” started where multiple customers were connected on the same line.

As technology was rapidly advancing and for the first time, long-distance calls without an operator were possible and more affordable. The long numbers we’re used to now lead to phone calls becoming more complicated. However, this new technology further increased the desire for telephones and work was implemented to continue to try and make them even more accessible.

Moving In a Modern Direction

Having a telephone became an ideal of modern society and therefore needed a stylistic makeover. The United Kingdom was going through a drastic shift from the days of post-war rationing to a consumer society. It was critical that consumers had different choices therefore many different colours and styles were introduced.

All these changes contributed to rapid growth and by the mid-1960’s the GPO had over four million subscribers, however, this resulted in poor service and for many, calling was still only available through phone booths.

To try to create resolutions, in 1961 the GPO started construction on the Post Office Tower which used microwave technology to build a wireless network that could handle the volume of phone calls necessary. This new technology entirely removed operators by the 1970s.

Mobile and VoIP

Nowadays the majority of homes still maintain a landline, enjoying benefits such as free evening and weekend calls. As well as routing internet services via their phone lines. However, mobile calls and online chat services have become overwhelmingly popular, to the point where many younger homeowners are considering ditching their landlines in favour of more recent communication technologies.

The Future of Phones

For over a hundred years, landlines have remained fairly prominent despite new innovations, but by 2023 landlines will become obsolete. BT recently announced that they will be turning off the public telephone network by then and therefore all customers will be transitioned over to VoIP services. This represents the rapid advancement which telephone services have undergone in the past 20 years and will continue to.

To future-proof your business and prepare your business for the technology revolution make sure to look at our packages particularly broadband and VoIP.

Topics: Latest, VoIP

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