Morse Code: How did it change communication?

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[ This article was originally published here ]

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In today’s society, instantaneous messaging is something we both need and expect in our everyday lives. Just think about the number of times you rely on it in a single day; work emails, IMing colleagues, WhatsApping friends. It’s almost impossible to cast your mind back to what communication looked like centuries ago.

If we go back a couple hundred years, most messages could only be delivered as quick as the fastest horse could ride. Messages that had to be delivered over a long distance were carried by messengers, or were signaled visually.

So, how did we go from that – to what we’re using today?  One of the landmark milestones in the communication revolution was that of Morse Code. On this day (May 24th) 177 years ago, the first morse code message was sent – changing the landscape of communication forever. With this in mind we wanted to take a look back through the biggest milestones in communications.

The Invention of Morse Code

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Developed in the 1830s and 1840s by Samuel Morse and others, the telegraph revolutionised long-distance communication – transmitting electrical signals over a wire laid between stations.

In addition to helping invent the telegraph, Morse developed a code that assigned a set of dots and dashes to each letter of the English alphabet, allowing for simple transmission of complex messages across telegraph lines. In 1844, Morse sent his first telegraph message, from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore. Although the telegraph had fallen out of widespread use by the start of the 21st century, it laid the groundwork for future inventions.

The Communication Revolution

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Telephone: The success of telegraphy and Morse Code created an appetite and need for instant communication, ultimately leasing to the creation of the telephone – with credit resting with Scottish scientist Alexander Graham Bell. The first commercial telephone services were set up on both sides of the Atlantic in 1878-79.

Satellite: In 1958, a United States satellite was used to transmit a presidential Christmas message to the rest of the world. In 1960, the Echo satellite was launched by NASA for radio communication; that same year the first-ever repeater active satellite was launched. Two years later in 1962, as part of an international project involving several companies and nation states, the world’s first direct relay satellite for commercial communication was launched – Telstar.

Internet: In the height of the cold war during the 1960s, MIT researcher JCR Licklider developed a plan to create a “galactic network” of computers which would enable important US leaders to talk to each other in case the Soviet Union disabled or ‘hacked’ the telephone system.

Jump forward to the 1970s, American computer scientist Vinton Cerf developed a system for the various small networks of the world to talk to each other or do the “handshake”. This critical innovation was called Transmission Control Protocol or TCP, later expanded to include Internet Protocol or IP. The Internet was established, but in its first decade it was limited to universities and researchers. That changed in the 1990s with the coming of the World Wide Web, invented by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 while working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

Mobile Cellular Technology: The age of the handheld cellular mobile phone began in April 1973 when Motorola’s Martin Cooper made a mobile phone call in front of journalists. Since then, there have been various developments in mobile technology. The 1980s witnessed the launch of the analogue cellular system – known as 1G. 2G followed in the 1990s with the rise of GSM technology, marking the switch from analogue to digital, with the advent of 3G in the 00s making it possible to stream video and music on phones. Mobile data really started to boom with the arrival of the first iOS and Android smartphones and 4G networks.

The Future of Communication

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When we talk about the future of communication at the moment, there isn’t a single conversation that doesn’t come back to 5G.

It’s reported that by 2024 5G will account for 21% of the world’s mobile connections – and its connectivity will power a world of new services, not just benefitting how we communicate with each other – but with our devices, and surroundings. 5G unleashes a powerful combination of extraordinary speed, expanded bandwidth, low latency, and increased power efficiency perfect for connecting objects. It will make our cities smarter and our entertainment more immersive.

Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend just how we’ve gone from coded dots and dashes to talking about IoT devices and smart cities – but it all harks back to that first transmission on May 24th 177 years ago.

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