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Chicomm Blog

Wireless Communication: Transforming Through Time

Posted by Jill McNamara on Friday, July 22, 2011

Radio Transforms from Yesterday’s Ship-to-Shore to Today’s Smart Phones

man talking on the phone

 From telegraphs to wireless connecting people around the world radio technology has come a long way.  Amazingly wireless network data traffic has grown by about 400 percent since 2006. Yet almost 90 years ago, a ‘radio-phoning’ experimental installation on the Chicago elevated railroad produced predictions about being able to call home while in transit to ask about dinner. What once was a far-out idea is now a daily occurrence as many of us check in from the train or car on the way home from the office.

The radio and wireless communications that we know today come from roots in the military and government—still strong users leading today’s innovations.

The earliest communications used the telegraph to transmit Morse code and were used primarily for ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship communication. Proving perfect for sea-faring, wireless signals become the standard when in 1901 the U.S. Navy adopted a wireless communication system to replace visual signaling and homing pigeons.

A seminal historical event made radio the essential technology of the 20th century: The sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Equipped with a state-of-the-art Marconi radio system, the crew expected to be busy sending and receiving personal messages from the wealthy passengers. When the iceberg impact occurred, the ship’s two radio operators sent distress messages, heard as far away as Italy. However, the closest ship was merely four miles away but the radio operator was off duty and missed the distress signals. Because of this blunder, one of the resulting regulations was for ships to maintain 24-hour radio coverage and have at least two radio operators.

During the First World War, the U.S. Navy controlled all radio development and patents to prevent possible enemy espionage. After the government released all patent control in 1919 after the war, the commercial market was free to capitalize on the benefits of radio. We’re seeing the rich results of the years of invention and innovation with today’s mobile phones, videoconferencing, and wireless Internet.

Communication among and between public safety agencies is still critical today. During the Arizona wildfire, radio communications remained workable for emergency and rescue teams. In the fire line, tactical communications using analog and digital communication performed as expected proving the resilience and reliability of the long-standing technology.   

From the early days of basic ship-to-shore communications to today’s sophisticated smartphones, radio and wireless technology have fundamentally changed how people interact over the last 100 years. From the mundane ‘What’s for dinner?’ to the lifesaving uses by first responders, wireless radio has become an integral part of our day-to-day lives.