Telecoms and Data Timeline

Cook and Wheatstone demonstrated their telegraph to the directors of the London and Birmingham Railway between Euston and Camden Town.

The network of private telegraph companies was nationalised, and operations were taken over by the Post Office.

Edinburgh born inventor Alexander Graham Bell spoke to his assistant in the next room using a telephone.

In January 1878 Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his recently developed telephone to Queen Victoria at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. A few days later the first telephone in Britain was installed, under licence from the General Post Office.

The first exchange was opened in London in August 1879, closely followed by the Lancashire Telephonic Exchange in Manchester.

L M Ericsson of Sweden combined the transmitter and receiver to produce the earliest telephone handset.

The first upright multiple telephone switchboard in England was installed by Western Electric in Liverpool.

Almon B Strowger (1839-1902), a funeral parlour proprietor of Kansas City, filed a US patent for an automatic telephone system.

A link between London and Paris marked the birth of the international telephone service.

The Post Office trunk telephone system was opened to the public.

Telegraphy without wires, the brainchild of Guglielmo Marconi, was demonstrated in London. By the following year wireless signals were being sent over distances of up to nine miles.

The telephone dial was developed by the Automatic Electric Company in America.

An automatic telephone system was introduced into Great Britain by Strowger and exhibited at Winchester House, Old Broad Street, London.

Parliament agreed to local councils setting up their own telephone systems. Only six out of 1,300 councils took advantage of this opportunity.

Marconi sends the first wireless signal across the Atlantic.

The Post Office’s first coin-operated call box was installed by the Western Electric Company at Ludgate Circus, London.

The Automatic Telephone Manufacturing Company Ltd of Milton Road, Edge Lane, Liverpool, was formed in November. It was to exploit the UK Strowger patent rights of the Automatic Electric Company of Chicago. ATM was the first manufacturer of automatic telephone equipment in the UK.

The Post Office became the primary supplier of telecommunications services in GB, except for a few local authority services. Those services all folded within a few years. The sole exception being Kingston upon Hull, where the telephone department became present day KCOM Group.

Britain’s first public automatic exchange opens in Epsom, Surrey. For the first time customers could make calls without going through the operator – the first step towards automation.

A Siemens Brothers & Company type automatic exchange was opened at Grimsby. It was similar to the Strowger system in many respects but differed in the form of line switch employed and because the connectors were controlled entirely by relays. The characteristic feature was the ‘Preselector’, a rotary line switch provided for each subscriber’s line to find a disengaged trunk to a selector.

Private Automatic Branch Exchanges (PABXs) were introduced.

The Post Office selects an automatic system – a British-made version of the system invented by Kansas City undertaker, Almon Strowger in 1888.

The speaking clock made its debut.

The 999 emergency service was introduced in London, followed by Glasgow in 1938 and other major towns and cities in 1946.

The Private Manual Branch Exchange Switchboard (PMBX)1A was introduced.

A Post Office research team led by telecommunications research engineer Tommy Flowers designed and constructed Colossus – the world’s first programmable electronic computer. It contained 1,500 electronic valves and played a crucial part in cracking German codes during the second world war.

The Bell Telephone Laboratories, USA, announced the invention of the transistor.

The first transatlantic telephone cable, TAT I, was laid between Scotland and Newfoundland, Canada.

Queen Elizabeth II makes the first telephone call using Subscriber Trunk Dialling. STD enables customers to make their own long distance calls for the first time without the help of the operator.

International Direct Dialling was introduced between London and Paris.

Mobile communications took to the road when operator controlled car phone service opened in London.

Under the Post Office Act of 1969, the Post Office ceased to be a government department and it became established as a public corporation. The Act gave the Post Office the exclusive privilege of operating telecommunications systems with listed powers to authorise others to run such systems. Effectively, the General Post Office retained its telecommunications monopoly.

International Direct Dialling was introduced between London and New York.

The first TXK1 electromechanical crossbar exchange (Plessey 5005 system) in London was opened. This replaced London Telecommunications Region’s last manual exchange.

The first email was sent between two computers next to each other in 1972 by Ray Tomlinson, who is generally credited with having invented email. The text read “QWERTYIOP” and the message was sent via an Arpanet connection.

The first mobile phone call was placed by Martin Cooper of Motorola.

Twenty Millionth telephone installed.

Britain’s first commercially produced electronic telephone exchange, the TXE4, was opened. And was to gradually replace the existing Strowger and crossbar electromechanical exchanges. During the 1980s and 1990s the TXE and TXK families of electronic and electromechanical exchanges would be gradually replaced with the digital System X and System Y digital exchanges.

Early Internet, Post Office Telecommunications developed the first public packet switching network EPSS, for transmitting computer data as a commercial service.

A radiopaging service was opened in London.

The first optical cable system in Europe to form part of the public telephone network was installed between the Post Office Research Centre at Martlesham and Ipswich telephone exchange. Optical cables contain glass fibres along which telecommunications signals can be transmitted as pulses of light rather than electricity as in earlier copper cables.

EPSS was replaced with the Packet Switch Stream.

The first operational optical fibre link in Great Britain went into service between Brownhills and Walsall in the West Midlands, a distance of 9 km.

The British Telecommunications Act 1981 transferred the responsibility for telecommunications services from the Post Office, creating two separate corporations, Post Office Ltd. and British Telecommunications.

Additionally, a framework was established which enabled the Secretary of State to set standards with the British Standards Institution (BSI) for apparatus supplied to the public by third parties and had the effect of requiring British Telecommunications to connect approved apparatus to its systems.

The first ‘System X’ digital exchange to which subscribers were directly connected was opened.

A licence was granted to Cable & Wireless to run a public telecommunications network through its subsidiary, Mercury Communications Ltd.

The world’s longest optical fibre telephone cable was brought into service between London and Birmingham.

The arrival of the first mobile phone, Motorola’s DynaTAC. The handset took about 10 hours to charge fully, which was enough for up to 30 minutes of talk time.

KiloStream and MegaStream digital private circuit services were launched.

Itemised billing was introduced on a trial basis on trunk and international calls.

The 1984 Act abolished British Telecommunication’s exclusive privilege of running telecommunications systems.

The world’s first 140 Mbit/s single-mode optical fibre system was opened between Milton Keynes and Luton.

Ships using INMARSAT – the maritime satellite system – could access a wide range of computers and databases round the world.

Star Services were launched and provided new push-button facilities such as ‘repeat last call’ and ‘call barring’.

Cellnet was launched as a subsidiary of Telecom Securicor Cellular Radio Limited, a 60:40 venture between British Telecommunications and Securicor respectively.

It became possible to rent an exchange line alone from BT without having to pay rental for a telephone instrument.

British Telecom trailed its first Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN).

The Message Master radiopager was launched. It was the first pager with a mini screen for written messages.

The first ‘System Y’ digital exchange to which subscribers were directly connected was opened.

DIY telephone extensions were permitted for the first time.

Tim Berners-Lee, working at CERN in Switzerland, wrote a proposal for what would become the World Wide Web (WWW). The following year, he specified HTML, the hypertext language, and HTTP, the protocol.

The world’s first satellite telephone communications system for airline passengers, Skyphone, had its commercial debut on a British Airways 747.

British Telecom’s long distance network became totally digital.

The Government’s White Paper, “Competition and Choice: Telecommunications Policy” for the 1990s, was issued. It ended the duopoly which had been shared by British Telecommunications and Mercury Communications. The new policy enabled customers to acquire telecommunications services from competing providers using a variety of technologies. Effectively by offering flexible pricing packages to meet the needs of different types of customer.

BT began using the WWW during a collaborative project called the Oracle Alliance Program. access to the Internet was implemented using the BT packet switching network. A link was established from Ipswich to London for access to the Internet backbone. Access to the Internet was established in July 1991 and the first file transfers made via a NeXT-based WWW interface were completed.

ISDN 2 (Integrated Services Digital Network) was launched.

British Rail Telecommunications was created, It was the largest private telecoms network in Britain, consisting of 17,000 route kilometres of fibre optic and copper cable which connected every major city and town in the country and provided links to continental Europe through the Channel Tunnel.

Dial-up Internet access was first introduced in the UK by Pipex. One of its first customers was Demon Internet – a major provider of internet access in the UK.

Videophone was demonstrated at the Ideal Home Exhibition.

The last TXK crossbar exchange, at Droitwich, was withdrawn.

TPS – the Telephone Preference Service – was set up by the telemarketing and telecommunications industries in January to enable customers to have their telephone numbers removed from lists used by telemarketing companies.

ISDN 2 was gradually replaced by ISDN 2e to comply with the latest European ISDN standard.

Charges were introduced for directory enquiries for the first time.

BT introduced a new European compliant version of ISDN 2, its high speed digital communications service.

Asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) was introduced to the UK in trial stages.

The UK network became totally digital in March 1998 with the closure of the last electronic TXE4 exchanges at Leigh-on-Sea and Selby and their conversion to System Y (AXE 10) and System X respectively.

BT introduced per second pricing.

BT launched telephone number portability between its network and those of rival companies.

BT offered local loop unbundling (LLU) to other telecommunications operators, enabling them to use BT’s copper local loops (the connection between the customer’s premises and the exchange) to connect directly with their customers.

Commercial ADSL was launched. In the United Kingdom, most exchanges, local loops and backhauls are owned and managed by BT Wholesale. They sell wholesale connectivity via Internet service providers, who generally provide the connectivity to the Internet, support, billing and value added services (such as web hosting and email).

Telewest offers cable broadband with maximum speeds of 512 kilobits per second.

Ofcom replaces Oftel.

BT starts to introduce SDSL to exchanges in many of the major cities. Services are currently offered at upload/download speeds of 256 kbit/s, 512 kbit/s, 1 Mbit/s or 2 Mbit/s.

3G Mobile Service launched in the UK.

The nationwide launch of BT Wholesale’s up to “8 Mbit/s” ADSL services, known as ADSL Max. “Max” based packages are available to end users on any broadband-enabled BT exchange in the UK.

BT announced service trials for ADSL2+.

Cedar Telecom established.

H2O Networks rolled out Fibrecity, offering Residential FTTH in Bournemouth, Northampton and Dundee.

According to government figures, more than half of households now have internet at home, and 55 per cent access it every day.

FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) Broadband launched by BT.

BT began offering 100Mbit/s FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) broadband in Milton Keynes.

KC (part of the KCOM Group) began deploying fibre to the premise in locations across its Hull and East Yorkshire network.
Hyperoptic launched a 1Gbit/sec FTTH service in London.

4G Mobile service launched in the UK.

82 per cent of adults use the internet daily or almost daily, and three quarters have a mobile phone or smartphone, meaning that they can access it on the move.

The UK telecoms regulator has set a timetable for the launch of 5G services in Britain by 2020, with early trials set to take place as soon as next year.