Brief History of VoIP

Lights connecting one location to another; we've come a long way in the history of VoIP.

Towards the beginning of the year, VoIP celebrated 22 years of existence. For some, they’ll remember when people started to discuss the idea of transmitting voice over the internet. For others, they’ll be wondering why they’ve only started hearing of the system within the last ten years. The history of VoIP is vast and varied, we thought we’d cover it here today. How did it begin, when did the breakthrough come, and who’s responsible for this fantastic technology?

Early History of VoIP

For cloud computing, the 70s were an critical decade, but there were also other communications systems being developed at the time. In 1975, Motorola created the first ever cell phone where Martin Cooper, CEO, made a phone call that would go down in history; not only was it the first for a mobile device, it was to the CEO of Motorola’s biggest competitor.

In 1974, a real-time voice sample was sent between two computers in the Lincoln lab at the Information Sciences Institute. What did it say? How profound was the message? Well, they transmitted a voice clip saying ‘this is a test.’ Although only one-way, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPANET) continued their research later in the year and the first two-way VoIP call took place – one year before the first mobile phone call.

However, the research wasn’t taken any further and the internet, as we know it today, hadn’t yet been introduced. Now, we understand that ARPANET was a precursor to the internet which became available to the public for the first time in 1991.

A well-connected city with lights, symbolizing where the history of VoIP has taken us.

The history of VoIP piggybacked off of the success of the Internet – allowing devices and people to communicate with one another more efficiently.

VoIP Breakthrough

As the internet gained attention in the nineties, there were reports some websites were receiving up to 40,000 hits in a single week. Of course, this is a small amount these days, but it showed the idea was taking off. Let’s not forget, the internet was complicated in the early years, requiring a 56K modem which took an age to load. Since we didn’t know any different, people were happy to wait for the privilege of accessing the World Wide Web.

As we reached 1995, the first ever internet phone was created by Vocaltec and, after significant sums of money spent on marketing, they named it ‘internet phone.’ Despite the great idea, there were some problems for the company and users because the hardware required was extensive. Not only was the software necessary, but users would also need speakers, a sound card, a personal computer, and a microphone. Soon enough, people realized it was too expensive and inefficient.

As we headed for the new millennium, connection speeds were still slow, and it was only really the hobbyists who decided to commit. In 1998, however, small improvements were being made, and it was thought that 1% of all calls in the US came from VoIP services.

VoIP Today

After 2000, there were a couple of inventions that helped make the history of VoIP what it is. Firstly, developers started working on phone-to-computer calls and vice versa. Now, users had more flexibility, and some of the inefficiencies had been removed. However, the most significant change came when VoIP was made less dependant on computers. At first, the system would rely on computer CPU for processes such as creating a voice packet readable by the PTSN (known as switching). With this change, it could be achieved with other devices too.

Soon enough, the world was welcoming broadband into their homes and offices. With stronger bandwidth by the mid-2000s, higher-quality codecs could be used, and we finally reached a point where VoIP matched telephone calls. For those who had followed the history of VoIP, they finally had a reason to choose the system over the regular telephone. The moment this happened, businesses were interested because it gave them a chance to be more efficient.

As time went on, the internet became more established, and VoIP rode on its wave. As businesses made the switch, developers had more money to invest, better hardware launched, and the whole process turned into a positive spiral of events. Today, we have solutions that use the latest technology and VoIP is seen as the solution for businesses who want to save money in their communications.

From humble beginnings, we now have services that offer caller ID, caller forwarding, unlimited calling, ID blocking, 3D calling, video conferencing, and more. When coupled with other services, businesses can also take advantage of chat functions which leave customers, suppliers, and every other stakeholder with a more efficient point of contact. As technology continues to improve, we can only see VoIP getting stronger.

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