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The farside

People imagine telecommunications means communications using only electrical or electronic technology, but that isn't so.

'Tele' is a Greek word meaning 'far off' so the purest definition of telecommunications is 'communications over a distance', in other words, anything that involves sending messages or signals.

Communicating over distance
Over the past 200 years, the distance we've been able to send signals has expanded a million times. The furthest we used to be able to send a signal was as far as the eye could see, or the ear could hear. So the 'maximum transmission distance' was a few miles.

Now we can send signals to the far reaches of the solar system - many millions of miles. The trouble is that it takes many days or even years to get there... As each technology arrives, we discover the limits of its transmission distance - and need to move on to the next.
Communicating at high speed
People talk of telecommunications as 'instant' - but it never is. In fact nothing in life is instant - not even face-to-face conversation. Light and sound move at defined speeds with measurable delays. What matters is the perception of delay - whether it is natural or artificial.

In telecommunications, the technology is rarely the main delaying factor. Human limitations and delays in the system are far more important. So this concept of 'instant' communications is one that has meant different things at different times to different groups of people. Really, it is all a question of what you are measuring it against...
Communicating in different ways
Each of the main technologies of the telecommunications age has used a different type of signal - and a different way of passing messages

Each of those signal types has different characteristics that determine what you can communicate, how fast and how far.
fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

featured story

100 years of automatic switching!
In 1912 the GPO installed Britain's first automatic telephone exchange in Epsom.

Discover the early days of the telephone...