At a distance
What does telecommunication mean? What does it actually do? What are the basic components of this science that has done so much to change our world and our everyday lives? Here you can find answers to the fundamental questions about communication over distance.
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.
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.
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...
Each of those signal types has different characteristics that determine what you can communicate, how fast and how far.
The sound barrier
Suppose you lived in a world with no telephone, e-mail, TV or radio where the only way of sending messages was to send a runner, blow a bugle or shout! It was like that for thousands of years and many people tried to crack the problem. But none of them really succeeded.
These are the most natural forms of communication - the ones that formed the building blocks for everything that followed.
The fastest way of travel was on horseback - so the only way of communicating over distance was by messenger.
If you wanted to send a message further than that, you needed a chain ...
Scientific advances of the 18th and early 19th centuries provided understanding of electro-magnetism and electricity. Now the new machine tools and factories meant better devices could be built quickly and cheaply. The ingredients were in place for the first telecommunications equipment - all that was missing was a need and a market.
But within that time-line, see how much has happened in that last half minute - and how progress is still accelerating, second by second ...
Days of future past
Look at the history of telecommunications and what's happening now, it's tempting to ask: Haven't we been here before? The basic challenges of telecommunications haven't changed much since the days of the telegraph. But the past isn't always a reliable guide to the future.
Those trends are digitalisation, convergence, fragmenting audiences and the growth of the Internet.
Not all of these will work - and there'll be some technologies that aren't on this list - but this is a starting point for looking at the future.
There are lots of different factors that could change our world - and technology probably isn't the most important of them. We live in a world of fundamental social and economic imbalances, and one where environmental sustainability is becoming more important every year.
It's impossible to predict what will happen or what telecommunications will look like in 20 years from now. All we can do is look at some of the trends.