Alexander G. Bell


Okay, before we go any further let’s be controversial.

Many countries have some-one who claims to have been the true inventor of the telephone.

In the English speaking world it is common to refer to Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone. However in 2002 the Congress of the United States recognised the claim of Antonio Santi Giuseppe Meucci.

  • Antonio Santi Giuseppe Meucci, born in San Frediano, a low-class area of the city of Florence on 13th of April 1808, died 1889
  • Meucci set up a form of voice communication link in his Staten Island home that connected the basement with the first floor, but was unable to raise sufficient funds to pay for the patent application. He filed a patent caveat in 1871, which was forced to expire in 1874.
  • There were court cases between Alexander Graham Bell and Antonio Meucci to establish ownership.
  • Alexander Graham Bell won.
  • For more than a century, except in Italy, Bell has been considered the inventor of the telephone.
  • 2002 - 11th of June, the Congress of the United States officially stated that Antonio Meucci is the inventor of the telephone.
  • Parliament of Canada countered that year with a symbolic bill conferring official recognition for the invention of the telephone to Alexander Graham Bell .

Okay, but Bell was certainly a prime mover and shaker of telephony. How did Alexander Graham Bell originally expect the telephone to be used. The answer is amazingly simple.

One pair of telephone wires would connect two telephones. You want to be able to “telephone” to two separate partners, then you need 2 complete separate systems. In effect, if you had a total of “n” endpoints (physically separate points that should have a telephone ability) and each endpoint is able to talk to each other endpoint, then you need n*(n-1) separate telephone systems. Not practical, not financially pleasing, and not much space left on the desk!

So the engineering solution was to given all endpoints a single telephone, and conenct all of the telephones in to some form of system/device that would, on request from a user, the system would temporarily connect the calling telephone with the required called telephone. The connection would be maintained until a user indicated that the call was complete.

The resulting collection of capabilities and equipment is a telephone network.

In order to get to our next definition, we must remember that the telephone users had a expectation that the symbols that they created, using the human voice, would be recognisable enough at the other end to be understood. They also had, unwittingly, expectations on echo, attenuation and interference.

In short there were expectations on the nature of the symbols: amplitude (upper and lower limits), frequency (also upper and lower limits). And there were expectations on how well the symbols were delivered to the destination, in effect a service level agreement (okay, technically this was only a part of a SLA).

The general term that I use for the nature of the symbols offered to a telephone network (indeed to any telecommunications system) is well formed data.

In the specific case of the classical telephone network the well formed data meant an audio signal at the microphone of the service provider’s telephone, where the audio signal had the following characteristics:

  • Not too deep (not below about 300 Hz).
  • Not too high (not above about 3.4 kHz).
  • Not too quite, otherwise it could not be heard.
  • Not too loud, otherwise it could place the microphone in overload and result in distortion.

This simple definition of well formed data would remain correct for the public telephone system until about 1967 (the Carterphone finding).

So, the next definition in this framework is:

    Telecommunication is concerned with the operation of a capability that, on request, transports well formed data, at a specified quality of service, from an originating service access point to one or more designated destination service access points.

Hopefully you will have noticed that telecommunications has got nothing to do with: conveying meaning, communications, or semantics. It does not matter if I speak English, Germany, gibberish or any other language. What matters is that the symbols are well formed.

Some people may argue that it is all matter of taste and we could redefine telecommunications some other way. I heartily disagree.

If we change the meaning of telecommunications then we will have to change other definitions if we wish to have a meaningful and consistent set of definitions. If we do not have a meaningful and consistent set of definitions then we will have a set of definitions that create misunderstanding.

Remember what the first line on this page said!

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