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5 Different Types of Communication Technology

Close-up photo of male hands with phone and laptop.

Coming home from work the other day, I thought of watching a rerun of The Lone Ranger before taking my usual well-deserved shower.

I must have been watching barely thirty minutes, when, suddenly, the Comanche Tonto galloped his horse, Scout, out of my High Definition Smart TV and straight into my man cave! What!??

After Tonto and I had exchanged greetings, and Scout sniffed me, the Comanche’s gaze suddenly turned onto my Apple iPhone 13 Mini.

“What dat ting kemo sabe?!” pointing at my lap.

“Ohh…Apple iphone…a 13 Mini to be exact”

“What shiny ting for, kemo sabe?”

“Communication mainly, you know, talking to other people and stuff”

“Arg, what happen to smoke signals, fast post riders, race pigeon kemo sabe?”

I burst out laughing.

But seeing that Tonto wasn’t in the least amused, I thought it best to tell him about the different types of communication technology there had been since his day.

Beginning with….

What is Communication Technology?

Cropped photo of a man with technology in hands.

Communication technology is also known as information technology. Simply, it  refers mostly to all equipment and programs that is used in the process of composing, passing and receiving information.

Nowadays, communication technology is mostly considered to be the transmission of communication between people or more people with the aid of a technological machine such as the telegraph, telephone, television, satellite, cell phone, and video conferencing-to name but a few.

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The exchange of information through such communication types, has over the years greatly assisted us to communicate faster, smarter, and wider. This Tonto, has been largely thanks to two primary aspects of communication technology-hardware and software. 

Those who study and eventually work in the communication technology field normally are the ones who research, develop, test, install, and service hardware and software systems critical to making it possible for people to communicate

As a result, today we are living in what is rightly called, among other things, an age of ICT or information communication technology. But where did it all start and with what types of communication technology?

Well, for you to best understand the types of communication technology that have been and are available, you have to learn them alongside brief historical moments of communication technology, the types, and their specific examples’ features, time has given birth to along the way.

Are you ready?

Brief Historical Moments of Communication Technology: Types, Examples, and Features.

1. Paper, Pen, and Ink Communication “Technology”

A quill pen and ink well resting on blank parchment paper.

Depending on what you understand technology to be, for me, the term communication technology arguably also includes technology used in ancient times to write and communicate with each other over varying distances. For example, via a letter written on papyrus or parchment, for instance, using either a reed or quill. 

In this regard, these different forms of paper, pen, and ink, to me, are the earliest type of communication technology.

Brief History, Examples and Features

From as early as 3100 BC, ancient Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs to write religious literature. This literature was written on papyrus and wood, initially using a dried reed brush. In later years, a dried reed cut to a point and then slit at the end was used as a pen. Over time, a quill from bird feathers replaced reed pens.

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Somewhat similar to thick paper, papyrus “paper” was made from the Egyptian papyrus plant. Scrolls of papyrus were rolled out horizontally rather than vertically. They were about 10 inches high and up to about 35 ft in length.

For ink, Egyptians often used carbon black and red pigments to write on their papyri (plural for papyrus).  The black ink pigment was made by burning organic materials such as wood or oil and then pulverizing the material before mixing it with water and a binder, probably a plant gum from the Acacia tree family. 

Conversely, the red ink pigment was made from the earth pigment iron oxide. Then, from around 1500 B.C, papyrus began to be replaced by leather scrolls known as vellum and parchment.  Animal skins used as writing material are known as vellum and parchment.

Vellum refers to the best quality animal skins and came from calves.  Parchment, on the other hand, refers to all other animal skin such as that of bulls and goats-inferior in quality to vellum-that was used in paper making.

Although slow in the beginning, towards the end of the 18th century, however, communication technology as we know it began to change by leaps and bounds.

It all started with pre-electric telegraph systems…

2. Telegraphy

Close up photo of vintage morse telegraph key.

Telegraphy comes from the word telegraph, which is derived from the Greek words tele-, denotating “distant,” and graphein, meaning “to write.” Today, the word telegraph is popularly used to refer to the electric telegraph.  

A device or system that allowed the transmission of information over distance by means of  coded signal such as Morse code, a sequence of electrical current pulses.

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Brief History, Examples, and Features

Although the term telegraph is most often understood to mean the electric telegraph developed in the mid-19th century, the word was actually first used toward the end of the 18th century. Then, it described an optical semaphore system developed in France by the Chappe brothers in 1791.

The Chappe’s optical semaphore system consisted of pairs of movable arms mounted at the ends of a crossbeam on hilltop towers. Each arm of the semaphore could assume seven angular positions 45° apart, and the horizontal beam could tilt 45° clockwise or counterclockwise.

In this way, it could represent numbers and the letters of the alphabet. Chains of hilltop towers were built to permit transmission over long distances.

Despite this latest development, there had, over the years, been other telegraphic communication systems predating both the optical semaphore and electric telegraph systems that had been used over the centuries. However, many types of telegraphic communication have been employed since before recorded history by means of varying displays.

Examples of such early kinds of telegraphic communication had done so using smoke, fire, torches, drums, reflecting the sun’s rays and flags as media of communication.  Visual flag and torch signals for short-range communication were still being used well into the 20th century.

The first two practical electric telegraphs appeared at almost the same time. In 1832 Samuel F.B. Morse, a professor of painting and sculpture at the then University of the City of New York became interested in the possibility of electric telegraphy and made sketches of ideas for such a system.

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In 1835, he devised a system of dots and dashes to represent letters and numbers. In 1837, he was granted a patent on an electromagnetic telegraph.

Meanwhile, across the ocean in England, similar events were unfolding. In 1837, two British inventors Sir William Fothergill Cooke and Sir Charles Wheatstone obtained a patent on a telegraph system that employed six wires, five needle pointers and a receiver. Despite this, events towards the world’s first telegraph were moving faster across the pond in the U.S.

In 1843, the U.S. government granted Morse financial support to build a demonstration telegraph system 60 km (35 miles) long between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Md. Wires were attached by glass insulators to poles alongside a railroad. The system was completed and public use initiated on May 24, 1844.

The first official telegraph transmission that was sent read:

 “What hath God wrought!”

The era of the telegraph and telegraphy in the United States, which was to last more than 100 years, was launched.

For over 100 years, the electric telegraph was, though the primary means of transmitting printed information, by wire or radio wave to undergo numerous changes. Eventually, it would lead to yet another type of communication-telephony.

3. Telephony

A hand using telephone keypad pressing the numbers.

Unlike telegraphy, which conveys electrical messages over wires to a distant receiver via a staccato of clicks that requires someone trained to interpret them, telephony transports genuine speech sounds. Telephony as a type of technology started off with the telephone.

A telephone is an instrument designed for the simultaneous transmission and reception of the human voice.

Brief History, Examples and Features

Alexander Graham Bell’s success with the telephone came about because of his attempts to improve the telegraph. At the time of Bell experimenting with electrical signals, the telegraph had been an established means of communication for some 30 years.

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However, while a highly successful system, the telegraph was limited to receiving and sending one message at a time. Although the idea of a “multiple telegraph” had been there, it was purely speculation as no one as yet had produced one—until Bell.

His “harmonic telegraph” was based on the principle that several notes could be sent simultaneously along the same wire if the notes or signals differed in pitch.

On June 2, 1875, while experimenting with the harmonic telegraph, Bell and Henry Watson (an electrician working with Bell) accidentally discovered that sound could be transmitted over a wire. Bell later recounted this moment in his journal: 

“I then shouted into M [the mouthpiece] the following sentence: ‘Mr. Watson, come here—I want to see you.” To Bell’s delight, Watson came! He had heard and understood what Bell said. The first telephone call had just been made.

The telephone was patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876.

Although it was originally thought the telephone would completely replace the telegraph, this did not happen. Until not so long ago, both industries co-existed for many decades. Most of the technology developed for telephony had parallel applications in telegraphy.

During those years of co-existence, a number of systems developed that permitted the simultaneous transmission of telegraph and telephone signals on the same lines. These included, for example, the Teletype (1924), teleprinters, and the Telex (1930s).

However, while telegraphy continued to grow in its own direction, so too did telephony. In, 1877 Bell founded his Bell Telephone Company. In 1878 the first, regular telephone exchange was established in New Haven, Connecticut.

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Early telephones were leased in pairs to subscribers. The subscriber was required to put up his own line to connect with another. However, this changed when in 1889, Almon B. Strowger, a Kansas City undertaker invented a switch that was able to connect one line to any of the 100 lines by using relays and sliders.

The switch became known as the Strowger switch and made telephones both accessible and affordable to many. Generally, the first telephones, as well as their modern counterparts, consisted of a ringer, transmitter, dialer, switch hook, power source and anti-sidetone circuit.

Telephones and telephone systems since then have evolved from landline handheld two-piece units comprising a separate earpiece and mouthpiece using copper wire to offer an immediate, personal, or public type of communication via different kinds of both private and public telephone devices.

For example, via payphones (1889), touch-tone phones (1963), cordless phones (1970s), digital cordless phones (1994), fax machines, and cell phones (1980).

Over the years, advances in technology have seen the early heavy hardware, copper and metal wiring of the original design replaced with lightweight micro-circuitry. Alongside have been the transition from landlines to fiber optics, to digital, to cellular and, most recently, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

All these latest developments in telephony have not only allowed for faster telephonic communication,  they have also seamlessly integrated video and the Internet.

But I rush ahead of myself. Before all these advances in telephony, there was radio.

4. Radio Technology

A photo of an old vintage radio technology sits on a wooden table.

As with most technological inventions, radio technology owes its development to two other inventions: the telegraph and the telephone. All three technologies are closely related, and radio technology actually began as “wireless telegraphy.”

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For radio, as for telegraphy and telephony, it all started with the discovery of radio waves—electromagnetic waves that initially had the capacity to transmit music and speech.

Brief History, Examples and Features

Not too long after Bell “invented” the telephone, other inventors experimented with delivering signals over the air using high-frequency electrical circuits and antennas.

In 1886, German physicist Heinrich Rudolph Hertz demonstrated that rapid variations of electric current could be projected into space in the form of radio waves, similar to light waves and heat waves.

However, the feasibility of radio communication was proved by Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor. In 1895, he sent and received his first radio signal in his native Italy. Then, in 1899, he flashed the first wireless signal across the English Channel.

Two years later, he received the letter “S,” which was telegraphed from England to Newfoundland (Canada). This was the first successful transatlantic radiotelegraph message.

Interestingly, Marconi’s contemporaries, Nikola Tesla and Nathan Stubblefield, also took out patents for wireless radio transmitters. In 1943, the Supreme Court overturned Marconi’s patent in 1943 in favor of Tesla’s. Nikola Tesla is now credited with being the first person to patent radio technology.

Radio technology reached its prime during the 1920s when companies started advertising products to consumers around the world. During the 1930s, it expanded to broadcasting daily news, politics, vaudeville routines and sporting events, broadcasting to millions of radio-possessing homes.

This pioneered the idea of broadcasting as a means by which thousands of listeners can receive voice and music from a single transmitter.

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Like telephony before it, radio electromagnetic waves have since developed the capacity to transmit not only music and speech but also pictures, data, and video invisibly through the air. Today, the term encompasses everything from traditional broadcast stations to cell phones and wireless data networks.

Many devices work using electromagnetic waves. Examples of devices that use radio technology include radios, microwaves, cordless phones, remote-controlled toys, televisions (since 1946), and artificial satellites (1960s).  

Arguably a type of communication technology on its own, starting as public bioscope and then cinema, in the early 1900s, television exploded in homes around the world in 1946. By 1953, it had climbed from being in over 940,000 households  20 million.

Viewers could now see what marketers were selling and producers show their products, not just describe them. Television soon became the most dominant mode of broad audience communication.

People were also able to witness LIVE (or delayed) iconic events, such as presidential inaugurations, the first moon landing, and royal weddings from across the pond. Assisting television accomplish some of its feats were orbiting artificial satellites.

Although radio waves successfully transmit signals, long-distance communications are hindered by the ionosphere, a tiny layer of energetic plasma that exists above the breathing atmosphere. 

Satellites overcome this by receiving radio signals in orbit amplifying them, and retransmitting them to ground-based receivers hundreds of kilometres away. Satellite networks enabled the first instantaneous, global communications in the 1960s.

Since then,  like most communication media, television has technologically transformed  from being simply analogue to digital to satellite to internet-based.  

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5. Internet Communication Technology

A photo of wireless communication network concept.

An arguable advancement of telephony, internet communication technology is the latest in this category. The internet has eliminated the need for communicators to own a device for each sort of communication technology. With the Internet, you can accomplish everything in one location.

Any sort of communication is made simple by the tools available and accessible on a device that can connect to the internet. For example, video conferencing software on your smartphone allows for both verbal and nonverbal communication.

Similarly, you can send email, written communication (i.e. WhatsApp), pictures in electronic form to and from your internet-enabled device.

Brief History, Examples, and Features

The Internet got its start in the 1960s as part of a military research project called the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). It was an early data network that allowed computer users in various places to share data.

The network-connected universities, government agencies, and communications companies. In 1972, the first Arpanet email was sent. Networking protocols, the systems that computers use to talk to each other electronically, had arrived.

During the late ’70s and ’80s, home computers became common, local bulletin board systems emerged. This allowed computer users to connect to an often free-and-hobbyist-run system where they could exchange messages, play games and otherwise share information with other users.

The services were slow, expensive, and primitive-looking but they allowed users from around the U.S. to communicate, read news, get weather information, and more from their home computers.

By the mid-’90s, many of these services and new dial-in internet service providers allowed users to connect to the rapidly growing internet, a descendant of Arpanet. Users could access websites, send emails and instant messages and access other online services, including some BBSes that had moved to the internet, usually using slow dial-up modems.

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However, as telephone companies and cable companies began offering faster connections by the late ’90s, the internet began to be more mainstream and more useful for things like shopping and business.