In our modern times, voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) phone systems are commonplace. After all, they are highly affordable and have features beyond basic calling, such as SMS, video conferencing, and integrations with outside business software. However, VoIP popularity is relatively new in the broader scope of phone technology. Here, we’ll be looking at the major developments that have made today’s most well-known VoIP services possible.
Pre-VoIP: When Landlines Ruled the Earth
Basic audio transfer devices go back as far as 1667, when English philosopher Robert Hooke developed a string telephone that sent sound waves over an extended wire via mechanical vibrations. However, it wouldn’t be until the late 19th century, when electrical, landline-based networks were developed in the United States and elsewhere, that the average person could implement such technology.
In the late 1800s, Alexander Graham Bell developed a telephony device and the Bell telephone company was founded in 1877. By 1886, more than 100,000 Americans owned a telephone. It was from this point that phone service was something within the reach of most people.
For the first time ever, people who were miles apart physically could enjoy instant communication. In many ways, it was at this point that the world modernized into the constantly connected society we have today.
Landline systems were the dominant type of phone service for businesses and consumers alike for many years. While they proved to be reliable and easy systems, they were not without their faults. Making calls outside of your area code carried per-minute costs that could quickly add up to an expensive monthly bill. Landlines also only work in one geographic location, i.e., you cannot take your landline phone with you wherever you go, like a cell phone or a VoIP solution.
VoIP was not invented and implemented in one fell swoop. Instead, its emergence was the result of decades of experimentation and scientific developments. In many ways, it all started in Japan in the year 1966, when Fumitada Itakura of Nagoya University and Shuzo Saito of the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone company worked together to propose linear predictive coding (LPC).
In basic terms, LPC is a method used to convert speech into a digital signal so that it can be stored and played back on computers. The synthesis and transmission of speech is the backbone of VoIP technology to this day.
The first VoIP call was placed in 1974 over ARPANET, one of the earliest phone networks built with internet capabilities. The call was made between Culler-Harrison Incorporated’s office in Goleta, California, and MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts.
According to reports from those who were there, call audio was barely audible (at 2.4 kbps, it was certainly a far cry from the HD voice capabilities we enjoy today). While this is a large milestone in the development of the space, it would still be more than a decade before commercial VoIP solutions became viable for the mainstream market.
It was in the early 1990s that businesses of all kinds started embracing the internet in their offices. And with that, it opened the gate for internet-based business phone systems to break into the market. In 1991, a software program called Speak Freely (which is still an active service) was launched. This marked the first consumer-ready business VoIP application. Others followed, such as VocalChat in 1993 and VocalTec’s Internet Phone program.
While programs like Speak Freely were cutting-edge technology at the time, the populace was overwhelmingly using slow, primitive dial-up internet at the time of their release. It also didn’t help that the bandwidth simply wasn’t there for good audio and fast load times back then.
This meant these VoIP solutions were slow and had barely acceptable call quality compared to what the best small business VoIP services offer today. While these programs failed to reach mainstream success, they laid the groundwork for VoIP to emerge when broadband internet became commonplace in the early 21st century.
The Rise of Broadband
It was in the early 2000s that VoIP started to become commonplace for businesses around the world. There were two main factors that caused this. First, broadband internet became both readily available and affordable to most people living in populated areas within the developed world. The other factor was the 1999 invention of the modified discrete cosine transform (MDCT) codec that made it much easier for software to send audio as data over the web.
As more offices adopted broadband internet, a VoIP system that charged just one flat, monthly rate for service began to appear as a more valuable prospect than maintaining both an internet package and a landline plan. In 2001, Vonage launched and became a massively successful organization based on the incredible value they brought consumer and office users alike. Other launches, like Skype in 2003, began to proliferate and educate users on just how useful internet-based voice communications were.
Modern VoIP: Beyond the Office
A few decades into the new century, and VoIP has become a mainstream business phone option throughout the world. Competition and advancements in the technology have made it almost objectively more affordable than landline services, and just as reliable. There have been many developments since the early 2000s. Smartphone applications now let workers sign into their VoIP account and use their work phone from wherever they are located.
VoIP systems also got more advanced in the features they offer. In 2020, most mainstream systems offer, among other things, video calling, file sharing, and an automated attendant that can greet and route callers without human intervention. VoIP technology is remarkable in part because it offers functionality to small businesses that were previously reserved for large enterprises.
RingCentral is a prime example of a VoIP phone system that has embraced all that technology has to offer for business users. In addition to offering businesses of any size standard features like auto-attendant, video conferencing, and mobile apps, it’s also scalable and regularly implementing new functionality designed to improve business efficiency. If you are in the market for a new VoIP system, we suggest looking at RingCentral. Click the button below to learn more.
That said, businesses aren’t the only ones making use of VoIP technology. The consumer market has grown too. As most cell phone plans offer unlimited domestic calling and texting, millions of people have outright ditched their landline in favor of using their cell as their main device.
Since Apple launched FaceTime in 2010, end users have been using VoIP technology on their phones and tablets to stay in touch with friends and family all over the world. Landline services, once dominant for more than a century, have been rendered obscure in just a few short decades.
The Future of VoIP
As each and every device in our lives gets connected to the internet, it is safe to assume that VoIP services will be in use for some time. This is especially true as many new buildings throughout the world lack landline wiring in the first place. While we don’t yet have Star Trek-style communicators, there are some exciting new developments that we are likely to see in the future.
In addition to luxury electric cars and aerospace, Elon Musk is also the founder of Neuralink, a company that aims to develop implantable brain-machine interfaces. If this catches on, people could communicate without any physical devices—just the implant in your brain. However, there are currently no plans to release this technology to the public any time soon.
Until then, the immediate future of VoIP is heavily tied up in the rise of the internet of things (IoT). As refrigerators, smart speakers, and everything in between gets online, many of those devices have, at minimum, one camera and one microphone. We can expect to have communications with colleagues outside of our computers or smartphones. People are already ditching these devices as part of their phone workflow.
For most business users, VoIP is a relatively new technology—something that has only been part of their daily workflow for a few years or so. In truth, VoIP has been in development for 50 years and continues to grow today. It wasn’t the sole work of one individual or company, but a collaborative effort of creative minds of different generations from all over the world.
RingCentral represents all of the best aspects of VoIP. Not only is it affordable and reliable, but it offers a wealth of advanced functionality such as video chat, team messaging, and the ability to take your phone anywhere via apps for iOS and Android. Click the link below to get started with RingCentral today.