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Business VoIP and the History of the Telephone Number

November 19, 2012

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

A quick glance at the iPhone (News - Alert) sitting next to my computer and I can’t help but think back to the phone I used growing up. It was an avocado green rotary dial phone that hung in the hallway at the center of the house, a tool provided by the phone company to enable our connection to the outside world. I still remember the day my parents added an extension to the office in the basement – this one had buttons, so much easier to use than the rotary dial approach.

By the time I was in high school, technology evolved significantly and mobility was becoming more of a reality. While it still baffled me that someone could get the same connection in their car that we once needed a 20-pound metal contraption to complete, we were firmly on our way to seeing business VoIP become a reality. And, while civilians were starting to implement computers in their homes, the concept of the Internet was still a foreign idea.

Today, it’s inconceivable to try and find information, access entertainment or get my work done without access to the Internet. I rely on VoIP technology to minimize the costs related to communications and recognize the value it brings to the business. Companies of all sizes are doing away with the analog approach to communications and adopting the innovations possible with business VoIP.

Even with these advancements, however, we still rely on the telephone number. If you consider that the first telephones had no numbers at all, as highlighted in this Get VoIP blog, we’ve come a long way, baby. Even with my trip down memory lane, it still doesn’t go back far enough (although father than I will readily admit) to understand the history of the telephone or the telephone number.

The first telephones were sold in pairs. A crank would be turned on one to generate enough electricity to ring a bell at the other end. In other words, you need the pair to exist between the two locations most likely to want to communicate. Fortunately, as time and technology progressed, the telegraph infrastructure was modified to support telephony.

Person to person connections were completed by operators, trained individuals helping a small pool of people. And, because the pools were so small, the operators generally knew all the callers.

Without the operators, however, how would people communicate with one another? History has it that the use of telephone numbers was inspired by a measles outbreak in Lowell, MA in late 1879 to early 1880. Fearing the town’s four operators may all fall ill, Dr. Moses Greeley Parker suggested that the 200 subscribers in the town have numbers so that new operators could be easily trained if needed.

Not surprisingly, Parker later became a major stockholder in the American Telephone Company, and the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company, the precursors to today’s telecommunications giant, AT&T (News - Alert).

In the beginning of the use of the telephone number, the first two digits indicated the town or area of the call, while the remaining digits completed the connected. If calling within the same area, the first digits weren’t necessary. At first, three local digits were used, later this increased to four. In the 1930s, New York was the first U.S. city to use two letters and then five letters (the letters corresponding to numbers just like our telephones today).

Today, communications vary in many ways, yet still hold to some of the traditional methods put in place many generations ago. Companies seek vanity numbers, but still must adhere to standards that are supported on the PBX (News - Alert) and meet the rules within the business VoIP platform. And while we don’t generally talk to operators to complete a call or have to take 30 seconds to dial, we still need the telephone number to complete the connection. Siri may do the work for me, but the premise remains the same.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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