A Brief History of VoIP

Back in January, VoIP celebrated its 20th anniversary. That’s two decades of transmitting voice over the Internet, and what a ride it has been.

Published on: 6 March 2015

To celebrate, we're taking a look back at the history of VoIP, charting its humble beginnings as a niche technology, through to the pioneering communications platform that many businesses from around the world are choosing to host their telephone system on today.

So without further delay or unnecessary embellishment (unless, of course, you consider this sentence such a thing), let's grab our keys to the DeLorean once more.


a brief history in voip dial up


We've previously told you how important the Seventies were for cloud computing. What we failed to mention, though, was that, among the backdrop of mass partying and funky music, several other breakthroughs were being made within the communications sector.

For example, in 1975 the first cell phone (translation: mobile phone) call was made by Motorola chief Martin Cooper. Quite amusingly, he made the first call to his biggest rival and chief competitor Joel Engel.

You see, they had both been racing to reach this landmark, so upon victory, Martin Cooper decided that the best way to truly rub it in was to make the first call to his rival: touché Cooper!

Moving on though, the VoIP story actually started in the summer of 1974, when the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPANET), the precursor to today's Internet, sent a 16kb/s real-time voice sample between computers based at the Information Sciences Institute and the Lincoln lab, USA.

This landmark voice sample was sent in one direction, and today we can exclusively reveal the contents of this message for the first time in all history:

"This is a test" ARPANET, 1974

In the winter of the same year, ARPANET would successfully trial two-way voice communications, and thus opening up a wealth of possibilities for the future.

What this means is that the first VoIP call actually took place a whole year before the first mobile phone call. In your face Cooper!


a brief history in voip mobile


As usual, we have ended up in the Nineties, specifically 1995. At this time, the Internet was just taking off, with according to some reports, some websites getting 30 to 40 thousand hits per week!

This may not seem like a lot by today’s standards, but let us try and help you to understand just how difficult it was to get on the Internet back then.

Getting online required a 56K modem, which we can only assume was named because of the amount of minutes it took to connect to the Internet. Frankly, we're amazed that anyone even used the Internet in the first place.  

Even if you did manage to wait two birthdays to connect to the Internet, there actually wasn't much you could do that didn't involve emailing (like post, but electronically!). That was until VoIP came along anyway. 

Sometime in 1995 (because who needs facts?), a software company called Vocaltec invented the world's first Internet phone, which after spending millions of dollars on marketing, they decided to name “Internet Phone” – genius!

This software and hardware were the first bit of kit to commercially allow for calls over the Internet. Undoubtedly a great idea, Vocaltec's new offering would experience a few initial hiccups though.

The catch was that both users needed a suitcase full of hardware to get it to work. To make a successful VoIP call, you needed the software, a sound card, speakers, a microphone and personal computer, statistically making it more cost-effective to purchase an eighteen wheeler truck with a CB radio instead.

Early adopters of this technology were largely made up of enthusiastic hobbyists who recognised the potential in transmitting voice packets of the Web, instead of communicating in the traditional manner.

Initially, the uptake was slow, but this was down to the poor connection speeds available, resulting in calls with latency problems.

By 1998, this had improved and VoIP traffic accounted for around 1% of all calls made in the USA.



Things started looking up for VoIP when a few well-positioned entrepreneurs started developing hardware and software that allowed for computer-to-phone calls and phone-to-computer calls, which offered far greater flexibility than before.

The true game changer was when hardware manufacturers started producing VoIP equipment that was capable of switching. This meant that functions that usually relied on a computer CPU, such as “switching” a voice packet into something that could be read by the PSTN (and vice versa), could now be done by another device (a switch), making VoIP less computer dependent and a whole lot more reliable.

Along with switches, the mass adoption of broadband ushered in a VoIP revolution. By the mid-2000s, users had sufficient bandwidth to use higher quality codecs that matched the fidelity of normal telephone calls. Once this call quality was achieved, businesses started to take the tech seriously and software developers began to create fully fledged phone systems using VoIP as a platform.

Then along came Telappliant in 2003 with its award-winning communication solutions and the rest, as they say, is history.

For the latest communication, cloud and tech news, be sure to stay with us at Telappliant.

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