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Published Wednesday 25 May 2022


178 years ago, modern telecommunications was born with the first telegram sent, in the US. Now look where we are...

 

It was on this day (more or less) in 1844 that Samuel Morse sent his first telegram from Washington DC to Baltimore in the US. It said “What hath God wrought” and it ushered in the world of commercial long-distance telecommunications.

Long distance communications have been around for years, of course. The postal services had long held sway in this area and while the delivery mechanism was robust, the latency was a killer. Waiting weeks if not months for a reply is all well and good if someone is telling you how their holidays are going, but not if you want the latest news on the price of wool or similar.

And if you look back even further you can find examples of long distance communications with much better latency. I lived on a street in the UK called Beaconsfield Road named for the beacon that was once on the nearby hill which would be lit to warn of invading Norsemen. It was the most basic form of binary communications: if light then vikings. If not then carry on.

Today of course we have an insatiable appetite for data and for sharing it across the globe. If you look at a map of submarine cables you’ll see a massive amount of duplication across key trading partners – typically running east-west – each one competing for content. Indeed, the latest submarine cable to run from New York to the UK was put in on the premise that it was a slightly more direct route and would give financial traders a half a milisecond advantage in getting the news. 

Here in New Zealand we are blessed, finally, with both tremendous levels of international connectivity and also a world-leading national network of fibre that connects homes and businesses to the world.  

On top of that we have three competing mobile phone networks that deliver connectivity and mobility, a growing network of wireless operators and even a newly emerging satellite market that offers connectivity in places that would once have gone without due to commercial constraints. 

The question for the future really is no longer about can you get connected, but instead about what you’ll do with it. You can work digitally from almost anywhere in the country instead of only in the main centres meaning the growing tech sector is no longer restricted to hiring only the best people within commuting distance of the office. We’ve seen a boom in the digital creative arts sector that includes effects for video production, graphic design even computer games that simply would not have been possible even a decade ago. And we’ve done all of this from one of the most remote corners of the world, despite the tyranny of distance. 

So happy birthday to telecommunications and thanks to Samuel and all the others who came before, shone a light into the darkness and thought, “What if I turn it on and off really fast?”.