IEEE Communications Society History



The "roots" of the IEEE Communications Society extend back to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) which was founded in 1884, and the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) which was formed in 1912. These formed the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) on January 1, 1963.

AIEE (American Institute of Electrical Engineers)

The original fields of interest of AIEE were electrical communications and power engineering. Electronics engineering evolved from the radio field and expanded greatly during World War II, overlapping into the communications and (to a lesser extent) the power fields. Methods were developed to foster cooperation and interchange of information among members of each of the original Institutes with their narrow common interests. The AIEE formed "Divisions" with "Communications" as one major entity. No special organization was chartered, although separate Technical Committees (TCs) reviewed papers for, and conducted sessions at broad-based AIEE Conferences. Most of these papers were later published in the AIEE Transactions.

IRE (Institute of Radio Engineers)

During the same era, IRE began organizing specialized Professional Groups (PGs) each with a common interest. The Professional Group on Communications Systems (PGCS) was formed in 1952, producing its own Transactions the following year. PGCS sponsored sessions at major IRE conferences and conventions, and developed its own special conferences. The first such conference was the Aeronautical Communications Symposium, AEROCOM, held for four years in the Rome-Utica, New York area. Renamed the National Communications Symposium, NATCOM, it continued for another five years ending in 1963. Meanwhile, cooperation with the AIEE Communications Division had developed, and a series of joint National Symposiums on Global Communications, GLOBECOMs, were held at various U.S. sites.

IEEE ComTech Group

On July 1, 1964, 18 months after IEEE was formed, the AIEE Communications Division and the IRE PGCS merged to form the IEEE Group on Communication Technology (ComTech) with 4400 members. Seven former AIEE Technical Committees continued operations under the new Group, with former IRE members joining the TCs that focused on their particular interests. A new TC on Communication System Disciplines - Communication Systems Engineering - was formed by ComTech members with special systems interests. The TCs reviewed papers for a new IEEE Transactions On Communication Technology (distributed free to all members), and they organized and moderated papers sessions at various conferences.

ComTech Conferences

The ComTech Group sponsored the Seventh GLOBECOM in 1965, calling it the First Annual IEEE Communications Convention. The following year it was renamed the 1966 IEEE International Conference on Communications (ICC) and it has continued annually ever since. ICC is held in late spring or early summer, and in 1984 went overseas for the first time (to Amsterdam). The ComTech Group also took a major role in technical sessions at the general IEEE International Conventions and the National Electronics Conference (NEC) held annually in Chicago. When the latter was canceled suddenly in 1971, ComTech joined the IEEE Chicago Section in co-sponsoring a one-time Fall Electronics Conference (FEC) that proved to be successful.

IEEE Communications Society Founded

Communications society Presidents 1972 thru to 2009.

During that Fall Electronics Conference meeting, the Administrative Committee of ComTech approved a petition to IEEE seeking elevation to Society status. The request was granted, and the IEEE Communications Society began operations on January 1, 1972, with just over 8000 regular and 800 student members. The key officers of the directing body--a Board of Governors-- are elected by the Society's general membership, replacing the previously self-perpetuating Administrative Committee. A list of current officers is published in our magazines.


Earlier, ComTech had been sponsoring the annual IEEE National Telemetering Conference (NTC). Interest in this area was declining, however, while the need for a second annual communications conference was becoming evident. Thus, the Telemetering Conference became the IEEE National Telecommunications Conference (still called NTC) in 1972. In 1982, the conference was expanded to international scope, becoming the IEEE Global Communications Conference, with the earlier GLOBECOM acronym revived. This conference continued to thrive and, in 1987, was held overseas for the first time, in Tokyo. Since then, GLOBECOM has been held in Singapore, London, Sydney and in Rio de Janeiro in 1999.

Technical Committees

The Telemetering Technical Committee was discontinued in 1974--our first great loss--but two new Technical Committees were added at the same time. A number of other TCs started operations in the ensuing years, each with a specific field of interest. Several Technical Committees have changed their titles and scopes during the years--some more than once--due to expanding and changing interests. The list of Technical Committees and their Chairs are printed in Society publications.

Transactions and Journals

Since 1972, the new IEEE Transactions on Communications, with vigorous leadership, quickly developed a premier position among technical journals, with its own indepen-dent editorial board. Within a few years its frequency of publication went from quarterly to bimonthly to monthly, with special issues being featured from the start.

An additional publication, the IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications, was "spun-off" in 1982. It soon went from quarterly to a nine-issues-per-year distribution and became a monthly publication in 1999 with the addition of the Wireless Communications Series. In 2002 the WCS became the IEEE Transactions on Wireless Communications, published quarterly.

In 1982, Transactions and the Journal were "unbundled" from the dues structure and made available to the membership at moderate subscription rates, thereby keeping the basic dues to a minimum. Both periodicals are, of course, offered to the technical public at a higher, non-member rate, the proceeds providing a substantial portion of the financial base of the Society.

In 1993, the IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, was introduced, and in 1996, another new publication appeared - IEEE Communications Letters. The latest addition to this impressive list of technical journals is IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials, the Society's first electronically published journal started in 1996.

IEEE Communications Magazine

The original IRE PGCS (Professional Group Communications Systems) Newsletter evolved into the IEEE ComTech Newsletter (offered free to members) which then became the IEEE Communications Society Newsletter. In 1975 the Newsletter was expanded into IEEE Communications Magazine with the addition of general technical interest features, the cost being partially subsidized by advertising. Two years later, the magazine was offered to the general public (non-members) by subscription. It became a monthly publication in 1983. In 1994, the "Global Communications Newsletter" was initiated as a regular feature of Communications Magazine.

In 1997, the magazine went online with IEEE Communications Interactive.

In 2008, the magazine editor introduced a new column titled 'History of Communications', edited by Mischa Schwartz.

Other Publications

IEEE Network--The Magazine of Global Information Exchange was first published by the Communications Society in 1987 and soon became self-sustaining. It is issued on a bimonthly basis, as is IEEE Personal Communications (now IEEE Wireless Communications), which first appeared in 1994. The Communications Society also technically co-sponsors, with other IEEE Societies, additional publications offered to members at special rates. These include IEEE Internet Computing, IEEE Multimedia Magazine, IEEE Transactions on Applied Superconductivity, IEEE/OSA Journal of Lightwave Technology, IEEE Transactions on Multimedia, IEEE Pervasive Computing, IEEE Sensors Journal, IEEE Transactions on Mobile Computing, and others.

Online Availability

All ComSoc publications (magazines and journals) have been available online since 1998. An Electronic Periodicals Package (EPP) of ComSoc publications now provides an all-electronic access alternative to print subscriptions at a moderate rate. ComSoc e-News, an electronic newsletter, was initiated in 1998 and is distributed to all ComSoc members who have listed e-mail addresses.

IEEE Communications Society Web Site

In 1996, ComSoc developed an independent web site permitting global access to ComSoc information. Society news, publications, conferences, information on standards, and electronic initiatives can be found easily. The site is updated frequently and includes e-mail contacts for ComSoc officers and staff.

Conference Records

Each major conference sponsored by the Society publishes a Conference Record printed in advance and distributed to conference attendees. These "proceedings" contain copies of every paper presented at the meeting, and are in demand by Technical Libraries and people unable to attend the conference. Proceeds from the sale of the extra copies help with meeting expenses, and surplus funds are divided among the conference sponsors. Several conference proceedings are now available in CD-ROM format.

Technical Books

The Communications Society began sponsoring the publication of books by IEEE Press in 1975, when four books were released. This has continued, with contributions each year and with noted Communications Society members serving as authors and editors.


In addition to ICC and GLOBECOM, the Communications Society sponsors MILCOM--Military Communications Conference--which began in 1982; and NOMS--Network Operations Management Symposium--initiated in 1987. Through the years the Communications Society has also picked up co-sponsorship of other major conferences: INFOCOM-Conference on Computer Communications; IM--International Symposium on Integrated Network Management (formerly ISINM); WCNC--Wireless Communications & Networking Conference (formerly ICUPC); International Phoenix Conference on Computers and Communications (IPCCC), Optical Fiber Communications Conference (OFC), etc. Additionally, between 1990 and 1998 ICC collocated with Supercomm in alternating years. Participation in other international, regional and local conferences on a lesser scale is also widespread.


Through the years the Communications Society Technical Committees have developed their own specialized small-group meetings called "workshops." These workshops provide interaction among engineers working at the "cutting edge" of new developments, while respecting proprietary interests. (Most do not issue symposium records.) Many are listed in the IEEE Communications Magazine Conference Calendar and the IEEE Spectrum Calendar of Coming Events. Another service to Communications Society members is the presentation of Tutorial Sessions at conferences whereby new information on "hot topics" is disseminated to attendees, supplementing the standard paper sessions at the meetings.

The IEEE International Workshop on Quality of Service was launched in 1993.


Prior to 1979, the entire support for Society operations was handled by IEEE Staff, working under the direction of Society Officers and Members who were volunteers. When IEEE Communications Magazine became available to non-members, a Managing Editor was hired to provide closer Society control. This was the beginning of the IEEE Communications Society staff, which now numbers around 21 full-time IEEE employees. The staff is under the direction of an Executive Director, a position established in 1990.

Timeline of Events


Year Event
1837 Cooke and Wheatstone obtain a patent on telegraph. Morse publicly demonstrates his telegraph.
1844 Morse's first telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore opens in May.
1865 Maxwell mathematically predicts the propagation of electromagnetic waves through space.
1866 Uninterrupted transatlantic communications are established with the successful laying of the first telegraph cable on 27 July.
1876 Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray independently invent the telephone. Bell awarded priority.
1884 AIEE formed with Norvin Green, president of Western Union, as first President.
1887 Heinrich Hertz shows that electromagnetic waves exist.


Year Event
1901 Guglielmo Marconi sends first transatlantic wireless signals, 12 December.
1902 Poulsen-Arc Radio Transmitter invented.
1903 AIEE Committee on Telegraphy and Telephony formed.
1904 John Ambrose Fleming invents the two-element "Fleming Valve".
1905 Marconi patents his directive horizontal antenna.
1906 Dr. Lee de Forest reads a paper before an AIEE meeting on the Audion, first of the vacuum tubes that would make long distance radiotelephony possible.
1906 Reginald Fessenden broadcasts Christmas Carols on Christmas Eve from Brant Rock, MA
1907 The world's first transatlantic commercial wireless services is established by Marconi with stations at Clifden, Ireland and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.
1909 Marconi shares the Nobel Prize in Physics, with Karl Ferdinand Braun for their work in the development of wireless telegraphy.


Year Event
1910 The first commercial radios are sold by Lee de Forest's Radio Telephone Company.
1911 Using loading coils properly spaced in the line, the transmission distance for telephone reaches from New York to Denver.
1912 IRE is founded. (13 May)
1912 Major Edwin H. Armstrong invents the feedback regenerator.
1912 The Titanic sinks, it is equipped with a Marconi wireless set, sending out distress signals.
1913 Armstrong patents his version of the valve generator.
1914 The last pole of the transcontinental telephone line is placed in Wendover, Utah, on the Nevada-Utah state line.
1915 Direct telephone communications opened for service at 4pm, EST. Alexander Graham Bell, in NY, greets his former assistant, Thomas Watson, in San Francisco, by repeating the first words ever spoken over a telephone, "Mr. Watson, come here I want you". Mr. Watson would reply that it would take him a week to get there.
1918 Edwin Armstrong develops a receiving circuit - the superheterodyne.
1919 Radio Corporation of America (RCA) is formed


Year Event
1920 Westinghouse Radio Station KDKA is established (2 November)
1921 First radio broadcast of a sporting event (Dempsey/Carpentier Heavyweight Championship Prize Fight, 2 July)
1922 Alexander Graham Bell dies at his summer home in Beinn Breagh, near Baddeck, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia (2 August). Telephone service is suspended for one minute (6:25pm-6:26pm) on the entire telephone system in the United States and Canada during the funeral service (4 August)
1922 British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is formed. (It would receive it's Royal Charter in 1927).
1923 Meetings at New York and Chicago of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) are linked by long distance lines connected to loudspeakers so that both meetings could follow the same program (14 February).
1924 Directive short wave antenna is developed by Professor Hidetsugu Yagi and his assistant, Shintaro Uda.
1925 The Combined Line and Recording (CLR) method of handling toll calls over long distances (100 miles or more) is introduced experimentally by Bell Systems. It reduces the handling of toll calls from 13 minutes (in 1920) to 7 minutes.
1926 The first public test of radiotelephone service from New York to London.
1927 First public demonstration of long distance transmission of television.
1927 Formal opening of telephone service between the US and Mexico, and also, Mexico- London, via New York.
1928 A joint meeting of the AIEE and the British IEE is held over radiotelephone channels, with the respective groups assembled in New York and London.
1929 29 October, the Great Depression


Year Event
1931 AT&T inaugurates the Teletypewriter Exchange Service (TWX) 21 November
1933 Edwin Armstrong demonstrates frequency modulation (FM) to David Sarnoff.
1934 The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is established.
1935 The first around-the-world telephone conversation takes place. (25 April)
1935 Western Union's "Telefax" begins operating. Telefax sent telegrams, manuscripts, line drawings, maps and page proofs for magazines.
1936 Invention of coaxial cable is announced at a joint meeting of the American Physical Society and the IRE (30 April).
1937 Seven-hour radio broadcast of the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England.
1938 The power of radio is demonstrated by Orsen Wells with the broadcast of "War of the Worlds". This causes telephone traffic to peak in nearly all cities and on long distance lines.
1939 The Golden Gate Exposition (San Francisco) and New York Worlds Fair are opened. These exhibit the newest technologies, including the Voder (synthesized speech) and television.
1939 FM is used by Bell Laboratories in a radio altimeter that uses signal reflections from the surface of the earth.


Year Event
1940 FM Police Radio Communications begin in Hartford, CT
1941 The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor affects the telephone system of the United States by causing tremendous traffic peaks in all cities, and an increase from 100 to 400 percent in long distance telephoning - which already is at a record high of 3 million messages. (The United States would again experience this phenomenon in 2001, during the 11 September attacks.)
1941 Radar successfully detects the attack on Pearl Harbor, but the warnings are ignored.
1942 The first section of telephone line is completed along the Alcan Highway, from Edmonton, Alberta, to Dawson Creek, British Columbia. The Alcan Highway begins at Dawson Creek.
1943 Construction of a telephone line from Calcutta, India to Kunming, China, along Stilwell Road, begins at Ledo, Assam.
1944 A telephone submarine cable is laid across the English Channel.
1945 Western Union installs the first commercial radio beam system.
1946 Mobile telephone service is placed into commercial use in St. Louis, Missouri.
1946 The beam traveling-wave tube is announced by Bell Telephone Laboratories. This tube is an important amplifier for broadband communication.
1947 Invention of the point contact transistor by Brattain and Bardeen at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, NJ. (23 December)
1947 Demonstration of mobile telephone equipment from a United Airlines plane to ground stations.
1948 Invention of the junction transistor.
1949 The volume of telephone calls reaches 180 million a day!


Year Event
1952 IRE Professional Group on Communications Systems is formed.
1953 John Pierce proposes deep space communication.
1954 US Air Force's SAGE system sets precedent for computer communications, including use of modems.
1955 Recorded announcements of disconnected and changed numbers begin to be used in some small dial offices.
1956 The Bell System and the British Post Office inaugurates service on a transatlantic telephone cable, TAT-1.
The 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded to the inventors of the transistor: Dr. Walter H. Brattain, Dr. John Bardeen and Dr. William Shockley.
1957 Soviet Union launches Sputnik, humanity's first artificial satellite, on 5 October.
1958 Jack S. Kilby and Robert Noyce independently invent an Integrated Circuit.


Year Event
1960 ECHO I communications satellite is launched on 12 August. Provides first satellite television broadcast of 1962.
1960 Laser is invented.
1961 Len Kleinrock of MIT publishes "Information Flow in Large Communication Nets", considered a seminal paper on packet-switching theory.
1962 United States Congress passes the Communications Satellite Act.
1962 T1 carrier is put into commercial service.
1962 The first transatlantic transmission of a TV signal via the TELSTAR satellite. (11 July)
1962 EES™ Electronic Switching Systems is introduced.
1963 AIEE and IRE merge to form IEEE (1 January)
1963 Paul Baran of RAND publishes "On Distributed Communications Networks," outlining the operations of packet-switching networks capable of surviving node outages.
1963 NASA announces that the new Syncom II communications satellite has been used successfully to transmit voices live between the U.S. and Africa. At the time of the conversations, Syncom II hovers 22,000 miles over Brazil. The satellite is the first successful synchronous satellite. This mean that the satellite's revolution matches the daily revolution of the earth about its axis, so that the satellite seems to remain "stationary" over the same earth location
1963 A telephone hotline connects Soviet and American leaders (30 August)
1963 Touchtone phones are introduced to replace the rotary dial phones.
1963 BBN develops the first modem.
1964 An improved stock ticker tape machine (designed, developed and manufactured by Teletype Corporation) is placed into service at the New York Stock Exchange. The ticker, which transmits stock prices to brokerage houses nearly twice as fast as the previous system, has a capacity of ten million shares a day without incurring delays. (22 June)
1964 IEEE Group on Communication Technology is formed. (1 July.)
1965 K. C. Kao and G. A. Hackham publish an influential paper on fiber optics.
1965 The first commercial communications satellite, Early Bird, later named Intelsat 1, is launched into orbit from Cape Kennedy. The 85-pound satellite is a synchronous satellite, matching the earth's rotation to hover over the same spot all the time. (6 April)
1965 The Soviet Union launches its first communications satellite and carried out transmissions of television programs. The satellite is named "Molniya 1", which translates to "Lightning 1". (23 April)
1965 Northeastern United States experiences it's first great Blackout (9 November)
1966 Lawrence G. Roberts of MIT publishes "Towards a Cooperative Network of Time-Shared Computers" which outlines the ARPANET plan.
1966 Worldwide direct telephone dialing has its first public demonstration, a call from Philadelphia to Geneva, Switzerland. (15 June)
1967 Dolby introduces its noise reduction.
1967 Bell Laboratories announces a new solid-state source of high frequency radio waves. The "LSA diodes" emitted millimeter waves, a part of the radio frequency range that could carry about nine times more telephone calls than all lower frequencies combined. An LSA diode and its power supply is about as large as a deck of cards. (15 February)
1967 An experimental cordless extension telephone is introduced by Bell Laboratories (30 June)
1968 Bell System adopts the use of "911" as a nationwide emergency telephone number (12 January)
1968 Huntington, Indiana became the first U.S. city served by the Bell System to receive the new universal emergency telephone number "911". (1 March)
1969 ARPANET begins 4-node operation (UCLA, Stanford Research Institute (SRI), UC Santa Barbara and University of Utah.
1969 Video and Audio are transmitted back from the first Moon landing (20 July)
1969 UNIX Operating System is developed.


Year Event
1970 Corning Glass demonstrate highly transparent fibers, and Bell Laboratories demonstrates semiconductor lasers that could operate at room temperature; these demonstrations help establish the feasibility of fiber-optic communications
1971 The Intelsat IV communications satellite goes into commercial operation. Initially it has 830 circuits in service and linked ground stations in 15 countries.
1971 The DUV (Data Under Voice) is introduced. It permits signals to "hitch-hike" on existing microwave radio systems by using the lower end of the frequency band not normally used for voice.
1971 Ray Tomlinson writes the first email program. The @ sign is used for the first time in an email address.
1972 IEEE Communications Society is established on 1 January.
1972 Jon Postel writes the specifications for Telnet.
1972 IEEE Proceedings publishes its first issue on computer communications. Guest Editors are Paul Green and Robert Lucky.
1972 A demonstration of the ARPANET at the 1972 IEEE International Conference on Computer Communications.
1973 Robert Metcalfe invents Ethernet at Xerox PARC. Ethernet uses a cable rather than a radio channel as the transmission medium.
1973 The "Touch-a-matic" telephone is introduced. It can automatically dial a call anywhere in the U.S. at the touch of a single button. Its solid-state memory allows dialing up to 32 pre-coded telephone numbers.
1973 Construction of a new, high-capacity coaxial cable system, called L5, is completed between Pittsburgh and St. Louis. It has the capacity of carrying 108,000 simultaneous telephone conversations, three times the capacity of any previous system.
1973 File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is introduced.
1974 Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn publish "A Protocol for Packet Network Interconnection", in IEEE Communications Magazine, which outlines design of a Transmission Control Program (TCP). The term "Internet" is used for the first time.
1974 Western Union launches Westar, the nation's first domestic communications satellite.
1974 New York Telephone inaugurated Dial-A-Joke, an addition to the recorded announcement field. During the first month of operation, more than 100,000 calls a day are made to the number.
1975 Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) opens Telenet, the first public packet data service.
1975 Viking is launched. Lands on Mars in 1976 and sends back data to Earth.
1975 Transmission testing begins on the T4M, highest-capacity, short-haul digital transmission system in the U.S. The new system, linking Newark, NJ to New York City, transmits 274 million "bits" of information per second over a single coaxial tube.
1976 Centennial of the Telephone
1976 IEEE establishes the Alexander Graham Bell Medal to commemorate of the centennial of the telephone's invention and to provide recognition for outstanding contributions in telecommunications. Amos Joel, William Keister and Raymond Ketchledge are the first recipients.
1976 COMSTAR is launched and begins commercial service. It is in permanent orbit over the Galapagos Islands.
1977 Voyager spacecraft is launched. Sends back signals from Jupiter (1979-1980), Saturn (1981), Uranus (1986) and Neptune (1989).
1977 Bell Laboratories announces the development of the MAC-8, a microprocessor suited for a wide range of telecommunications applications.
1978 TAT-1, the world's first transoceanic telephone cable was retired (27 November)
1978 TCP split into TCP and IP
1979 A 62,000-mile microwave telecommunications system is completed within Saudi Arabia.
1979 Emoticons are suggested :-)


Year Event
1980 First use of the "900" number.
1981 First cellular mobile telephone service is offered, in Saudi Arabia and Scandinavia.
1981 A new telephone service, DIAL-IT® allowed a caller to listen to the voice communications between the Space Shuttle Columbia and the ground command center.
1981 BITNET is introduced (Because Its There NETwork)
1982 256K DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory) is introduced.
1982 The first full-color two-way video teleconferencing service is offered.
1982 The development of TFM (Time Frequency Multiplexing)
1983 The Cleaved Coupled-Cavity (C3) laser was introduced. The single frequency tunable laser emitted a light so pure that over a billion bits of information per second could be sent through a glass fiber. (April)
1983 The first commercial cellular phone system is introduced in Chicago. (13 October)
1983 Desktop workstations are introduced.
1984 IEEE Centennial
1984 Breakup of AT&T.(1 January)
1985 Local area signaling service is introduced. The service is used to trace nuisance calls, transfer calls, and provide other advanced calling services. (20 May)
1985 AT&T and NASA space shuttle Discover launch its second Telstar 3 satellite. 1 Sept.
1985 Domain Name Service (DNS) is introduced. DNS is used mostly to translate between domain names and IP addresses, and to control Internet email delivery.
1985 AT&T Bell Laboratories combine 10 laser beams on a single optical fiber demonstrating the capability of lightwave systems to carry 20 billion bits per second (equal to 300,000 telephone calls.)
1985 Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (WELL) is started.
1985 is assigned on 15 March to become the first registered domain. Other firsts:,,,,,, (24 April); (23 May); (24 May); (June);, .uk (July)
1986 TAT-3 transatlantic cable is retired (1 Sept.)
1987 An Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) is deployed, capable of handling voice, data and video. (16 December)
1987 The first Freenet comes on-line 16 July in Cleveland, OH.
1987 Superconductivity is discovered - the transmission of electricity without resistance through low temperature material.
1987 TDD (telecommunications device for the deaf) is initiated.
1987 UUNet is founded by Rick Adams.
1988 A self replicating program, a worm, invaded hundreds to thousands of computers, making them unusable. (3 November)


Year Event
1990 Timothy Berners-Lee at CERN develops World Wide Web (December)
1990 ARPANET is retired (28 February)
1992 A new Internet protocol, the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), was introduced to improve the efficiency of document retrieval (July)
1992 The Internet Society (ISOC) is formed.
1993 Mosaic, which is one of the first web browsers is released.
1994 Yahoo goes on-line.
1994 The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is created.
1995 CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) is introduced.


Year Event
2000 3G Standard is finalized.
2002 IEEE Communications Society celebrates it's 50th Anniversary

The IEEE Communications Society: A Fifty Year Foundation for the Future, 1952-2002

Standing on the Shoulders of Predecessors: Communications Engineering before 1952

In May 1844 Samuel F. B. Morse opened the first telegraph line in the United States. His famous transmission of the phrase "What hath God wrought" from Washington to his assistant Alfred Vail in Baltimore ushered in an electrical communications revolution which continues unabated today. Morse and Vail's work showed that communications engineers have been at the forefront of the electrical engineering profession since its origins in the 19th century. Thus, forty years of advances in communications technology lay behind the formation of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) in 1884. The founding members and first officers of the AIEE reflected the centrality of communications to the new profession of electrical engineering. Over half of the founding members worked for telegraph or telephone companies or for firms supplying equipment to them, and the first president of the AIEE was Norvin Green, president of the Western Union Telegraph Company. AIEE vice presidents included Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; Thomas Edison, who made his reputation and first fortune as an inventor of telegraph equipment; and two veteran telegraph electricians.

However, soon after the founding of the AIEE in 1884, the locus of technical innovation shifted from the telegraph industry to the new technology of electrical power. Furthermore, university trained engineers working for large research laboratories and engineering departments superseded inventor-entrepreneurs like Edison and Bell. By the turn of the twentieth century, the membership and leadership of the AIEE both reflected these two trends in the profession. Although the AIEE tried to be an organization which reflected the full diversity of electrical engineering, power engineers had come to dominate it by 1900. The AIEE allowed "Special Committees" to be formed in areas of technical interest, which in 1905 came to be called "Technical Committees." Most of the Committees were concerned with aspects of power engineering, but in 1903 a Committee on Telegraphy and Telephony was formed. The AIEE's leaders also recognized the growing importance of radio communications, and in late 1912 approved a new Radio Transmission Committee. This committee, however, never formed, because the AIEE leadership could not find a chairman for the committee. Furthermore, the issue had already become moot: earlier in 1912 a group of wireless specialists had formed the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE).

The IRE came into being because engineers in the new fields of radio and electronics did not feel at home in the AIEE, dominated on the one hand by power engineers and on the other by telephone and telegraph specialists. After World War I, radio communications and other types of electronics continued to expand at a greater rate than power engineering and wire communications, an expansion reflected in the robust growth of IRE membership. However, electronics also changed the state of the technical art in traditional fields of engineering like power and wire communications. So, perhaps to encourage membership by electronics engineers in those areas, in 1925 the AIEE Technical Committee on Telegraphy and Telephony became the Technical Committee on Communication. Although the AIEE tended to focus on wire communications and the IRE on wireless communications, there was significant overlap in membership. For example, Arthur E. Kennelly, famous for his work on ionospheric radio propagation, was both president of the AIEE in 1898-1900 and of the IRE in 1916. Michael Pupin, a Columbia University physics professor (the Pupin Building, which houses Columbia's physics department, is named in his honor) highly regarded for his work on transmission lines, was president both of the IRE in 1917 and of the AIEE in 1925-1926. As early as 1922 Kennelly suggested merging the two organizations. Although such a merger would not occur for forty years, the two societies sponsored some overlapping meetings in the coming years.

A major reason why the two organizations did not merge in the 1920s was that the IRE had little incentive to do so. It continued to grow so quickly that it started its own Technical Committee system in 1937. The first six such committees (Broadcast, Electroacoustics, Radio Receiving, Television & Facsimile, Transmitting & Antennas, and Wave Propagation) show the importance of communications among IRE members. World War II and its aftermath led to further expansion and diversification of electrical engineering as a whole, and in particular in wireless communications and other electronics. As a result, the IRE continued to grow at a much more rapid rate than the AIEE. To stem this trend, in 1947 the AIEE revamped its organization and grouped their Technical Committees into Divisions. In 1950 the AIEE formed the Communication Division, originally consisting of Committees for Communications Switching Systems, Radio Communications Systems, Telegraph Systems, and Special Communications Applications. In the remaining years before the AIEE/IRE merger, the AIEE Communication Division added Committees on Television Broadcasting (1951), Communication Theory (1956), Data Communication (1957), and Space Communication (1960).

The IRE Professional Group on Communications Systems, 1952-1964

Meanwhile, the IRE allowed the formation of semi-autonomous Professional Groups as a way to deal with the increased growth and complexity of their field and organization. In the early 1950s, two IRE members, John L. Callahan and George T. Royden, were instrumental in organizing a new Professional Group in the field of communications. On 25 February, 1952 this group, the IRE Professional Group on Radio Communications, came into formal existence. At first the new Group limited its scope to radio in order to avoid direct competition with the AIEE in the field of wire communications. Within a few months, however, the IRE Board of Directors recommended that the new Group expand its scope to cover all forms of communication and to change its name to the IRE Professional Group on Communications Systems (PGCS). In September 1952 the Group did so and expanded its scope to include "communication activities and related problems in the field of radio and wire telephone, telegraph and facsimile, such as practiced by commercial and governmental agencies in marine, aeronautical, radio relay, coaxial cable and fixed station services." This broadened scope welded together and gave a common home to the several Technical Committees which had dealt with various facets of communications engineering since 1937. This group, the forerunner of the IEEE Communications Society, thus had an official founding date of 25 February 1952 and was the 19th such IRE Group to be formed. George T. Royden was the first Chairman of the Group, with Murray G. Crosby, John L. Callahan, and John Hessel serving as Vice Chairman, Secretary, and Treasurer respectively.

The Group began with just under 600 members in 1952 and almost immediately established chapters in Washington, San Diego, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and Cedar Rapids (home of Collins Radio) to accommodate its rapidly increasing membership. By early 1955 Secretary John Callahan felt that PGCS had passed through its growing pains and had reached maturity as one of the important Groups in the IRE. Later that year the Administrative Committee (AdCom) formulated plans to publish a newsletter to keep its far-flung and growing membership informed of Group activities. By the end of 1957 the Group had a membership of just over 2500, and a year later it had eleven active chapters around the country. In 1958 PGCS established two annual awards, an Achievement Award and an award for the best article in the Transactions. PGCS selected Dr. Harold H. Beverage as the first recipient of the Achievement Award and co-authors Robert T. Adams and B. M. Mindes for the Transactions Contribution Award. Also in 1958 the Board considered ways to increase membership by encouraging non-US engineers to join and by allowing AIEE members to affiliate with PGCS. These membership initiatives, coupled with the importance of communications engineering, helped PGCS to reach the impressive figure of just over 4200 members in 1962, just before the IRE-AIEE merger.

One of the first actions of the new Group was to inaugurate an ambitious array of conferences, such as the annual Aeronautical Communications Symposium (AEROCOM) held for its first four years in the Rome-Utica, NY, area. This conference was renamed the National Communications Symposium in 1959 and it continued under its new name until 1963. PGCS also co-sponsored conferences with other IRE Groups and with the AIEE. Most importantly, PGCS co-sponsored the first GLOBECOM with the AIEE Communications Division in 1956. GLOBECOM continued to be a successful conference, and the 1961 meeting hosted 610 registrants, 240 speakers, and 25 exhibition booths. At the end of 1957 the Group began planning for a conference on modern electronic communications to be sponsored jointly with the Professional Group on Vehicular Communications. By 1959, with a membership of over 2700, the Committee decided that both the quantity and quality of technical papers were high enough to support two PGCS national meetings a year.

The new Group grew dramatically and began planning for a wide range of activities. Perhaps its most far-reaching decision was to begin publication of the IRE Transactions on Communications Systems, the forerunner of today's IEEE Transactions on Communications. At first, PGCS issued two Transactions issues per year, but because of the increasing volume of submissions the publication schedule increased to three issues a year in 1955 and four a year in 1959.

As early as 1956, the PGCS Administrative Committee explored ways to make the Group a professional home for engineers working in all fields of communications. In that year PGCS leaders viewed the overlapping fields of interest among the 23 IRE Professional Groups as both a problem and an opportunity. A. C. Peterson sent a letter to the Chairmen of the other 22 Groups asking them to meet to discuss this overlap and what to do about it. 18 of 22 Group chairmen replied, 13 expressing interest in attending such a meeting and 5 declining to attend. PGCS's AdCom looked favorably upon a proposal to merge PGCS with other Professional Groups like Antennas and Propagation, Marine Communications, Vehicular Communications, and Microwave Theory and Techniques.

Although nothing came of this effort, the AdCom again in 1960 took up the issue of the proliferation of Professional Groups. AdCom Chairman Capt. Christian L. Engleman noted that IRE officials had become concerned with the explosion of the Groups, which now numbered 27 with several petitions pending. While Engleman credited the Professional Group system with keeping the IRE "free from internal explosion," he and other IRE officials now worried that the proliferation of these groups "threatened" the IRE "with mediocrity because of dilution." Engleman cited the decline in attendance at Professional Group chapter meetings and conferences as signs of this problem. PGCS, in particular, had "seen the formation of other groups that have slowly taken away bits and pieces of our broad interests in Communications Systems." The Professional Group on Military Electronics (PGMIL), for example, "took away much" of PGCS's activity in military communications. Engleman suggested expanding the scope of PGCS, merging it with Professional Groups in closely related technological areas, and renaming the merged Group either the "Professional Group on Communications and Electronics Systems" or the "Professional Group on Electronics Systems." As a first step the PGCS AdCom initiated discussion with the PGMIL AdCom regarding a merger. On 20 March 1961, the PGCS AdCom narrowly approved (by a vote of 7-6) a motion agreeing to the merger. Although PGMIL declined to enter into the merger, the two Groups continued to work closely together on jointly sponsored conferences. While no mergers took place between PGCS and other IRE Professional Groups, these discussions in the 1950s and early 1960s showed that the Administrative Committee sought ways to overcome professional over-specialization by making PGCS the central organization for engineers working in the general field of communications. This willingness to accommodate a wide range of activities would prove valuable when the PGCS and the AIEE's Communications Division merged in 1964.

IEEE Group on Communication Technology, 1964-1972

When the AIEE and IRE agreed to merge on 1 January 1963, leaders of the new IEEE decided that the IEEE would use the IRE Group structure. They also decided for historical purposes that IEEE Societies would be considered to date from the founding of their predecessor IRE Professional Group. Thus, the official founding date of the IEEE Communications Society is 25 February 1952, although the IEEE Communications Society adopted its current name in 1972.

While the IEEE came into existence on 1 January 1963, the AIEE Communications Division and the IRE Professional Group on Communication Systems did not formally merge until 1 July 1964, a full 18 months after the formation of the IEEE as a whole. At the date of this formal merger, the new IEEE Group on Communication Technology had just under 4400 members. Seven former AIEE Technical Committees continued operations under the new Group, with previous IRE members joining Technical Committees reflecting their particular interests. The Technical Committees reviewed papers for a new IEEE Transactions on Communication Technology that was distributed free to all members, and organized and moderated sessions at various conferences. Ransom D. Slayton was the first Publications Chairman, Editorial Manager, and Transactions Editor (all one job!) in early 1964.

Although the merger between the AIEE and IRE was quite beneficial to the engineering profession and the members of both Institutes, the merger did create some difficulties for the new IEEE Group on Communication Technology. Much of these difficulties arose because of the different characters and concerns of the AIEE and IRE generally. Communications engineers affiliated with the AIEE tended to be more interested in wire communications like telegraphy and telephony, while IRE members were active in newer fields of communications. As a result, many former AIEE members felt that plans for a merged Group on communications slighted the fields of telephony and telegraphy. Difficulties with merging the technical groups and committees of the IRE and AIEE delayed the formation of a unified new Group on Communication Technology (ComTech) for a year and a half after the formal merger of the IRE and AIEE. However, the hard work and dedication of David Rau of RCA, chair of the IRE PGCS, and Leonard Abraham of Bell Labs, chair of the AIEE Communications Division, made the newly merged ComTech a success.

The new ComTech continued the tradition of technical excellence begun by its predecessor organizations in the IRE and AIEE. Engineers working in all facets of communications found a congenial home in ComTech, which contained eight technical committees: Communication Systems Disciplines, Communication Switching, Communication Theory, Data Communication and Telegraph Systems, Radio Communication, Space Communication, Telemetering, and Wire Communication. As this list showed, ComTech's technical concerns reflected the growing impact of new technical fields and of a globalizing economy.

Indeed, the theme for the GLOBECOM VI conference in Philadelphia in June 1964 was "The Marriage of Communications and Data Processing." The following year GLOBECOM VII, held in Boulder, Colorado, became also known as the First Annual IEEE Communications Convention. Under the leadership of ComTech member Richard Kirby of the National Bureau of Standards (Kirby later became director of the ITU for Radio, a position he held for 20 years), it was quite successful, with 885 paid registrants and nearly 200 papers presented in 48 sessions; ComTech also earned a surplus of about $4000 on the meeting. A year later, in 1966, the conference was renamed the IEEE International Conference on Communications, or ICC. Its theme was "Communications in the Computer Age," and a variety of IEEE Groups - ComTech, Information Theory, Audio, and Space Electronics and Telemetry - participated. ICC has been held annually ever since, usually in late spring or early summer. The name GLOBECOM re-emerged in 1980 as the name of a second major annual conference. Also in 1966, ComTech sponsored 11 sessions at the annual IEEE International Convention. These sessions reflected the diverse fields of expertise of ComTech's members, and the topics ranged from traditional wire communications concerns like switching to cutting-edge fields like data communications and advanced techniques in radio communications. In 1967 the International Communications Conference (ICC), held in Minneapolis, adopted a new name, the International Conference on Communications. More important than this name change, the conference had a wide range of technical activities, a range best shown by the nine Groups which participated along with ComTech: Microwave Theory and Techniques, Vehicular Communications, Audio and Electroacoustics, Circuit Theory, Aerospace and Electronics, Information Theory, Electromagnetic Compatibility, Computer, and Broadcasting.

In 1969 the IEEE Technical Activities Board considered a restructuring of the various IEEE groups. ComTech AdCom looked favorably upon this restructuring, and at first considered a grouping which would have placed ComTech in a technical cluster, or Division, along with four other Groups (Broadcasting, Broadcasting and TV Receivers, Aerospace and Electronic Systems, and Electromagnetic Compatibility). This new Division would have consisted of 21,600 members, and ComTech with its membership of 8100 would have made up the largest Group. Upon further discussion, however, the AdCom decided to pursue the idea of a cluster consisting of the Communications Technology, Aerospace and Electronics Systems, and Information Theory Groups. If this cluster could not be worked out satisfactorily, the ComTech AdCom directed Chairman Frank D. Reese to discuss a merger with the Aerospace and Electronics Systems Group (AES). While this merger did not occur, ComTech continued to work closely with AES. For instance, ComTech and AES collaborated on a joint Committee on Satellite and Space Communications and AES participated in ComTech's ICC. At the 7 December 1970 meeting, the AdCom expressed "much optimism" about ComTech's close relationship with AES.

Also in 1969, Richard Kirby, then Vice Chair of ComTech, asked Professor Donald Schilling to become Publishing Editor of the Transactions and Newsletter. When Schilling took over that position - one which he held until 1980 - he appointed a new editorial board, one which was responsible to the Editor, and not to the Technical Committees. In 1970, Schilling took over complete responsibility for all ComTech publications, and he introduced a series of special issues of the Transactions dealing with special topics of interest to ComTech members, such as: Communications in Japan, and Computer Communications. When Schilling took over the management of publications, the Transactions was a bi-monthly publication of 900 pages; by 1973 it had become a monthly publication of 1500 pages. In March of 1973, Schilling introduced the new Communications Society magazine. Alan Culbertson, President, presented a guest editorial, as did Martin Nesenbergs, who was magazine editor. The Magazine's publication requirements were that an article contain no equations, and could be understood by a large portion of the membership. This first "Magazine" contained only a single article on the "Impact of the ASCII Code'" It contained no advertisements. Today, the Magazine contains numerous excellent articles and is sought after as a place to advertise.

The IEEE Communications Society Takes Shape, 1972-1984

ComTech's membership more than doubled from 1964 to 1972, from 4400 to just under 10,000. In addition, ComTech had over forty chapters in the United States and Canada by the early 1970s. Its robust membership, coupled with the growing importance of the Group within the IEEE, prompted many of ComTech's leaders to petition the IEEE for elevation to Society status.

As early as June 1970, the ComTech AdCom discussed a transition to Society status, and in March 1971 Chairman Richard Kirby appointed an Ad Hoc Committee on Technical Planning and Liaison headed by Ransom Slayton to investigate the impact of this on the Group. William Middleton came up with many of the structural and operational concepts. Slayton, who later served as ComSoc's parliamentarian for many years, drafted the constitution and by-laws of the new Society. Kirby and Slayton were optimistic that other Groups in closely related technical fields (such as Aerospace and Electronic Systems, Electromagnetic Compatibility, Broadcasting, and Broadcasting and TV Receivers) would become part of a new Communications Society with an expanded scope. In June 1971, however, Kirby reported that these Groups had expressed "some interest," but a "watch and see attitude prevails." In light of this lukewarm interest on the part of other Groups, Kirby recommended proceeding with the petition for Society status while retaining ComTech's present scope to avoid overlap with other Groups. Kirby believed that the scope could be expanded at a later date to accommodate Groups who desired to join. The AdCom unanimously agreed with Kirby?s recommendations and resolved to petition IEEE Technical Activities Board for elevation to Society status on the basis of the existing ComTech scope.

The IEEE quickly granted this petition, and the new IEEE Communications Society (ComSoc) began operations on 1 January 1972 with 8636 regular and 1182 student members. The list of officers at the first formal meeting of the Board of Governors of the IEEE Communications Society on 20 March 1972 was:

President, A. F. Culbertson

Vice President, A. E. Joel, Jr.

Secretary, A. B. Giordano

Treasurer, D. L. Solomon

Vice President-Technical Affairs, W. B. Jones

Vice President-International Affairs, R. C. Kirby

Director-Publications Dept., D. L. Schilling

Director-Meetings and Conferences Dept., W. E. Noller

Director-Administration Dept., E. J. Doyle

Past President & Chair, Advisory Council, F. D. Reese

Since its formation in 1972, ComSoc has embarked on an ambitious program of technical conferences and publications. In 1972 the Telemetering Conference became the National Telecommunications Conference (NTC), which soon became a highly successful meeting. For example, the 1974 NTC held in San Diego had more than 1000 attendees and it earned a surplus of over $8000 for the society. Although ComSoc emphasized technical excellence, it did not neglect the social opportunities this conference afforded. In discussing planning for the 1975 conference in New Orleans, for instance, Richard L. Shuey of the ComSoc Meeting and Conference Department told the Board of Governors, "We are continuing to stress technical quality. Because of the setting, however, the social program will be given abnormal emphasis." In 1980 ComSoc's two major conferences, ICC and NTC, each attracted about 1500 registrants. In 1980 NTC became international in scope and ComSoc renamed it the IEEE Global Communications Conference, or GLOBECOM. The conference continues to provide excellent technical content as well as social opportunities and in 1987 it took place overseas for the first time, in Tokyo. Since then, GLOBECOM has been held in Singapore, London, Sydney, and Rio de Janerio. In this period ICC also became more international and in 1984 it was held overseas for the first time in Amsterdam.

In 1981, Donald Schilling became President of ComSoc. He formed the IEEE Military Communications Conference (MILCOM), which began in 1982 in Boston as an expanded version of the existing Spread Spectrum Conference. Although the new MILCOM embraced all military communications, it continued to focus on spread-spectrum communications techniques for its first several meetings. By 1986 nearly 1500 engineers attended the conference held that year in Monterey, CA, and the conference generated $40,000 for the Society.

Data communications had come into its own as an important field by the early 1970s, and, beginning in 1974 ComSoc, the IEEE Computer Society, and the Association for Computing Machinery jointly sponsored the annual Data Communications Symposium. In 1981, Schilling decided to have a joint IEEE ComSoc -- IEEE Computer Society sponsored conference, INFOCOM, which focused on computer and data communications. The first INFOCOM, held in Las Vegas in 1982, was moderately successful. Although actual attendance was about 400, half of the anticipated attendance, the meeting earned a modest surplus and its excellent technical content ensured that it would be held again on an annual basis. INFOCOM augmented, but did not replace, the existing Data Communications Symposium. The growing importance of the application of computers and database systems to communications and network management in the 1980s also lay behind the 1987 inauguration of the IEEE Network Operations Management Symposium (NOMS). ComSoc's two major conferences, ICC and GLOBECOM, had been cosponsored since their infancy. In 1981, Schilling, with the ComSoc AdCom, took over complete control of these Conferences.

Following a general social trend among scientists and engineers in the 1970s, communications engineers also became concerned with the social implications of their work. In March 1972 ComSoc member Mischa Schwartz attended an International Symposium on Communications and Society in Philadelphia. This meeting brought together communications engineers and social scientists concerned with the social impact of technology. Because the audience displayed a high level of interest in this area, Schwartz urged AdCom to form a special Technical Committee to investigate the social impact of telecommunications. Schwartz took the lead in this area and chaired a meeting in March 1974 of 16 interested engineers. The committee explored several ideas for future direction, including a special Transactions issue, solicitation of support from the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Engineering, and collaboration with the World Future Society. On the strength of this broad interest ComSoc added a Technical Committee on the Social Implications of Communications Technology, and by 1975 ComSoc had also added Technical Committees on Educational Services and Technological Forecasting and Assessment. In addition, the ComSoc Communications Policy Board became actively involved in regulatory and social issues during the early 1970s. One initiative was to sponsor an IEEE educational seminar on telecommunications technology for government regulators and officials. Special issues of the Transactions also reflected this concern with the social impact of technology; a special issue in 1974 had the theme of "Effects of Communications on Society," and it was followed by a 1976 issue on "Communications in Developing Nations ". A 1975 membership survey filled out by 236 members showed that about 40% of the membership wanted "sessions of social consciousness" included in ComSoc conferences, that ComSoc "should itself become more active in the direction of social consciousness," and that ComSoc "should push IEEE" to "move in the direction of increasing social consciousness." Indeed, in 1980 ComSoc itself became briefly embroiled in a controversy over an IEEE award given to William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor. Shockley had gained notoriety for his views on eugenics, including his assertion that Army IQ tests demonstrated that blacks were less intelligent than whites. In June 1980 a ComSoc member wrote to request that ComSoc disassociate themselves from this award. The ComSoc Board, however, declined to take action in the case.

Since 1970 the new IEEE Transactions on Communications, with vigorous leadership and an independent Editorial Board, quickly developed a leading position among technical journals in its field. Within a few years its frequency of publication accelerated from quarterly to bimonthly to monthly, and it featured special issues from the start. By the mid-1980s it had a non-library circulation of nearly 15,000, a respectable figure for a technical journal. By 1981 ComSoc's leadership debated splitting the Transactions into several different magazines based on areas of technical interest in order to accommodate the increase in the number of submitted and published papers. Indeed, in 1982 ComSoc spun off the well-respected IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications (JSAC). JSAC soon went from quarterly to nine issues per year. In addition to this impressive array of periodicals, ComSoc began sponsoring publication of books dealing with communications technology through the IEEE press in 1975.

Along with these impressive technical publications, ComSoc also began publishing the IEEE Communications Magazine. This magazine evolved from the original IRE PGCS Newsletter, sent free to all members, to a full-fledged magazine in 1973. The magazine features articles of general technical interest as well as news of the Society. In 1979 Donald Schilling hired a full-time managing editor, Carol Lof, and under her leadership and the guidance of key volunteers such as Donald Schilling and Joseph Garodnick, the magazine quickly increased its annual page number from just above 100 to about 175. In the first year of her editorship advertising increased 400% as well. The Magazine became a monthly in 1983. By 1984 advertising revenue had increased more than tenfold, to over $100,000 and the number of non-library subscriptions stood at just under 20,000. A readership survey in the Spring of 1985 showed that readers gave it high marks for the quality of its articles. The survey found that nearly 90% of subscribers scan or read the magazine on a regular basis, a figure which was much higher than all of the magazine?s peer publications such as EDN and Data Communications.

In addition to its roster of conferences and impressive list of publications, another sign of the technical vigor of the Society was the recognition which its members received. Between 1970 and 1981 ComSoc members won 10 IEEE Field Awards and 7 IEEE Medals. The National Academy of Engineering also recognized the fundamental contributions of ComSoc members in this period, electing in 1980 Richard W. Hamming, Karl Uno Ingard, Leonard Kleinrock, Tingye Li, and Jacob W. Schaefer. In 1981 Amos Joel and Paul Green joined them.

While ComSoc continued to grow in the early and mid 1970s, its growth was not as robust as ComTech's had been in the 1960s or as rapid as the growth of the telecommunications industry generally. A 1975 survey found that most ComSoc members highly valued their membership for the technical content of the Society?s publications and conferences. A healthy 88% responded that they "definitely" or "probably" would keep their membership current. However, the survey noted one disturbing trend: the remaining 12% responded that they would "maybe" or "probably not" retain their membership. Indeed, ComTech had noticed a high dropout rate, of about 10%, among the members as early as 1970. Most of the members who left were recent college graduates who remained as group members for about two years. One significant cause of this high dropout rate among younger members was the perception that ComSoc continued to emphasize older forms of communications technology like telephony and did not pay enough attention to newer fields.

ComSoc's leadership in this period also sought to attract and retain a second group of communications engineers, international members. In 1972 ComSoc's Board set up an International Activities Council headed by Richard Kirby to foster the development of the Society?s activities, membership, and member services outside of the U.S. The major objective of this Council was to explore the formation of an International Federation of Electrical Communication Societies with the purpose of sponsoring regular international conferences. Kirby also secured passage of an amendment to the ComSoc constitution to permit engineers outside of North America to obtain International Affiliate Membership. This membership, open to all members of recognized national engineering societies, gave non-North American engineers the advantages of ComSoc membership without requiring them to join IEEE. (In 2000, the IEEE Communications Society had more than 860 affiliate members.) In 1980 and 1981 the Board of Governors approved the formation of three International Committees to serve the needs of members in, respectively, Europe, Middle East, and Africa; Asia and the Pacific; and Latin America. In addition, ComSoc added more technical content dealing with international aspects of communications. Conference organizers solicited and accepted more non-U.S. papers at ComSoc sponsored meetings, and the Transactions carried more articles with an international scope. In August 1972 the Transactions issue was a special issue on communications in Japan. This issue was so successful that editor Donald Schilling moved forward on special issues in 1974 on communications in Europe, in 1975 on communications in the U.S.S.R., and in 1976 on communications in Latin America and in developing countries.

To increase the membership the AdCom sought to attract more students and recent graduates, international members, and engineers working in cutting-edge fields of communications. These measures to attract and retain members paid off: membership grew at the healthy rate of 9% a year after 1978, and ComSoc enjoyed a growth rate within the IEEE second only to that of the IEEE Computer Society.

Lackluster membership growth in the mid-1970s also caused concern over Society finances. In 1975 Treasurer David L. Solomon expressed alarm concerning the possibility of a one-year deficit of approximately $30,000 by the end of the year. The deficit was a result of higher-than-anticipated expenses and a decline in income from membership fees. Indeed, the need to cover operating deficits in this period depressed ComSoc's financial reserves from $236,000 in 1978 to $125,000 in 1983. Corrective actions AdCom took included a more aggressive promotion of the benefits of ComSoc membership, limiting the number of pages of the Transactions to 1200 a year in 1979, and raising conference registration fees. By 1976 ComSoc's financial picture had improved to the point where AdCom raised the number of pages of the Transactions to 1400 a year and in 1982 to 2100 pages.

By the mid 1980s ComSoc's initiatives to grow the membership had paid off, and the Society regained its firm financial footing. By 1984 ComSoc had just under 20,000 members, the third largest number of members among all IEEE Societies, and its membership growth rate stood second only to that of the Computer Society. ComSoc and its members were well poised to meet the regulatory and technical challenges of the 1980s and 1990s.

The IEEE Communications Society in an Era of Technological Change and Globalization, 1985-2002

In December 1982 the ComSoc Policy Board, under the leadership of Robert W. Lucky, undertook an exhaustive examination of the strengths and weaknesses of the Society in order to formulate its future direction. The Board discovered that ComSoc was a quite successful society in many ways. The size of its membership, about 15,000, and its international character were both solid signs of success. ComSoc journals were prestigious and well-respected, and the Communications Magazine enjoyed a growing popularity. ComSoc meetings and conferences - four main meetings and a variety of specialized workshops - were also signs of success. About 10% of ComSoc members attended at least one conference a year. Despite these successes, the Policy Board noted that ComSoc faced two general problems. Although ComSoc's membership grew at an annual rate of about 3%, this growth was far less than the growth of the telecommunications industry generally and of the number of communications engineers specifically. The Policy Board speculated that this lackluster growth was occurring because of a related problem: ComSoc was not keeping up with the sweeping technical and business changes in the telecommunications industry. Indeed, the Board noted, "The leadership of ComSoc is telephony oriented. By and large our technical programs follow the structured discipline of public telephone network engineering. That is not a broad enough base on which to attract the engineering practitioners in new fields" like satellites, computer networking, and fiber optics. ComSoc's major task, therefore, was to reorient itself so that it would "become unquestionably the dominant Society for communications engineering not only in telephony but in the other emergent fields."

To reflect the new directions which communications engineering was taking in this period, the ComSoc Board revised the Society's scope at the end of 1985 to "embrace all aspects of the advancement of the science, engineering, technology and applications for transferring information among locations by the use of signals." In this period ComSoc also sought to stimulate more interest in its activities among managers and engineers in industry. A 1986 report of ComSoc's Policy Board, responsible for long-range planning, took heart that its membership was growing at 10% annually, well over the IEEE average of 4%. However, Frederick T. Andrews, head of the Policy Board, sought ways for ComSoc to "bring in more membership from outside the communications R&D community which dominates ComSoc today." Andrews recommended a greater emphasis on issues of interest to industry, such as quality assurance and network management. Similarly, many ComSoc members who worked in industry found that the Transactions were "somewhat theoretical and of marginal value to working engineers." As a result, in 1988 the Board of Governors investigated ways to make the Transactions more relevant to engineers in industry and considered the formation of a new magazine aimed at this audience. The need to reach out to engineers and executives working in the communications industry has continued to be a concern; in 1998 a survey revealed that ComSoc was strongest among academic researchers and weakest among industry executives.

In 1988 a committee chaired by Richard Skillen continued the work of the previous committees headed by Lucky and Andrews. Skillen and his colleagues sought to build a strategic vision for ComSoc for the next decade or so. The so-called Skillen Report identified several problem areas and opportunities for ComSoc's future. Skillen and his co-workers found that ComSoc attracted new members at its targeted rate of about 20%, but that it also lost members "at a record rate," resulting in an "unsatisfactory" growth rate of only 5%. Much of this attrition occurred because ComSoc was "not adequately bringing student members into full membership status." Indeed, nearly 100% of new college graduates failed to renew their ComSoc memberships within two years of graduation, an unacceptably high attrition rate. Another major concern was that many of ComSoc's Technical Committees "are weak and must be revitalized." The issue of member retention was neither new nor surprising, and the Board of Governors recommended that a survey be distributed to the membership to identify ways to attract and retain members and that a new staff position should be created for the purpose of membership development. The Board of Governors also resolved to give the Technical Committees greater autonomy and influence in the activities of the Society. Indeed, the Board recommended that "they should move in the direction of becoming de facto mini-societies."

In 1991 ComSoc wrote a Five Year Strategic Plan which carried forward the work of the Skillen Report. On the positive side, ComSoc had an active membership of 32,000, second only to the Computer Society, with an annual growth rate of 8% making it the fourth fastest growing Society in IEEE. ComSoc finances were in excellent shape, with an annual budget of nearly $5.5 million, a surplus of $1.8 million, and reserves of $1.4 million. Still, the Strategic Plan called for ways to retain existing members and to attract new and younger members. The report recommended that the Society focus on emerging technologies like software, wireless, photonic systems, and computer networking. By so doing, the report forecast that ComSoc would grow by 37,000 members in the next decade.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the ComSoc leadership recognized the Society's growth as a sign of its continued success. Yet they were aware of the need to attract and retain younger members and non-U.S. engineers. In addition to greater coverage of emerging technical fields, the excellent content of the Communications Magazine and more non-mathematical exposition in the Transactions helped to stem the dropout rate among younger engineers. In 1991 ComSoc set up an ambitious membership retention and recruiting program; Executive Director Carol Lof estimated that ComSoc had spent as much as $100,000 on membership recruitment and retention in 1992 alone. In 1997 ComSoc set up a Young Members' Committee under the direction of Vice President-Membership Affairs Roberto de Marca.

Maurizio Decina

In 1994 President Maurizio Decina and Vice President for Technical Affairs Stephen Weinstein reflected on the present status and future direction of ComSoc. They noted with satisfaction that the Society had "advanced the state of the art" in traditional fields of communications engineering like "switching, transport, modulation, protocols, control and operations systems," the "foundation elements" of the modern communications and information infrastructure. However, they continued, ComSoc and communications engineers have received scant credit for recent advances like the explosive growth of the Internet and wireless communications. "Perhaps," they concluded, "we should admit that we have not had the breadth of vision to integrate our in-depth contributions to component subsystems into a broader perspective on information networks that could be recognized and appreciated beyond our own community." To help instill this broader perspective ComSoc launched Technical Committees on Personal Communications, Broadband Delivery and Access Systems, and Gigabit Networking.

In addition to younger engineers working in newer fields of communications, ComSoc also sought to attract and retain more international members. Indeed, by the early 1990s, ComSoc boasted the largest growth rate for international members among all IEEE Societies. During the 1980s and early 1990s the percentage of U.S. members was decreasing while the percentage of European and Asian members was increasing. By 1996 over 40% of ComSoc's members were from outside the U.S., up from about 27% in 1978. Similarly, by 1988 non-U.S. authors presented 30 to 40% of the papers at GLOBECOM and ICC, ComSoc's two major conferences. During the late 1980s and 1990s the globalization of the telecommunications industry and of ComSoc's membership required the Society to serve better its growing overseas membership. Indeed, the opportunities and problems associated with the globalization of ComSoc were the central concerns of the IEEE-ComSoc Strategic Plan issued in May 1992. To accommodate its growing international membership, ComSoc held more of its conferences overseas, improved distribution of Society publications to overseas members, opened offices in Brussels and Singapore, and signed Sister Society agreements with technical societies in Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Vietnam. ComSoc's globalization initiatives were a major concern of Maurizio Decina when he was president of the Society in 1994-1995. He recommended a continued expansion of collaboration with sister societies and to open more regional offices.

A 1999 IEEE member survey discovered that nearly two thirds of ComSoc's members worked in private industry, with only 12% and 9% working in education and government, respectively. The major reason for joining was to obtain ComSoc publications. The major technical focus of nearly half of the respondents was the Internet, with about 40% of the respondents citing computer network communications and personal communications as their major technical interest.

ComSoc publications in this period reflected these changes in communications technologies and in the technical interests of the Society's members. In 1987 ComSoc started the bimonthly IEEE Network-The Magazine of Computer Communications, and by 1989 the journal became self-sustaining monthly publication with a circulation of 12,000. In 1993 the IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking was introduced, followed in 1994 by IEEE Personal Communications Magazine, and in 1997 by the IEEE Communications Letters. The Personal Communications Magazine covered all technical and policy issues relating to all forms of wired and wireless communications, with a particular focus on mobility of people and communicating devices. The latest addition is the IEEE Communications Surveys, the Society's first electronically published journal. Furthermore, ComSoc began co-sponsoring several journals with other IEEE societies, including: IEEE Internet Computing, IEEE Multimedia Magazine, IEEE Transactions on Applied Superconductivity, and IEEE/OSA Journal of Lightwave Technology.

Charles Stewart

Another sign of the growth and maturity of ComSoc was the inauguration of a paid professional staff to manage the Society's day-to-day affairs. ComSoc's first staff member was Carol Lof, who became editor of the IEEE Communications Magazine in 1979. In December of 1989, the Communications Society moved from its former publication offices on Second Avenue to new offices at 345 East 47th Street. In 1990 Lof earned a promotion to the post of Executive Director of the Society, and managed a staff of ten. In January of 1995, Lof was succeeded by Alan Ledbetter, who was unfortunately struck by a car in New York City traffic, in March of 1996, and badly injured. Charles Stewart finished the year as acting Executive Director, with Ledbetter advising. The current Executive Director, Jack Howell, manages a staff of approximately twenty-five people.

The IEEE Communications Society at Fifty

Today the Communications Society is the IEEE's second largest professional society. ComSoc's growth in the past several decades has been impressive indeed. When the IEEE Group on Communications Technology began operations on 1 July 1964, it boasted 4400 members. Within a decade this figure had doubled; when ComSoc was elevated to Society status in 1972 its membership was 8800. Since then, ComSoc has grown by a factor of six, reflecting the increasing importance of communications to both the global economy and the engineering profession. At the end of 2001, more than 62,000 ComSoc members all over the world participate in 21 Technical Committees, can avail themselves of fourteen technical publications, and can attend nine ComSoc-sponsored conferences. As it enters its second half-century, ComSoc's wide array of publications, conferences, and technical interests are well-positioned to help engineers to meet the challenges and opportunities of communications in the 21st century.

History of the Technology, 1952-2002

Communications Before 1952

The inauguration of commercial telegraph service (by William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone in England in 1839 and by Samuel Morse in the United States in 1844) was the first major technical undertaking using electricity. From a technical standpoint, the most important attribute of the telegraph was its instantaneous operation across vast distances; it was the first technology to sever the transmission of information from the physical movement of goods or people. From a social and cultural perspective, the rapid spread of the telegraph network throughout the globe showed that rapid and dependable communication was indispensable to modern life. The subsequent history of communications has continued these two trends: on the one hand, engineers have worked to make communications more rapid, reliable, and affordable; on the other hand, communications networks have become a necessary and vital infrastructure of modern society.

By the early 1850s overland telegraph lines spanned much of Europe, North America, and the Middle East. At this time electricians in England and the United States began to consider ways to connect the continents by means of submarine cables. In 1851 England was permanently connected to continental Europe by means of a cable laid between Dover and Calais, France. The Atlantic cable was a joint Anglo-American project. After failed attempts to lay a cable in August 1857 and the spring of 1858, a working cable operated for about a month in the summer of 1858. Its failure, due to high voltages used in the signaling equipment, was not unusual. By 1861 entrepreneurs and governments alike had laid some 18,000 km of cable around the world, of which only 5,000 km actually worked. The American Civil War delayed a new attempt until 1865, but in 1866 the Anglo-American Telegraph Company permanently spanned the Atlantic Ocean with the successful laying of two cables. By the turn of the century cables connected every continent except Antarctica and spanned every major body of water.

Submarine telegraphy was the premier engineering project of the 1850s and 1860s, and it led to many fundamental advances in shipbuilding, cable construction and laying techniques, and even oceanography. It also revolutionized electrical engineering and placed it on a firm scientific footing. From a communications engineering standpoint, the major difficulty with submarine telegraphy was the attenuation and dispersion of signals passing through long cables. Dispersion due to the intrinsic capacitance of the cable especially limited the speed of long cables to just a few words a minute. William Thompson (later Lord Kelvin) was the first electrician to study systematically this phenomenon. In a paper published in 1854 Thompson borrowed Fourier's equations governing heat transfer to model the transmission of electrical signals through a long submarine cable. To do so, he decoupled the signal (the telegraphic pulse) from the medium (the cable), an insight which allowed him to optimize the dimensions of the cable conductor and insulation and to devise telegraphic sending and receiving equipment to shape and detect the pulses. In the same way Claude Shannon's work on information theory would be nearly a hundred years later, Thompson's decoupling of signal from medium was a conceptual revolution: it was the theoretical basis for much subsequent work in communications and signal processing.

The next major advance in communications, the telephone, was a direct outgrowth of electricians' efforts to increase the message-handling capacity of telegraph lines. Thanks to the work of Joseph Stearns and Thomas Edison, by the mid-1870s reliable systems existed for the simultaneous transmission of two and four telegraphic signals on a single wire. At this time several electricians began to investigate harmonic telegraphy, or the use of several different tones to transmit many discrete telegraph signals on a single line simultaneously. Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray of the United States both realized that, if a telegraph line could convey several musical tones, it could also transmit human speech. In early 1876 Bell had the good fortune to file his patent just a few hours before Gray filed a caveat for his. The telephone quickly caught on for local service, and by 1880 the Bell Company had leased nearly 100,000 instruments.

The two major technical problems of early telephony were switching and long-distance transmission. At first, human operators, usually women, connected calls manually. However, this was slow and labor-intensive. In 1889 Almon B. Strowger, a Kansas City undertaker, patented an automatic dialing system. Strowger's system was quite successful, and was first installed in 1892. It continued to be used in many American and European cities as late as the middle of the 1970s.

The second major technical problem, long-distance transmission, was a much more daunting issue requiring several decades of research and development. Long-distance telephony posed a problem similar to that of submarine telegraphy: attenuation and dispersion degraded signals rapidly with distance. A copper wire pair could transmit intelligible speech for about 100 miles, but beyond this distance line losses and distortion due to the intrinsic capacitance of the line rendered speech unintelligible. Thus, successful long-distance telephony required two major engineering advances: inductive loading (to counteract line capacitance) and amplification. In 1900 George Campbell of AT&T and Michael Pupin of Columbia University filed patents describing a method of inductively loading a telephone line. Since the patent situation was unclear, AT&T bought Pupin's patent for an immediate cash payment of $185,000 plus another $15,000 per year during the seventeen-year life of the patent. The advantages of periodic loading were quite significant. Because it substantially reduced dispersion, it made possible the operation of a 4,300 km line from New York to Denver in 1911.

However, this represented the limit through which an unamplified telephone signal could travel. Greater distances awaited the development of electronic amplifiers. Around the turn of the century the British scientist Ambrose Fleming devised an electronic "valve," or diode vacuum tube, which proved useful as a radio detector. Lee de Forest of the United States placed a third electrode between the cathode and anode, and this device, the triode, became the fundamental building block of both amplifiers and oscillators. Within a few years electronic amplifiers had become reliable enough to enter telephone service, and in 1915 AT&T built a transcontinental telephone line between New York and San Francisco.

While technical advances such as inductive loading and electronic amplification were important, perhaps the greatest lasting significance of long-distance telephony was that it led to a permanent and sustained research and development effort at AT&T. Throughout much of the twentieth century, AT&T's Bell Laboratories ushered in many fundamental advances in electrical engineering and the physical sciences, including negative feedback, active filters, control theory, carrier transmission systems, semiconductor electronics, information theory, and even radio astronomy. Thus, the inauguration of fundamental corporate research and development may be the most important legacy of long-distance telephony.

The development of electronics after the turn of the century made possible another advance in communications engineering: radio. Radio had its origins in the work of the celebrated British physicist James Clerk Maxwell during the 1860s. Maxwell's equations remained just an elegant mathematical formulation until 1888, when the young German physicist Heinrich Hertz demonstrated the generation and detection of electromagnetic radiation in the laboratory. During the early 1890s, scientists in several countries experimented on electromagnetic waves. One of these researchers was a young Irish-Italian named Guglielmo Marconi. Marconi introduced his wireless signaling apparatus in 1896, and within a few years he could transmit over distances of several hundred miles. In December 1901 Marconi spanned the Atlantic, receiving in Newfoundland signals transmitted from England.

Early radio equipment depended on cumbersome transmission and reception techniques. It was difficult to tune precisely transmitters and receivers, and the presence of many transmitters generated a great deal of troublesome interference. However, in 1908 Lee de Forest patented a three-element vacuum tube, or triode, which made possible more precise transmission and reception of radio signals. Edwin Howard Armstrong, perhaps the greatest electrical engineer of the early twentieth century, used de Forest's triode to develop oscillator circuits which enabled the transmission of a continuous carrier wave at a sharply defined frequency and amplifier circuits which increased both the selectivity and sensitivity of receivers.

Until the rise of broadcasting after 1920 the major application of radio was for wireless telegraphy. At the beginning of the 20th Century, three maritime disasters, and the varying effectiveness of rescue operations coordinated by radio proved its worth. In January 1909, radio distress calls from the White Star liner Republic, which had been holed by a collision in fog with the passenger liner Florida, allowed the Baltic to rescue all 1,650 people aboard in a brilliant display of seamanship. In April 1912 the new luxury liner Titanic struck an iceberg and sank; of the 2200 passengers and crew, only about 700 were rescued. Many more lives would have been saved had nearby ships maintained a round-the-clock radio watch. In October 1913 another passenger liner, the Volturno, caught fire in the mid-Atlantic. Her distress call brought ten ships to the scene, and all passengers and crew were saved. The use of wireless equipment during the First World War was a further demonstration of the utility of the new technology.

A new -- and quite popular -- use of radio came about a few years after these maritime disasters. In 1916 Frank Conrad, an amateur radio enthusiast and Westinghouse engineer, began regular broadcasts of music from his Pittsburgh home. Other amateurs in the area were able to tune in his "wireless concerts." Westinghouse realized that there existed a vast potential market for broadcasting and on 2 November, 1920 the company established the first commercial radio station KDKA. By 1923 more than 500 stations were on the air, and by 1929 there were over 4 million radio receivers in use in the United States. In 1933 Edwin Armstrong invented frequency modulation, a transmission technique which greatly reduced fading and static. By 1940 Armstrong had set up an FM broadcast network in the northeastern United States, using the 42-50 MHz band.

World War II brought another advance in electronics technology which would eventually be applied to communications: radar. The British physicist Sir Robert Watson-Watt introduced the first practical radar system in 1935, and by 1939 the British military established the "Chain Home" network of radar stations to detect air and sea aggressors. In the same year two British scientists, Henry Boot and John T. Randall, developed a significant advance in radar technology, the resonant-cavity magnetron. The magnetron was capable of generating high-frequency radio pulses with large amounts of power, thus permitting the development of microwave radar. In September 1940 the British military decided to share its radar technology with the United States. The Americans moved quickly and opened the Radiation Laboratory at MIT under the leadership of Lee DuBridge. Radar proved crucial to the Allied war effort, and by 1943 the Allies were using radars for early warning, battle management, airborne search, night interception, bombing, and anti-aircraft gun aiming. Wartime radar work yielded important peacetime dividends, especially in the fields of television, FM radio, and VHF and microwave communications. Radar itself made all-weather air and sea travel routine. And today most kitchens in the developed world boast a cavity magnetron, usually used for warming up leftovers.


As the story of radar suggests, the war and the immediate post-war period led to many far-reaching advances in electronics and communications. The year 1948 was noteworthy for two major developments, the invention of the transistor by Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley around the beginning of the year, and the publication of Claude Shannon's seminal paper "A Mathematical Theory of Communication." It is noteworthy that all four researchers worked at Bell Laboratories. These two advances laid the foundations for subsequent developments, including undersea cables for telephony, communications satellites, and the beginnings of digital and data communications.

In 1956 the Bell System and the British Post Office inaugurated service on a transatlantic telephone cable, TAT-1. By this time, submarine telegraph cables had been in operation for more than a hundred years and the telephone for eighty years. However, before the installation of TAT-1, the dispersion and attenuation in long cables made the transmission of intelligible speech unworkable. In the early 1930s Bell began a long-range program of research and development to develop a reliable transatlantic cable, and by 1942 the company had a plan for a 12-channel system with repeaters at 50-mile intervals. America's entry into World War Two shelved this effort.

In 1952 Bell and the British Post Office began negotiations for a telephone cable connecting the US and UK. The partners successfully installed the cable and terminal equipment in 1955 and 1956, and TAT-1, capable of transmitting 36 4-kHz-spaced channels, entered service on September 26, 1956. TAT-1 was taken out of service in 1979, having exceeded its 20-year design life. Other cables followed by the end of the 1950s, including TAT-2 between France and Newfoundland and cables linking Alaska to Washington state and Hawaii to California.

Between 1956 and the early 1960s telephone engineers working on submarine cables confronted two major sets of technological problems: minimizing bandwidth and moving to solid-state circuitry. Because the message-handling capacity of the first cables was limited to a few dozen circuits, engineers sought to maximize that capacity by minimizing the bandwidth occupied by each telephone conversation. Bell engineers adopted two methods. The first was to change the channel spacing from 4 kHz to 3 kHz. The 4 kHz spacing used on TAT-1 was adopted because 4-kHz spacing had always been used in the land plant; this permitted the use of inexpensive filtering and modulation techniques. To reduce the bandwidth per conversation Bell designed a multiplex for 3-kHz channels with more complicated circuitry. Although the terminal equipment was more expensive, it was very cost effective when compared with the cost of laying another cable. Most undersea systems installed after 1959 used 3 kHz spacing.

A second method to minimize bandwidth was Time Assignment Speech Interpolation (TASI). TASI was an electronic circuit multiplier used to expand the transmission capacity of telephone lines. It depends on the fact that in a normal conversation the average speaker talks less than 40% of the time. By using fast switches and good speech detectors, the system permits voice circuits to time share a smaller number of channels. TASI equipment was expensive but it was very cost-effective for undersea use. The first TASI system was installed in 1959.

In this period Bell engineers also worked to develop solid-state circuitry for use on long telephone cables. TAT-1 had used a long-life pentode tube for its amplifier, but soon after its installation Bell researchers worked on transistor characterization and the development of amplifier circuits for a new wideband system. Transistor-based systems were installed after 1963.

The next major development in long-distance communications in this period was satellites. Developments in microwave circuitry during and after World War II, particularly waveguides and cavity resonators capable of operation up to 100 GHz, made satellite communications possible. The United States and Soviet space programs began in the mid-1950s, and the Soviets placed the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, in orbit in October 1957. An American satellite, Explorer I, followed Sputnik into orbit four months later. By the late 1950s, then, the two major ingredients of satellite communications, microwave transmission and reception and launch capability, were known quantities. In this period John Pierce (a future IEEE Medal of Honor winner) wrote several articles discussing how a satellite communications system might work. Pierce was a key part of the AT&T team which placed the first communications satellites, Echo I and Telstar, in orbit. In 1960 the world's first communications satellite, Echo I, was launched into a medium altitude orbit. In August of that year engineers successfully communicated across the United States and across the Atlantic Ocean by reflecting signals off Echo I. While Echo I demonstrated that satellite communications was possible, the major drawback of passive satellites was that they required high transmission power to overcome path losses. Indeed, only one part in 1018 of the 10 kW of transmitted power was returned to the receiving antenna. As a result, communications engineers began work on active satellites which could receive and retransmit signals.

The year 1962 was a milestone in the development of satellite communications, and witnessed both the launching of Telstar I and the passage of the Communications Satellite Act. Telstar I, launched on 10 July 10 1962, was the world's first active communications satellite. Unanticipated radiation damage from the Van Allen radiation belt caused it to operate for only a few weeks. However, Telstar 2, made more radiation resistant, was launched on 7 May 1963 carrying telephone channels and one television channel. The Telstar project was an experimental venture and not a commercial system, but it demonstrated the utility and workability of satellite communications. Also in 1962 the United States government recognized the growing importance of satellite communications and passed the Communications Satellite Act. This Act led to establishment of the Communications Satellite Corporation (Comsat), a quasi-public corporation in which both the major communications carriers and the U.S. government were represented. In 1964 Intelsat, an international organization to promote and coordinate the development of satellite communications, came into existence with 100 countries represented.

This period also saw the beginnings of data communication. Modern electronic computing arose as an outgrowth of high-speed calculating projects during World War II. Although computing applications quickly moved into the business world by the early 1950s, the first steps toward communication between computers was defense-related. In 1949 the United States Air Force sponsored development of a computerized electronic defense network called SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment). SAGE, constructed between 1950 and 1956, coordinated radar stations and direct air defenses to intercept incoming bombers; it consisted of 23 "direction centers" each capable of tracking 400 aircraft. Although the SAGE computers did not communicate directly with each other, the communications technology to connect them was innovative and established a technical base for computer communications for years to come. For example, the first large successful commercial computer network, the SABRE airlines reservation system built by IBM for American Airlines in 1964, owed a great deal to SAGE. The SABRE project also involved many engineers who had worked previously on SAGE. The system used modems to transmit data signals over ordinary analog telephone channels at speeds of about 1200bps. Encrypted military vocoder systems used this same method of interconnection. The increasing importance of sending data via modems on telephone circuits led to a long series of improvements in modem technology and in telephone networks.

In the early 1960s, a shift in thinking about data communications occurred. Several researchers realized that traditional circuit switching methods were too cumbersome for use in computer communications. In May 1961 Leonard Kleinrock submitted a proposal for a Ph.D. dissertation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology entitled "Information Flow in Large Communication Nets" and in 1964 he published a book entitled Communication Nets. Kleinrock made a significant contribution to the development of computer networking by the skillful application of queuing theory to store-and-forward networks. His work greatly advanced engineers' understanding of message switching as a means of data communications. At the same time Paul Baran, a young engineer at the Rand Corporation, began thinking about how to build a communications network which could survive a nuclear first strike. In 1960 Baran described a technique he called "distributed communication" in which each communication node would be connected to several other communication nodes. Switching was thus distributed throughout the network, giving it a high degree of survivability. To move data through this network Baran adopted message switching, which digitized the information to be sent, broke it into chunks of 1024 bits, and provided a header containing routing information. A message would then be reconstructed at the receiving node. Baran described his proposed system in great detail in the summer of 1964 in an eleven-volume Rand publication entitled "On Distributed Communications." At the same time, Donald Watts Davies in Britain independently developed a similar system to Baran's. Davies also coined the terms "packet" and "packet switching" to describe the data blocks and message-handling protocol in both his and Baran's system. Both Baran and Davies thus independently conceived of packet switching as the best means to transfer data in a computer network. A few years later their ideas were incorporated into the ARPANET, whose first project director was Lawrence G. Roberts. In 2000 the IEEE Internet Award went jointly to Kleinrock, Baran, Davies, and Roberts "for their early, preeminent contributions in conceiving, analyzing and demonstrating packet-switching networks, the foundation technology of the Internet."


This period saw fundamental advances in three important areas of communications technology: computer networking, satellite communications, and lasers and optical fibers. These years also witnessed the initial steps toward the breakup of the Bell telephone monopoly, a regulatory and public-policy event which was to have long-term and fundamental consequences for communications technologies and their uses.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s the first computer network to use packet switching, ARPANET, came into existence. The work of Kleinrock, Baran, and Davies was essential to this project funded by the United States Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). In 1962, with the formation of its Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO), ARPA became a major funder of computer science research and was the driving force behind several advances in computing technology, including computer graphics, artificial intelligence, time-sharing, and networking. At the beginning of 1966 ARPA embarked on a program to connect computing sites at universities across the country. In 1966 Lawrence Roberts, a computer scientist who had conducted networking research at MIT, took over management of the ARPANET project.

From the beginning, its planners envisioned that ARPANET would use packet switching instead of more conventional circuit switching or message switching techniques to connect the several computers in the network. Many of the early pioneers of the ARPANET recalled that packet switching met with a great deal of resistance and skepticism from communications engineers. Lawrence Roberts, for instance, recalled that telephone engineers "reacted with considerable anger and hostility, usually saying I did not know what I was talking about."

Paul Baran on acceptance of packet switching:

"The fundamental hurdle in acceptance was whether the listener had digital experience or knew only analog transmission techniques. The older telephone engineers had problems with the concept of packet switching. On one of my several trips to AT&T Headquarters at 195 Broadway in New York City I tried to explain packet switching to a senior telephone company executive. In mid sentence he interrupted me, "Wait a minute, son. Are you trying to tell me that you open the switch before the signal is transmitted all the way across the country?" I said, "Yes sir, that's right." The old analog engineer looked stunned. He looked at his colleagues in the room while his eyeballs rolled up sending a signal of his utter disbelief. He paused for a while, and then said, "Son, here's how a telephone works'." And then he went on with a patronizing explanation of how a carbon button telephone worked. It was a conceptual impasse."

A major technical difficulty with packet switching was that errors crept into data transmission at speeds above 2400 bits per second. To counteract this problem, in 1965 Robert W. Lucky of Bell Labs developed an adaptively equalized modem which adjusted its shaping of the phase and amplitude of the pulses in response to changing line conditions. Adaptive equalization made possible data rates of 14,400 bits per second and higher at acceptably low error rates.

The basic infrastructure of the ARPANET consisted of time-sharing host computers, packet-switching interface message processors (IMPs), and 56 kilobits-per-second telephone lines leased from AT&T. The major development task was to build the IMPs. In early 1969 Roberts awarded this contract to the firm of Bolt Beranek and Newman Corporation (BBN), a small consulting firm specializing in acoustics and computing systems. In September 1969 engineers from BBN and Leonard Kleinrock's research group installed the first IMP at UCLA. By the end of the year BBN successfully installed and linked four initial nodes at UCLA, SRI, UC Santa Barbara, and University of Utah. Although the ARPANET was able to transmit test messages between the four sites, two more years of work lay ahead before the network could provide usable communications between the sites.

In hindsight the development of the ARPANET was perhaps the most significant advance in communications in this period. During the 1960s and early 1970s, however, satellite communications received much more public attention. While only a handful of electrical engineers and computer scientists were conscious of the ARPANET and its significance, most of the American public was aware of the latest advances in the country's space program, including communications satellites.

In 1964, by international agreement among the space agencies and telecommunications agencies of more than 100 countries, INTELSAT was formed as an international body to design, develop, and maintain the operation of a global commercial communications satellite system. One of INTELSAT's first major decisions was to use geosynchronous satellites instead of low-orbit satellites. In April 1965 the agency launched INTELSAT I (Early Bird), which provided 240 circuits between the United States and Europe. INTELSAT II and III soon followed Early Bird into geosynchronous orbit. Although Early Bird's planned operational life was only 18 months, it lasted four years with perfect reliability. In the seven years following Early Bird's deployment, INTELSAT launched and deployed four generations of satellites, each with increasing capabilities. Capacity increased from 240 telephone circuits in INTELSAT I through 1200 circuits in INTELSAT III, to 6000 circuits in INTELSAT IV. The first INTELSAT IV was launched on 25 January 1970 and it brought the INTELSAT system to full maturity. One problem with satellite communications was controlling the echo caused by the 550msec round-trip delay. The echo problem was solved by the use of echo cancelers, nonetheless, the delay remains an impairment in dialogue over circuits. After much debate, the ITU settled on standards which allowed only one satellite link in a connection.

A third technological development of far-reaching importance -- optical fiber -- came about in the mid and late 1960s. During 1959 and 1960 researchers developed the laser, a device capable of generating coherent, collimated, and monochromatic beams of light. At first the laser remained a laboratory research tool, but engineers realized that it had great potential for transmitting enormous amounts of information. Because lasers operated at the extremely high optical frequencies, they were capable theoretically of great bandwidths and data rates. However, exploiting the laser's potential as a communications device required the development of a low-loss, guided, and well-controlled optical transmission medium. A breakthrough occurred in 1966 when K. C. Kao and G. A. Hockham proposed a clad glass fiber as a suitable waveguide. They predicted that a loss of 20 dB/km should be attainable, a remarkable prediction given that the fibers of the time had losses on the order of 1000 dB/km. By 1968 researchers had prepared bulk silica samples with losses as low as 5 dB/km. In 1970 F. P. Kapron, D. B. Keck, and R. D. Maurer of Corning Glass Works reported the development of a fiber with a loss of 20 dB/km. That same year I. Hayashi and others at Bell Labs demonstrated successful transmission at this attenuation figure using a semiconductor laser. Although actual installation in the field would not occur until the mid-1970s, these and other researchers had demonstrated the feasibility of using semiconductor lasers and optical fibers for communications.

A fourth very important technology change began during this period: the evolution of communications networks from analog to digital technology, in transmission and in switching both. Digital methods appeared first in local trunking (T1 Carrier), then in local and toll switching systems (DMS 10, 4ESS, 5ESS, etc.), and finally in microwave radio and fiber optics long distance transmission systems.

Alongside these three significant technical advances in computer networking, satellite communications, and optical fibers , this era witnessed the beginning of a far-reaching development in telecommunications policy: the end of the Bell System telephone monopoly in the United States. Since 1913 AT&T had been a monopoly subject to strong federal supervision. It had focused on providing reliable, universal basic telephone service, but many critics charged that it was slow in adopting advances in fields like microwave transmission and data communications. Backed by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, AT&T did not allow users to attach devices to connect their telephones to two-way radios or computers and it did its best to block competition into the long-distance telephone market.

The first sign of change came in 1968 when the FCC ruled in favor of the Carter Electronics Corporation, whose Carterfone allowed customers to connect a radiotelephone to the telephone network. This decision opened up the terminal-equipment market to competition. A year later, the FCC granted Microwave Communications, Inc. (later MCI) permission to sell long-distance service over its own microwave phone links, and then connect into the AT&T network. To the consternation of AT&T, this allowed MCI to skim the most profitable segment of the telephone business. Thus, by the early 1970s, AT&T faced competition in two markets which it had previously held captive: terminal equipment and long-distance service. The potential of these new technologies had begun the process of unraveling the Bell System's telephone monopoly.


This era saw continued advances in communications technology, especially in computer networking and optical transmission. This period also brought about the introduction of intelligence into the public switched telephone network, beyond that which was required to complete a call to a dialed termination. The basic concept was to interrupt the processing of a call for accessing a database which contained information on how that call should be completed. The first use came in routing 800 calls, but many other applications followed. Common channel signaling via data channels and data switches was the underlying technology. This common signaling network was separate from the network conveying the communications message per se. Also, during these years the federal government began, and saw through to completion, anti-trust proceedings against AT&T in 1984 the Bell System's monopoly which had been sanctioned for more than seventy years, came to a close.

Between 1972 and 1983 ARPANET underwent two significant transformations: it became a network of networks, or an Internet, and it began to realize its commercial potential. At the end of 1971 ARPANET entered service with fifteen sites connected to the network. At this point, ARPANET incorporated and embodied many significant advances in computer networking techniques, hardware, and software; however, usage remained low. Though a great technical achievement, it could hardly be considered successful if nobody used it. In 1972 Robert Kahn and Lawrence Roberts decided to demonstrate the ARPANET's capabilities at the first IEEE International Conference on Computer Communications (ICCC), held in October in Washington, DC. This demonstration made a powerful impression on the thousand or so attendees. The Washington demonstration marked the point at which telephone engineers, steeped in a culture of circuit switching, began to accept packet switching as a workable communications methodology. The ICCC demonstration also marked a turning point in the use of the system. Traffic on the ARPANET jumped 67% during the month of the conference and maintained high growth rates afterward. As more and more users entered the ARPANET they began to reshape it toward their own purposes. Although ARPANET's architects envisioned it as a system to facilitate resource sharing like remote file access and time-sharing, it soon became apparent that its most popular use was electronic mail.

The enthusiastic response among communications specialists and the large increase in traffic on the network encouraged some ARPANET contractors to leave BBN and to start the first commercial packet switching company. In 1972 they started Packet Communications, Inc., to market an ARPANET-like service. BBN also launched its own networking subsidiary, Telenet Communictions Corporation, and Lawrence Roberts left ARPA to become its president. Telenet was the first network to reach the marketplace, and it began service in seven U.S. cities in August 1975.

In addition to limited commercialization of network services, over the course of the next decade the ARPANET, a single network that connected a few dozen sites, would be transformed into the Internet, a system of many interconnected networks capable of almost indefinite expansion. The Internet would far surpass the ARPANET in size and influence and would introduce a new set of techniques to computer networking. However, like electronic mail, the development of the Internet was not part of ARPA's initial networking plans.

The transformation of the ARPANET into the Internet owed a great deal to the work of ARPA researchers Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf. The Internet architecture which they proposed gained widespread acceptance because it was decentralized and flexible enough to accommodate a range of uses and users. After Lawrence Roberts left ARPA to head Telenet, (BBN's commercial spinoff of the ARPANET), Robert Kahn, a prominent BBN researcher, joined IPTO as program manager. The major challenge which Kahn and Cerf faced was the design of a communications protocol which was flexible enough to permit interconnection with a wide variety of computers.

In June 1973 Cerf organized a seminar at Stanford University to address the design of the proposed Internet and its host protocol, the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), and a year later the initial version of TCP was specified. BBN developed a version of TCP for its TENEX operating system by November 1975, and also in that year successfully connected its in-house research network to the ARPANET. Stanford also implemented TCP in 1975, and in November the Stanford and BBN groups set up an experimental TCP connection between their sites. BBN also began installing experimental gateways to test TCP over satellite links in 1976 and 1977. These early efforts not only proved out the basic concept of TCP, but also revealed flaws and deficiencies which pointed the way to further improvement.

By late 1977 the various networks and test sites were ready to try out the improved TCP. Experimenters sent packets from a van on a California freeway through packet radio to an ARPANET gateway, to a satellite networking gateway on the east coast, by satellite to Europe, and finally back through the ARPANET to the van in California. This demonstration confirmed the feasibility of the Internet scheme and showed how connections between radio, telephone, and satellite networks could be used for networking.

To improve the flexibility of the communication protocol, in January 1978 Vinton Cerf, Jon Postel, and Danny Cohen proposed splitting TCP into two components: a host-to-host protocol within networks (TCP) and an internetwork protocol (IP). The pair of protocols became known as TCP/IP. IP would pass individual packets between machines (for instance, from host to packet switch, or between packet switches), while TCP would be responsible for ordering these packets and providing reliable connections between hosts. Over the next five years ARPANET architects refined TCP/IP and in March 1981 they decided to replace the existing Network Control Program with TCP/IP on all ARPANET hosts. By June 1983 every host was running TCP/IP.

After converting the ARPANET to TCP/IP, ARPA took two more steps to set the stage for the later development of a large-scale civilian Internet. One step was to separate the ARPANET's military users and academic researchers, who had been coexisting somewhat uneasily since the Defense Communications Agency had taken over the network in 1975. This separation, which hived off a military network called MILNET, occurred in April 1983. The second step was to commercialize Internet technology, particularly the TCP/IP protocol. All the major computer companies took advantage of this opportunity, and by 1990 TCP/IP was available for virtually every computer on the United States market. This ensured that TCP/IP would become the de facto networking standard.

Between 1972 and 1983 ARPANET underwent a number of significant transformations: the entire network switched to TCP/IP, the military users left for their own network, and the ARPANET became part of a larger system -- the Internet. The field of computer networking underwent a conceptual transformation: instead of thinking about how to connect individual computers together, network builders also had to consider how different networks could interact with each other. By 1984 the fledgling Internet connected over 100 universities and research facilities in the United States and Europe.

Just as the ARPANET and early Internet demonstrated the feasibility of large-scale computer networking, several significant projects in the mid and late 1970s proved the value of optical fibers for communications. In 1975 AT&T Bell Laboratories installed an experimental optical fiber trunk system in Atlanta, GA, using a 650 m 144-fiber cable in a loop configuration. The fibers could be interconnected to simulate longer transmission lengths. Bell Labs engineers carried out a full range of system experiments at a data rate of nearly 45 Mb/s and obtained unrepeatered spacings up to 11 km with an error rate less than 10-9 and negligible crosstalk. Thus the Atlanta experiment established the practicability of all aspects of optical fiber trunk transmission, including the performance of the fiber itself, its installation, splicing, transmitters and receivers, electronics, optical jacks and jumpers, and overall system performance.

The success of the 1975 Atlanta experiment led to the installation of a similar system in the spring of 1977 in Chicago's Loop. In September 1980, a second system entered service in the Atlanta-Smyrna region of Georgia, US. AT&T also installed major long-haul routes, including a 776-mile route from Moseley, VA to Cambridge, MA and a 500-mile route from Los Angeles to San Francisco. By the end of 1982 more than 150,000 km of cabled fibers had been installed in the Bell System, and a year later that figure had risen to more than 300,000 km of cabled fibers capable of data rates of 45 or 90 Mb/s. Finally, in 1982 and 1983 AT&T Bell Labs began testing of undersea light wave systems, a research and development program which would culminate in a transatlantic fiber cable, TAT-8, in 1988.

Japan's Nippon Telephone & Telegraph (NTT) also aggressively pursued optical fiber technology in this period. In 1978 NTT conducted a major field test involving 168 subscribers using fibers to bring broadband services to homes, including a very broad range of video services such as two-way video. NTT placed an 80-km trunk route into service in 1983, capable of carrying 400 Mb/s. After the successful installation of this system NTT announced plans for more than 60 such installations totalling nearly 100,000 km of fiber.

Alongside of these major developments in the fields of computer networking and optical fibers, a major shakeup in the American telecommunications industry began: the beginning of the breakup of the Bell System. In 1974 the Department of Justice filed an antitrust suit against AT&T. Federal regulators wanted to force AT&T to allow interconnects to its system, competition in the long-distance market, and the purchase of telephone equipment on the open market instead of from its subsidiary Western Electric. After ten years, hundreds of millions of dollars, and millions of pages of documents, AT&T and the Justice Department came to an agreement: the Justice Department allowed AT&T to keep Western Electric, but directed it to divest itself of all the local operating companies.

On 1 January 1984 AT&T exited the local telephone business, spinning off seven regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs). AT&T kept its long-distance operations, Western Electric, and Bell Labs,and it began to move into non-regulated businesses such as computing. A research and systems engineering organization, later known as Bellcore, was established by the divestiture agreement. It provided technical support to the newly-formed regional telephone companies on a shared ownership basis. In its original form, Bellcore was a major force in the communications industry, doing applied research and developing network plans and generic requirements for the elements required to build and operate those networks. Bellcore has since been acquired by SAIC, and now provides its services to a wide spectrum of clients beyond the original seven regional companies. Deregulation spurred competition and lowered prices in the long-distance market, but created some confusion among consumers. Before the breakup, 80% of the public said that they were satisfied with their telephone service; in 1985 64% of Americans thought divestiture was a bad idea and many called for the reunification of AT&T. Deregulation also eroded the preeminent position of Bell Labs as a leading research center in basic engineering and science. Under the AT&T monopoly, Bell Labs depended on a protected source of operating revenue and its researchers enjoyed a great degree of independence. This environment helped Bell Labs researchers to win 7 Nobel Prizes since the 1920s, more than any other organization in the world, and to undertake far-reaching work in many areas of electrical engineering and basic science. Thus, while the breakup of AT&T offered the telecommunications consumer more choices and lower costs, it also eroded an important component of the nation's research infrastructure.


Two major trends have shaped the telecommunications landscape since the mid-1980s, both having profound influence on technology, the marketplace, and society. In computing, the convergence of personal computers and networking has made the Internet a ubiquitous and permanent infrastructure; many users regard the Internet as an information and communications utility which is nearly as important as telephone and electricity service. In telephony, the explosive growth in wireless has given the consumer much more flexibility and convenience. For many users, cell phones have replaced the wired home telephone as their primary communications device.

At the beginning of the 1980s the Internet comprised only a small set of networks at universities or defense research establishments. Over the course of the 1980s and 1990s the Internet grew enormously in the number of networks, computers, and users connected. By the mid-1990s, many people had begun to experience firsthand the potential the Internet offered for information, social interaction, entertainment, and self-expression.

One of the most striking aspects of the Internet during the 1980s was its explosive growth. At the end of 1985 about 2000 computers had access to the Internet; by the end of 1987 that figure had risen to 30,000; by the end of 1989, the Internet linked 160,000 computers. This expansion was a largely unplanned and decentralized phenomenon, made possible by the modularity of the Internet's operating architecture designed by Kahn and Cerf.

During the same time that the Internet dramatically expanded, personal computers (PCs) began to make their presence felt in the consumer and business markets. Although they had entered the hobbyist market in the late 1970s, personal computers did not find widespread application until the early 1980s. However, the growth of personal computing paralleled the growth of the Internet. In 1983, for instance, some 3.5 million personal computers were sold and Time magazine named the personal computer "Man of the Year."

During the early 1980s several companies, such as CompuServe, America Online, and Prodigy, introduced commercial online services for the home PC user. Subscribers accessed these services by means of a modem and software supplied by the service provider. At first these online services did not provide connection to the (as yet restricted) Internet, but did provide users with information services, chat rooms, and online shopping. These online services helped to introduce large numbers of users to the practice of retrieving information and communicating with others by means of their home computers. In 1985 Stewart Brand set up the WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) as an alternative to the commercial systems. The WELL soon became known as a gathering place for advocates of counterculture ideas and free speech. By the late 1980s, therefore, several million computer users could exchange mail and news over these networks. Though these systems were not parts of the Internet, they established links to it fairly soon.

In 1991 the National Science Foundation issued a plan to foster the commercialization of the Internet. Under this plan, Internet service would be taken over by competitive Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who would operate their own backbones. ISP subscribers would connect their computers or local-area networks to one of these backbones, and the ISPs would allow for intercommunication among their systems. On 30 April, 1995 the US government formally terminated its control over the Internet's infrastructure. Privatization opened up the Internet to a much larger segment of the American public. Commercial online services could now offer Internet connections, and the computer industry rushed into the Internet market.

A necessary precondition to large-scale public participation in the Internet was the development of network applications, particularly search engines. Without an easy-to-use search engine, an Internet user had no way to locate desired information or to transfer files easily. In the early 1990s the University of Minnesota introduced its gopher system, which helped users to organize and to locate information. But the most significant advance in this area was the World Wide Web, developed by Tim Berners-Lee of the European high-energy physics establishment CERN. In December 1990 the first version of the Web software began operating within CERN, and CERN began distributing its Web software over the Internet to other high-energy physics sites. Among them was the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois.

In 1993 an NCSA team led by Marc Andreessen developed an improved Web browser called Mosaic, the first system to include color images as part of the Web page. When NCSA officially released Mosaic to the public in November 1993, over 40,000 users downloaded copies in the first month; by the following spring more than a million copies were in use. In 1994 Andreessen and his team left NCSA to develop a commercial version of Mosaic called Netscape. The Web and browsers like Netscape completed the Internet's transformation from a research tool to a popular medium.

The growing popularity of wireless telephony, more commonly known as "cell phones," paralleled the explosion of the Internet. A series of papers in Bell Labs Technical Journal in 1979 outlined the basic principles of cellular telephony, but sustained development and market penetration occurred only after the mid-1980s. From their start in the early 1980s, cell phone usage boomed: the industry grew exponentially from 25,000 subscribers in the United States in 1984 to 1 million in 1987, to 4 million in 1990, 9 million in 1992, and more than 50 million in 1999. Similar growth occurred in many other countries; in Hong Kong, for example, more than half the adult population operated cell phones by the end of 1991.

Communications in the 21st Century

The expansion in communications technologies and markets since the founding of the IRE's Professional Group on Communications Systems in 1952 has been dramatic indeed. In 1952 the two most common communications devices in American homes were the telephone and the radio. Today, most Americans communicate with each other over wireless telephones and obtain their information through the Internet. The dramatic development of communications in the past half-century, and particularly the exponential growth of cell phones and the Internet in the past decade, points out two guideposts for the future. From a technological standpoint, the communications infrastructure of the 21st century will continue to rely on a mix of wired and wireless systems. Communications engineers will confront and solve a set of technical challenges to provide adequate bandwidth and data rates for the ever-growing numbers of subscribers; customers will continue to demand new services which will require more bandwidth and higher speed. In the social realm, the Internet and wireless telephony have jointly demonstrated that communication is both a basic human need and an indispensable part of modern society. As it begins its second half-century, the members of the IEEE Communications Society are well poised to meet the technical and social challenges of communicating in the 21st century.

ComSoc Acronyms

AdCom - Administrative Committee

AEROCOM - Aeronautical Communications Symposium

AES - Aerospace and Electronics Systems Group

AIEE - American Institute of Electrical Engineers

ARPA - Advanced Research Projects Agency


AT&T - American Telephone and Telegraph

BBN - Bolt Beranek and Newman Corporation

CERN - Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire (European Organization for Nuclear Research)

Comsat - Communications Satellite Corporation

ComSoc - Communications Society

ComTech - Group on Communications Technology

FCC - Federal Communications Commission

GLOBECOM - IEEE Global Communications Conference

ICC - IEEE International Conference on Communications

ICCC - International Conference on Computer Communications

IMPs - Interface Message Processors

INFOCOM - Joint Conference of the IEEE Computer and Communications Societies

Intelsat - not spelled out - International Satellite organization?

IP - Internet Protocol

IPTO - Information Processing Techniques Office

IRE - Institute of Radio Engineers

ISPs - Internet Service Providers

ITU - International Telecommunications Union

JSAC - IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications

MCI - Microwave Communications, Inc.

MILCOM - IEEE Military Communications Conference

MILNET - Military Network

NCSA - National Center for Supercomputing Applications

NOMS - IEEE Network Operators Management Symposium

NTC - National Telecommunications Conference

NTT - Nippon Telephone and Telegraph

PC - Personal Computer

PGCS - Professional Group on Communications Systems

PGMIL - Professional Group on Military Electronics

RBOCs - Regional Bell operating companies

RFC - Request For Comment

SABRE - (not spelled out)

SAGE - Semi-Automatic Ground Environment

SAIC - (not spelled out)

TASI - Time Assignment Speech Interpolation

TAT-1 - Transatlantic Telephone Cable

TCP - Transmission Control Protocol Telenet - (not spelled out)

TENEX - (not spelled out)

WELL - Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link

Further Reading

IEEE Communications Society Oral Histories - Interviews with more than 20 prominent members of the IEEE Communications Society

IEEE Communications Society webpage

History of Communications from Communications Society webpage