Bell Labs has been at the forefront of technology since 1925. Here are ten Bell Labs innovations that changed the world.
Since the transmission of the first facsimile in 1925, Bell Labs has explored ways to use networks to deliver more than just voice traffic. In the late 1940s, researchers demonstrated the first long-distance remote operation of a computer by connecting a teletypewriter in New Hampshire with a computer in New York. Throughout the '80s and '90s, Bell Labs worked to increase modem speeds and pioneered the first trial of Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology. Today, DSL is becoming a popular way to transform regular copper phone lines into high-speed data connections, giving consumers faster access to the Internet.
Developed in 1947, as a replacement for bulky and inefficient vacuum tubes and mechanical relays, the transistor revolutionized the entire electronics world. The transistor sparked a new era of modern technical accomplishments from manned space flight and computers to portable radios and stereos. Today, billions of transistors are manufactured weekly.
Cellular Telephone Technology
In a paper in 1947 Bell Labs was the first to propose a cellular network. The primary innovation was the development of a network of small overlapping cell sites supported by a call switching infrastructure that tracks users as they moved through a network and pass their call from one site to another without dropping the connection. Bell Labs installed the first commercial cellular network in Chicago in the 1970s. Since then Bell Labs has continued to innovate in the wireless area, recently creating digital cellular telephone technology offering better sound quality, greater channel capacity, and lower cost.
While there were theories and activities to harness the sun’s energy dating back to the 1800s, Bell Labs, in 1954, was the first to actually build a device that used the sun’s power to create practical amount of electricity.
The invention of the laser, which stands for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation,” can be dated to 1958 with the publication of a scientific paper by Bell Labs researchers. Lasers launched a new scientific field and opened the door to a multibillion-dollar industry that includes applications in medicine, communications, and consumer electronics.
Digital Transmission and Switching
In 1962, Bell Labs developed the first digitally multiplexed transmission of voice signals. This innovation not only created a more economical, robust and flexible network design for voice traffic, but also laid the groundwork for today's advanced network services such as 911, 800-numbers, call-waiting and caller-ID. In addition, digital networking was the foundation for the convergence of computing and communications.
Bell Labs was the pioneer in communications satellites. In 1962 it built and successfully launched the first orbiting communications satellite (Telstar I). Telstar was unique in that it had the ability to receive a signal, amplify it, and then transmitted it back to elsewhere on earth . . . which is, after all, the core of what a communications satellite does. This technology allowed telephones calls to be bounced from coast to coast and around the world. The satellite was powered by Bell Labs solar cells and transistors – two other Bell Labs pioneering inventions.
First introduced by Bell Labs in 1963, touch-tone replaced rotary dials. This ushered in a new generation of telephone services and capabilities including voice mail and telephone call center applications. In a recent survey of Americans, touch-tone dialing was named the most important business communications advance of the last century.
Unix Operating System and C Language
The Unix operating system and the C programming language, closely intertwined in both origin and impact, were created at Bell Labs between 1969 and 1972. Unix made large-scale networking of diverse computing systems - and the Internet - practical. The C language brought an unprecedented combination of efficiency and expressiveness to programming. Both made computing more "portable." Today, Unix is the operating system of most large Internet servers, as well as business and university systems; C and its descendants are the most widely used programming languages in the world.
Digital Signal Processor (DSP)
Bell Labs built the first single-chip digital signal processor in 1979. The DSP is the engine of today's multimedia revolution. DSP technology is in multimedia PCs and in the modems that connect computers to the Internet. It's in wireless phones, answering machines, and voice-mail; it's in video games talking toys, DVD players and digital cameras. And DSP chips are at the heart of a growing number of systems that talk to you in synthesized speech and recognize your spoken responses.