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[Inventions That Changed the World] The Beginning of Wireless Communications Industry

[Inventions That Changed the World] The Beginning of Wireless Communications Industry

KIM Jae-Yun

June 24, 2011


Welcome to our video program. I'm Jae-Yun Kim from the Industry and Strategy Department I.

All inventions are great, but many would say the invention of communications is the one that gave rise to globalization and multinational companies by removing geographical barriers.

Today, I'd like to look into the communications revolution that took place in the US and Europe in the days when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in the 1800s.

Although there had been signal fires and Chappe's semaphore, the Morse code was the first modern communications method. The electric telegraph was invented in 1844 by Samuel Morse, an accomplished portrait painter. In 1832, Morse became interested in electromagnetism and invented the prototype for the Morse code. After some trial and error, he developed a communications method with which the alphabet is transmitted in electromagnetic impulses of dots and dashes.

The next great communications revolution came with the telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell. Like Morse, Bell was not a scientist initially. He was a teacher for the deaf, but later he invented the telephone in 1876.

The invention of the telegraph and the telephone dramatically shortened the time to communicate over long distances. Until the mid-19th century, information was transmitted at the speed of 2-3 miles per hour. Entering the 1880s, it became more than 100 times faster.240 miles per hour. The information generated from the opposite side of the globe could reach someone in a day.

Around the same time in Europe, a series of technological innovations changed communications. In 1864, a Scot named Maxwell presented a theory that “light is a kind of electromagnetic wave.”

As you are well aware, there are many types of electromagnetic waves. There is the electric wave used for the radio, TV and mobile phones. There is light.infrared rays and visible light. And there are ultraviolet rays, X-rays and gamma rays. To sum up, electric waves are equal to light, moving at 300,000 kilometers per second. This was proven by Heinrich Hertz of Germany in 1887 when he generated an electric wave and sent it to a nearby location. The unit we use today for radio frequency, Hertz, is named after the scientist.

In the 1890s, when all the technological innovations in communications were taking place on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, an idea bloomed that communications might be possible by using an electric wave. At the forefront of the effort to make it happen was Nikola Tesla, who discovered alternating current, or AC. It became the form in which electricity power is delivered.

Tesla succeeded in transmitting a wireless signal in 1893. Then Russia's Alexander Popov also succeeded in a similar experiment in 1895. But the two concluded that due to the short transmission distance, wireless communications cannot compete with landlines.

Around that time, an amateur Italian researcher Guglielmo Marconi combined available technologies and obtained a patent for a successful system of radio telegraphy in 1896.

Marconi was thought to be inferior to Tesla or Popov in terms of his knowledge in science and talent. Yet, how did he become known as the father of wireless communications?

First, the audacity to challenge fixed ideas. Back then, many scientists thought that electric waves could not go beyond visible distance because they only goes straight like light. In other words, although it can be used for a short distance, it cannot be used in challenging landscapes or for long distance.

But Marconi challenged the idea and conducted experiments to find out that electric wave can be transferred over rough terrain and a long distance. He also concluded that long-distance transmission can also be possible if the height of the antenna and the power was raised. Based on that, he developed the belief that an electric wave could go beyond the horizon. He did so by working in the field, not in a lab, and by proving his belief with successful experiments instead of a theory.

Second, set the right target. Unlike many scientists in who focused on wireless telegraphy on land, Marconi looked at the sea. He thought that wireless telegraphs couldn't be a match for the telegraph and the telephone due to their wide penetration on land. But wired telegraphs cannot cut across the sea.

Marconi especially focused on cross-Atlantic wireless transmission and succeeded in sending a telegram message thousands of kilometers away in 1901. Then his wireless telegraph became a real business, affecting share prices of wired telegraph providers. Marconi had indeed set the right target.

Third, find the right audience. Marconi gave exposure to the new technology by targeting the royal family and the media. He set up a wireless tool on a royal yacht to send the queen's messages, and broadcast a famous yacht competition from a yacht in 1899. By doing so, he effectively publicized the new technology and gained customers.

Last but not least, get good people around you. Marconi was not a renowned scientist or an inventor. Some scientists made disapproving remarks that Marconi was just a business person who stole others' ideas and only made slight modifications. But Marconi always had two supporters around him.

One was Sir Ambrose Fleming, who was a scientist and professor. He constantly introduced new technologies to Marconi, and advocated his stance in the closed and exclusive academic world.

The other was Marconi's assistant George Kemp. He did not mind working with Marconi in whatever circumstances.in stormy weather and in life-threatening situations.

Someone once asked him why he was working for young Marconi. Kemp answered, “A theory itself cannot do anything, but Marconi always works to test a theory in practice no matter what. That is why I'm with him.” The trust helped Marconi push through tough times and turn his ideas into a theory, science, a reality and a business.

The era of the radio telephone began in earnest in 1910 when Marconi's technology was embedded in a large ferry that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. When the Titanic sank, a nearby vessel was able to head to help the liner thanks to Marconi's wireless system.

Morse's telegraphy, Bell's telephone and Marconi's radio telegraphy ushered in the era of communications. At a time when geniuses like Edison, Tesla and Bell shook the world of science, Marconi, a Bolognaise farm owner's son, thought the unthinkable and challenged disbelief to become the father of wireless communications. The next time, we will talk about innovations that opened the chapter of the wireless communications era and the changes they had brought to industries and society.

Thank you for watching. I'm Jae-Yun Kim.

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