International Calling

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October 29, 2008

A Brief History of International Calling

International Calling

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Senior Editor


Today, it’s relatively easy to make an international long-distance call — just pick up the phone, dial some digits, and get connected. While this service might cost more than we’d like (although there are ways to save on per-minute rates), the utility of this communications technology is pretty well-established. It hasn’t always been that way.
According to Wikipedia, the first United States long-distance phone network was complete by AT&T (News - Alert) in 1892, and reached from New York to Chicago. At that time, the wiring used couldn’t be stretched any further. Long distance services were not standard as they are today, but a luxury or a novelty. People had to make appointments to use special phone booths equipped with 4-wire phones and other technology needed to connect calls across the country.
By 1911, Wikipedia’s entry for Long Distance indicates, a technology called loading coils was invented, which meant phone networks could be stretched across longer distance — it was then possible for such a network to reach from New York to Denver, Colorado. This improvement was added to by the development of the audion, showcased at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915, allowing direct coast-to-coast calling.
The process of making a long-distance call was still pretty cumbersome, though; it often took 23 minutes for a call to be connected from one coast to the other.
Jump ahead to 1951, when the 10-digit long distance dialing (using an area code) we’re now familiar with debuted. This was offered by AT&T through its “Direct Distance Dialing” feature. Calls made using this system could be connected much faster — in about 18 seconds. The new type of service also introduced a national, 7-digit standard for the length of local phone numbers.
Despite all these improvements to long-distance calling, there was still one big problem: call quality. Wikipedia said that, until the early 1980s, long distance calls typically suffered by significant signal loss, resulting in hissing, low sound levels, and other problems — making it hard for people to hear one another over the phone. The problem of call quality was solved by the introduction of digital circuits. Only then did long distance calls, including those made internationally, achieve equal footing with shorter-distance calls.
Yet another technology, namely the use of satellite orbiting the earth, has further improved the utility and quality of long distance and international calls. According to, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has played a significant role in enabling affording, easy-to-use international calling services.
Today, said in its “10 NASA Inventions You Might Use Every Day” series, there are about 200 communications satellites orbiting the Earth. These are used to send and receive signal for international calls, enabling fast connections even halfway across the world.
The cost of international calling is something people are still trying to improve upon. Services like Packetel’s (News - Alert) long distance offering, which improves upon the concept of a calling card with enhanced, modern features, can help in this regard.
To learn more about how long distance services work, and how to save money on calls, please visit the International Calling channel on, brought to you by Packetel.

Mae Kowalke is senior editor for TMCnet, covering VoIP, CRM, call center and wireless technologies. To read more of Mae's articles, please visit her columnist page. She also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Mae Kowalke


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