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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.