Saturday, September 18, 2010

A simple concept, a complex mess.

he telephone. It started in the late 1870s with a host of brilliant minds working to conquer a dream: the ability to have a real-time conversation with someone at a great distance. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell established one of the first widely respected patents for just such a device.  His device took the speaker's voice, converted the sound waves to electrical impulses which were sent via copper wire some distance before being reconverted back to sound.

100 years later, the device and its infrastructure had changed little.  More wires, more phones, same concept.

Then the dawn of the intenet age came, and VoIP was born.  It was attempting to take the same concept but send it over internet cables in order to bypass the toll-taking phone providers.  It was sorta cool - it worked and now anyone with internet had a phone.

Step forward to today, and VoIP is all the rage.  But frankly, I'm not certain why.  I had two important business calls last week with a firm that has remote offices everywhere, and people had to dial in.  The most critical person to the conversation was calling in from a VoIP phone.  What should have been a 10 minute conversation turned into 45 minutes of "what?" and "can you repeat that?" and people constantly hanging up and dialing back in.  It was eventually discovered that it was the VoIP line that was messed up; everyone on their mobile or hard lines could be heard quite well.

In the push to upgrade and update and push the proverbial "technology envelope" we may have lost sight of the original goal: The ability to have a real-time conversation with someone at a great distance.  This goal was not achieved last week.  We all would have been better off if it had been 1960, or even 1940.  Time would have been saved; money and resources would have been greatly reduced.

If you think about the clearest phone conversations you've ever had, my guess is that those over copper wire and wired phones were likely the best.  Second would have been copper wire with wireless handsets.  Then cell phones.  And lastly, VoIP.  Unfortunately for us, that was the order in which the technology was released, meaning that we're all headed backwards toward lousier phone conversations.

So if you're ever offered the choice (unfortunately that too is going away) choose copper and wired phones.  Among other things, copper is an element (Cu), it's beautiful, and it allows for magnificent conversation.  With some minor enhancements, you can even use the magnificent old telephones (such as the one pictured above) in your home today.  Newer does not make better.

--A

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