Developments in Telecommunications

views updated

Chapter 2: Developments in Telecommunications

Instant Messaging
Voice Over Internet Protocol
Mobile Phones
Developments in Communications Technology

Communication has undeniably been one of the central motivations behind the technical strides that have taken place since the beginning of the cold war. The Internet was first conceived as a way of connecting computers for the purpose of communication, and e-mail was the first application to gain acceptance and widespread use on the Internet. When looking at what online activities Americans participate in the most, e-mail is the leading activity, with 92% of adult Internet users reporting that they use e-mail, and 60% reporting that they use e-mail every day. (See Table 2.1 and Table 2.2.) Michelle Kessler reports in Fridays Go from Casual to E-Mail-Free (USA Today, October 5, 2007) that the market research firm IDC estimated in 2007 that the number of e-mail messages sent on a typical day had reached 97.3 billion: Each day, about 39.7 billion person-to-person e-mails, 17.1 billion automated alerts, and 40.5 billion pieces of spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail) are sent worldwide.

E-mail is not the only communications system to flourish, however; since the early 1980s a second phone system has sprung up across the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008 (2007, pendia/statab/tables/08s1120.pdf), the number of cellular sites in the United States grew nearly 3,400%, from 5,616 sites in 1990 to 195,613 sites in 2006, and the amount of revenue brought in by the cellular phone system rose from $4.5 billion to $125.5 billion during this same period. The number of cell phone subscribers jumped from approximately 5.3 million in 1990 to 109.5 million in 2000 to 233 million in 2006. In terms of percentage, the rise in cell phone customers outstripped the increase in Internet customers and was roughly equivalent to the rise in home computers since the early 1980s.

In some ways, these new forms of communication have made life easier. Most Americans no longer have to hunt down a phone booth and dig for change when they need to make a phone call away from home. Nor do most travelers have to worry about being stranded on a deserted roadway miles from a phone. Using e-mail and instant messaging, online Americans can now easily stay in touch with anyone in any country around the world. At the same time, however, Americans now have to comb through spam daily, worry about unleashing e-mail viruses, and endure strangers' phone conversations and cell phone ring tones virtually everywhere they go.


E-mail was the first of these new communications technologies to emerge. Not more than two years after the initial ARPANET test in 1969, Ray Tomlinson (1941) of ARPANET created the first e-mail program. Tomlinson developed the idea from a program that had been used on mainframe computers with time-share operating systems. These computers, which were prevalent during the early 1960s, consisted of a number of remote terminals all connected to a central host computer, where all the office files and programs were stored. The remote terminals, which were typically spread throughout the office building, were little more than a screen and a keyboard, and the office workers shared the resources of the central computer. Programs were written for these systems wherein people could leave messages for one another within the core computer. Tomlinson simply adapted one of these static internal mail programs into a program that could send messages to other computers on ARPANET. The first mass e-mail Tomlinson sent out with his program was a message to all ARPANET employees telling them electronic mail was now available. He instructed them to address one another using the following convention: user's log-in [email protected] computer name. This same convention is still being used.

The first e-mail program was not user-friendly. The e-mails did not have subject lines or date lines, they had

TABLE 2.1 Percent of adult Internet users who participate in selected activities, 200407
source: Internet Activities, in Latest Trends, Pew Internet & American Life Project, February 15, 2008, Activities_2.15.08.htm (accessed July 15, 2008). Used by permission of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
Here are some of the things they do online:Percent of Internet users who report this activityMost recent survey date
Send or read e-mail92December 2007
Use a search engine to find information91December 2006
Search for a map or driving directions86December 2006
Look for info on a hobby or interest83FebruaryMarch 2007
Look for health/medical info80August 2006
Look for information online about a service or product you are thinking of buying81September 2007
Check the weather78November 2004
Get travel info73MayJune 2004
Get news71December 2007
Buy a product66September 2007
Visit a local, state or federal government website66August 2006
Buy or make a reservation for travel64September 2007
Surf the Web for fun62FebruaryApril 2006
Go to a website that provides info or support for a specific medical condition or personal situation58November 2004
Research for school or training57January 2005
Watch a video clip or listen to an audio clip56November 2004
Look for how-to, do-it-yourself or repair information55FebruaryMarch 2005
Look up phone number or address54February 2004
Do any banking online53September 2007
Take a virtual tour of a location online51August 2006
Do any type of research for your job51FebruaryMarch 2007
Watch a video on a video-sharing site like YouTube or Google Video48December 2007
Look online for news or information about politics or the upcoming campaigns47December 2007
Look online for info about a job46August 2006
Get sports scores and info online45August 2006
Get info online about a college, university or other school you or a family member might attend45January 2005
Download other files such as games, videos, or pictures42FebruaryMarch 2005
Get financial info online, such as stock quotes or mortgage interest rates41August 2006
Send instant messages39August 2006
Look for info about a place to live39August 2006
Read someone else's online journal, web log or blog39January 2006
Download computer programs from the Internet39MayJune 2005
Pay bills online38January 2005
Download music files to your computer37December 2007
Upload photos to a website so you can share them with others online37August 2006
Get financial info online, such as stock quotes or mortgage interest rates36September 2007
Look for information on Wikipedia36FebruaryMarch 2007
Look for religious/spiritual info35FebruaryMarch 2007
Send or receive text messages using a cell phone35September 2005
Play online games35August 2006
Listen to music online at a website34MayJune 2004
Rate a product, service or person using an online rating system32September 2007
Use online classified ads or sites like Craig's list32September 2007
Post a comment or review online about a product you bought or a service you received30September 2007
Listen to a live or recorded radio broadcast online, such as a newscast, sporting event, or radio show29MayJune 2004
Pay to access or download digital content online28December 2007
Categorize or tag online content like a photo, news story or blog post28December 2006
Search for info about someone you know or might meet28September 2005
Participate in an online auction26September 2007
Download video files to your computer27December 2007
Share files from own computer w/ others27MayJune 2005
Research your family's history or genealogy online25August 2006
Log on to the Internet using a wireless device25November 2004
Download screensavers from the Internet23MayJune 2005
Post comments to an online news group, website, blog or photo site22December 2007
Chat in a chat room or in an online discussion22September 2005
Share something online that you created yourself21December 2007
Download computer games from the Internet21MayJune 2005
Create content for the Internet19November 2004
Make a donation to a charity online18September 2005
View live images online of a remote location or person, using a webcam17December 2006
Use an online social networking site like MySpace, Facebook or Friendster16August 2006
Sell something online15August 2006
Create or work on your own webpage14December 2007
Create or work on web pages or blogs for others, including friends, groups you belong to, or for work13December 2007
Make a phone call online13December 2007
Visit an adult website13MayJune 2005
Take a class online just for personal enjoyment or enrichment13January 2005
Participate in an online discussion, a listserv, or other online group forum that helps people with personal issues or health problems12August 2006
Download a podcast so you can listen to it or view it at a later time12August 2006
Send or receive an invitation to a meeting or party using an online invitation service12November 2004
Take a class online for credit toward a degree of some kind12December 2005
Create or work on your own online journal or blog12December 2007
Buy or sell stocks, bonds, or mutual funds11September 2007
Take material you find onlinelike songs, text or imagesand remix it into your own artistic creation11December 2007
Go to a online dating website or other site where you can meet people online11September 2005
Create or use an avatar or online graphic representation of yourself, for example, in a virtual world such as Second Life6December 2007
Download or share adult content online4MayJune 2005

to be opened in the order that they were received, and they read as strings of continuous text. Despite these inconveniences, the e-mail application caught on in the ARPANET community quickly, and the computer scientists in the organization worked out most of the kinks. Within several years users could list messages by subject and date, delete selected messages, and forward messages to other users. E-mail soon became the most popular application for the busy researchers working at ARPANET. When communicating by e-mail, they did not have to worry about the formalities or the long delays inherent

TABLE 2.2 Percent of adult Internet users who perform selected activities daily, 200307
source: Daily Internet Activities, in Latest Trends, Pew Internet & American Life Project, February 15, 2008, trends/Daily_Internet_Activities_2.15.08.htm (accessed July 15, 2008). Used by permission of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
Here are some of the things they do on a typical day:Percent of Internet users who report doing this yesterdayMost recent survey date
Use the Internet72December 2007
Send or read e-mail60December 2007
Use a search engine to find information41December 2006
Get news37December 2007
Look for info on a hobby or interest29FebruaryMarch 2007
Surf the Web for fun28FebruaryApril 2006
Do any type of research for your job23FebruaryMarch 2007
Check the weather22November 2004
Do any banking online21September 2007
Look for information online about a service or product you are thinking of buying
20September 2007
Look online for news or information about politics or the upcoming campaigns
16December 2007
Research for school or training16January 2005
Watch a video on a video-sharing site like YouTube or Google Video
15December 2007
Get sports scores and info online15August 2006
Visit a local, state or federal government website
14August 2006
Send or receive text messages using a cell phone
11September 2005
Get financial info online, such as stock quotes or mortgage interest rates
10September 2007
Search for a map or driving directions10December 2006
Send instant messages10August 2006
Log on to the Internet using a wireless device10November 2004
Watch a video clip or listen to an audio clip10November 2004
Use an online social networking site like MySpace, Facebook or Friendster
9August 2006
Play online games9August 2006
Look for information on Wikipedia8FebruaryMarch 2007
Get travel info8MayJune 2004
Download music files to your computer7December 2007
Categorize or tag online content like a photo, news story or blog post
7December 2006
Read someone else's web log or blog7September 2005
Pay bills online7January 2005
Look up phone number or address7February 2004
Pay to access or download digital content online
6December 2007
Use online classified ads or sites like Craig's list
6September 2007
Look for religious/spiritual info6FebruaryMarch 2007
Buy a product6September 2007
Listen to music online at a website6MayJune 2004
Download other files such as games, videos, or pictures
6June 2003
Download video files to your computer5December 2007
Look online for info about a job5August 2006
Look for info about a place to live5August 2006
Upload photos to a website so you can share them with others online
5August 2006
Chat in a chat room or in an online discussion5September 2005
Search for info about someone you know or might meet
5September 2005
Look for how-to, do-it-yourself or repair information
5FebruaryMarch 2005
Go to a website that provides info or support for a specific medical condition or personal situation
5November 2004
Share files from own computer w/ others5January 2005
Buy or make a reservation for travel4September 2007
Rate a product, service or person using an online rating system
4September 2007
Take a virtual tour of a location online4August 2006
Get info online about a college, university or other school you or a family member might attend
4January 2005
Listen to a live or recorded radio broadcast online, such as a newscast, sporting event, or radio show
4MayJune 2004
Create content for the Internet4November 2004
Post a comment or review online about a product you bought or a service you received
3September 2007
Participate in an online discussion, a listserv, or other online group forum that helps people with personal issues or health problems
3August 2006
Take material you find onlinelike songs, text or imagesand remix it into your own artistic creation
3FebruaryMarch 2007
Participate in an online auction3September 2007
View live images online of a remote location or person, using a webcam
2December 2006
Create a web log or blog2September 2005
Go to a dating website or other sites where you can meet other people online
2MayJune 2004
Take a class online just for personal enjoyment or enrichment
2January 2005
Make a phone call online2FebruaryMarch 2007
Create an avatar or online representation of yourself
1FebruaryMarch 2007
Sell something online1August 2006
Research your family's history or genealogy online
1August 2006
Download a podcast so you can listen to it or view it at a later time
1August 2006
Take a class online for credit toward a degree of some kind
1December 2005
Make a donation to a charity online1September 2005
Buy or sell stocks, bonds, or mutual funds1September 2007
Visit an adult website1MayJune 2004
Download or share adult content online1MayJune 2004

in letter writing. Unlike a phone conversation, no time was wasted on small talk, and a copy of the communication could be retained. People could also send e-mails to one another at any time of day or night. By the late 1970s e-mail discussion groups had formed within the ARPANET community. Two of the more popular discussion groups were a science fiction group and a group that discussed the potential future social impacts of e-mail.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s other networks began to develop, such as Usenet and Because It's Time Network (BITNET), which consisted of mainframe computers that connected to one another over telephone lines. The central purpose of these networks was to connect universities and government agencies that were not on ARPANET. Some of these networks, such as Usenet, were set up for the express purpose of sending e-mail and posting messages on newsgroups. Usenet consisted of computers of various sizes all over the country. A relatively small number of large, powerful computers formed the backbone of the network, and many smaller computers logged on to the network through the larger ones. For example, to send an e-mail from Indiana to South Carolina a person on a small computer in Indiana would first dial into and post an e-mail onto the nearest large computer. The person operating the large computer in Indiana would then pass the e-mail via modem along with other messages from the region to all the other large computers in the network, including those in South Carolina. When the recipient of the e-mail in South Carolina logged into the network through the nearest large computer, the e-mail would then automatically be downloaded to his or her smaller computer.

By the late 1980s e-mail was commercially available for home users to a limited extent. Companies such as Quantum Computer Services (now known as America Online [AOL]) and Prodigy set up chat rooms and e-mail services that could be enjoyed by people with home computers. Quantum Link, for example, was a service compatible with the Commodore 64 computer. Home users dialed into local Quantum Link mainframes, which were located in most major cities around the country. The mainframes were interconnected via open phone lines, so that anyone using the service could e-mail or chat with anyone else logged onto the service across the country. A member, however, could not contact someone on another commercial service or on the much larger Internet.

E-Mail Becomes Widespread

The development of the National Science Foundation Internet and the standardization of Internet protocols during the mid-1980s brought most of the smaller academic networks such as BITNET together, allowing people throughout academia and government agencies to communicate with one another via e-mail. The invention of the World Wide Web, the Mosaic Web browser, and the widespread use of more powerful personal computers allowed home users access to Internet e-mail by the early 1990s. In 1994 AOL began offering people a limited service on the Web with the ability to send and receive e-mail. Within a year, all the established dial-up services such as CompuServe and Prodigy moved their e-mail subscribers onto the larger Internet.

Since the mid-1990s e-mail has become the most used application on the Internet. In Americans Going Online...Explosive Growth, Uncertain Destinations (October 16, 1995, .php3?ReportID¼136), the Pew Research Center reports that twelve million adult Americans were regular users of e-mail in June 1995 (with regular user defined as one who checked e-mail at least once per week). Since that time e-mail use has skyrocketed. Table 2.3 shows use of online communication by American adults from 2000 through 2007. In 2007, 92% of adults who used the Internet were using e-mail, and 60% used it daily. Most people said e-mail helped them maintain relationships with friends, communicate better on their job, and interact more effectively with local governments.

Who Uses E-Mail?

The Pew Internet & American Life Project (Pew/ Internet) reveals in Usage over Time (2008, that e-mail use remains fairly consistent over a range of demographic groups. In 2007, 93% of online women sent and received e-mail, and 91% of online men reported doing so. Those over age sixty-five embraced e-mail as much as any other age group: 91% of online seniors sent or received e-mail, compared to 91% of Internet users aged eighteen to twenty-nine. E-mail is by far the Internet activity that seniors engage in more than any other. Along racial lines, however, slight differences were noted, with 88% of online African-Americans using e-mail, compared to 92% of whites on the Internet and 93% of English-speaking Hispanics.

In Mail and News Are Main Internet Attractions (February 6, 2006,, Lydia Saad of the Gallup Organization notes that 93% of adult Internet users surveyed said they had sent or received e-mails in 2005; 87% had used e-mail frequently or occasionally. In terms of age, 82% of people aged sixty-five and older sent or received e-mails on at least a semiregular basis, compared to 88% of people aged fifty to sixty-four and 87% of people thirty to forty-nine.


By far the biggest problem facing e-mail in the early twenty-first century is spam, which is generally defined as unsolicited e-mail sent in bulk. Even though different organizations gauge the number of e-mails sent world-wide differently, most agree that about three-quarters of them are spam: rates published by e-mail security companies include 73% in February 2006 by Postini in the press release Postini Reports Increase in Spam, Decrease in IM Attacks during the Month of February (March 6, 2006, and 81.5% in June 2008 by MessageLabs in the press release MessageLabs Reveals Top 10 Most Spammed US States (July 16, 2008, MessageLabs further estimates that the spam rate within the United States reached 86% in June 2008, with users in Illinois, South Dakota, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin receiving the most spam.

TABLE 2.3 Online communication use by adults, selected years 200007
source: Adapted from Usage over Time, Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2008, (accessed July 15, 2008). Used by permission of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
Do you ever . . . send or read email?91%93%93%91%92%
Yesterday, did you send or read email?52%46%45%53%60%
Ever send instant messages to someone who's online at the same time?45%46%42%37%not asked
Men44%44%42%37%not asked
Women46%47%42%37%not asked
Whites45%44%41%34%not asked
Blacks47%47%44%47%not asked
Hispanics54%62%52%39%not asked
182957%67%59%54%not asked
304942%41%39%34%not asked
506434%34%33%28%not asked
65+31%30%31%27%not asked
Send instant messages to someone who was online at the same time yesterday?12%11%12%13%not asked
Men11%11%12%15%not asked
Women14%11%11%11%not asked
Whites13%10%12%12%not asked
Blacks8%7%7%12%not asked
Hispanics023%16%15%not asked
182916%20%22%26%not asked
304911%8%9%9%not asked
506410%8%7%7%not asked
65+13%5%3%7%not asked

The Spamhaus Project, an organization that tracks and works to eliminate spam, estimates in The Top 10 (October 16, 2008, that in 2008 about 80% of the world's spam was being generated by only two hundred of the worst offenders and that there were nearly fifteen hundred high-volume spammers active in the United States alone. According to the Spamhaus Project, (thirty-two), (twenty-nine), (twenty-eight), (twenty-eight), (twenty-seven), (twenty-six), (twenty-six), (twenty-five), (twenty-four), and (twenty-four) were the Internet service providers with the highest number of unresolved spam issues. The United States was the country of origin for the largest number of spammers (1,497), more than three times the number of the second-ranked country, China (444). However, according to Spamhaus data, the number of spammers in the United States has shown a 32% decrease since 2006 (2,215). At the same time, the number in China has increased 52% from 293. Other countries with many spam operators in October 2008 included the Russian Federation (295), the United Kingdom (207), South Korea (203), Germany (178), France (176), India (167), Brazil (158), and Japan (147).

Most users see only a fraction of the total spam sent to them. According to Deborah Fallows of the Pew/Internet, in Spam: How It Is Hurting Email and Degrading Life on the Internet (October 22, 2003,, MSN and AOL report that on a typical day in 2003 they trashed 2.4 billion spam messages that would have otherwise reached their customers' electronic mailboxes. For AOL customers, this amounted to about sixty-seven spam e-mails per inbox or 80% of e-mail traffic. The price to U.S. businesses to deal with all this spam totaled between $10 billion and $87 billion annually in 2003. In 2007 Adam Swidler, a product marketing manager at Postini, reports in 1 Billion Messages Not Served (December 13, 2007, that Postini blocked forty-seven billion spam messages in October 2007, and that if not protected by spam blocking security features, an average e-mail user would have received more than thirty-two thousand spam messages in 2007.

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Spam means many things to many people. In Data Memo: CAN-SPAM a Year Later (April 2005, _Ap05.pdf), Fallows explains that 87% agreed that spam is unsolicited commercial e-mail from a sender you don't know or can't identify. Beyond this basic definition, however, 66% of adults believed unsolicited mail promoting a nonprofit organization, charity, political organization, or advocacy group was still spam. Fallows reveals in Spam: How It Is Hurting Email and Degrading Life on the Internet that e-mail users tend to be less judgmental toward organizations with which they conduct business. Only 32% of e-mailers agreed in 2003 that unsolicited e-mails sent from someone they did business with was spam. By contrast, 11% believed that an unsolicited e-mail from someone who was given permission to contact them was still spam.

Fallows notes that survey respondents indicated that the amount of time they spent on spam varied. Twenty percent of respondents either had no response or replied that they spent no time whatsoever on spam, 28% spent up to five minutes daily, 25% spent between five and fourteen minutes per day, and 28% spent fifteen minutes or more per day clearing out the spam. The vast majority of adults who received spam in 2003 did not like it. Twenty-seven percent of people called spam a big problem. About six out of ten (59%) said spam was annoying, but that spam was not a big problem, and only 14% responded that spam was not a problem at all. The biggest objections respondents had to spam were that the messages were unsolicited (84%), that the content of unsolicited messages was deceptive or dishonest (80%), and that the messages might contain something potentially dangerous to their computers (79%). The volume of spam (77%) and spam's offensive and often obscene nature (76%) were other leading objections. Nearly one-third of all adult e-mailers expressed concern that in an attempt to cope with spam, either they or their service provider's e-mail filters were accidentally deleting legitimate e-mails. Still other people claimed that they missed out on e-mail because spam clogged their e-mail accounts to the point where they could not receive any more mail.

ANTISPAM LEGISLATION. In 2003 many people including Orson Swindle (1937), the commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)worried that spam was reaching epidemic proportions and on the verge of making e-mail an impractical means of communication. In response to the growing concerns, the federal government attempted to limit spam, when, on January 1, 2004, the Controlling the Assault of Non-solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM Act) of 2003 went into effect. This act, enforced by the FTC and the states' attorneys general, lays out a number of provisions that commercial e-mail senders (spammers) must follow. One provision states that commercial e-mail senders must clearly identify unsolicited e-mail as solicitations or advertisements for products and services. Commercial e-mail senders must also provide a way for the recipient of the mail to opt out of receiving any more e-mails from them, and all e-mails must contain a legitimate address and use honest subject lines. Even though these provisions address the issue of spam in the United States, enforcement has been difficult. Creating a false identity on the Internet is easy, and once spammers know they are being tracked, they can easily relocate their operations to a different state or country.

Analyzing the impact of antispam legislation in CAN-SPAM a Year Later, Fallows reports that the CAN-SPAM Act has had little effect on the spam epidemic. Regardless, e-mail users have become more tolerant of unsolicited messages. Nearly 52% of Internet users saw spam as a big problem in 2005. Since the CAN-SPAM Act was passed, 47% of people said they noticed no change in the amount of spam in their personal e-mail accounts. A full 28% replied they received more spam, and only 22% said they received less spam. Despite the increase in spam and the failure of antispam legislation, people complained less about spam. Fallows reports in a data memo (May 2007, _2007.pdf) that by 2007, 71% of e-mail users employed filtering software to block spam. Thirty-seven percent of e-mail users in 2007 thought they were getting more spam in their personal e-mail account, and 29% thought they were receiving more spam in their work e-mail account. More than half of e-mail users noticed no change in the amount of e-mail they received, either at work or at home. Only about one out of ten respondents in 2007 thought they were actually noticing a decline in the number of spam messages. Whereas 25% of survey respondents in 2003 thought that spam was a big problem, this figure had fallen to 18% in 2007. The largest proportion of e-mail users in 2003 (57%) and in 2007 (51%) considered spam an annoyance but not a big problem. Twenty-eight percent of e-mail recipients in 2007 reported that spam was not a problem at all.

Even though consumers typically object to spam, entrepreneurs recognize the potential profit in sending out unsolicited messages. Issuing spam costs next to nothing per message sent. Even if only 1% of people respond to a spam attack, be it for a legitimate digital cable filter or a fraudulent credit card scam, the spammer stands to make a lot of money or bring in a lot of credit card numbers. Fallows notes that in 2007, 23% of respondents had clicked on an embedded link in a spam message to get additional information, and 4% of respondents had purchased a product or service advertised to them in a spam message. So long as even a small percentage of the population responds to spam, it is potentially profitable. Bringing this number down to zero would likely be impossible. In the end, spam may just become another form of white noise that has to be endured in the modern world.

Instant Messaging

Instant messaging (IM) is a tool that allows people to communicate via text messages in near real time over the Internet, and it is typically available on personal computers and on selected cell phones. In Usage over Time, Pew/Internet states that in 2008, 40% of Internet users had contacted someone via IM, which was down two percentage points from 2004 and six percentage points from 2000. Despite the decline in IM users as a percent of those online, Eulynn Shiu and Amanda Lenhart of the Pew/Internet indicate in How Americans Use Instant Messaging (September 1, 2004, http://www.pewinternet .org/pdfs/PIP_Instantmessage_Report.pdf) that people who use IM use it a great deal. Thirty-six percent of IM users in 2004 said they used IM every day, and 63% used it several times a week. Twenty-four percent of those who used IM spent more time on IM than on e-mail. Leading services, as ranked by Nielsen/Netratings and reported in IM Market Share (March 7, 2006, by, included AOL (53 million subscribers), MSN (27 million), Yahoo (22 million), and Google (866,000) in 2006.

Generally, most IM programs allow a user to block instant messages from anyone but the people with whom the user wishes to converse. Those who communicated using IM in 2004 said they typically communicated with people they knew well. Shiu and Lenhart report that two-thirds (66%) of IM users regularly used the service to stay in touch with between one and five people, and only roughly one-tenth (9%) contacted more than ten people regularly with IM. In addition, most people preferred to do their instant messaging at home for quick, one-on-one conversations. Seventy-seven percent of the IM community used IM at home, as opposed to 21% at work. Only 22% of IM enthusiasts in 2004 typically sent and received instant messages for more than an hour a day, and 47% said their typical IM sessions lasted less than fifteen minutes.

IM provided people some unique advantages that other communication devices did not. Most IM applications are compact in size and easy to access, making IM easy to use while taking part in other activities. According to Shiu and Lenhart, 32% of adult Americans said they were multitasking almost every time when they used IM. IM also has a clandestine aspect to it. A person can type a message without anyone knowing what he or she is doing. Nearly a quarter (24%) of all IM users said they used IM to converse with someone they were in close proximity totypically because a class or meeting was in progress.

Table 2.4 illustrates demographic differences between IM users and the larger group of Internet users overall in 2004. A higher percentage of wired African-Americans than whites used IM, and English-speaking Hispanics used IM at the highest rate. Over half (53%) of online adult Americans with incomes less than $30,000 reported using IM. Forty-nine percent of those online with less than a high school degree used IM, which was more than any other educational group. Unlike almost all Internet activities, years of experience on the Internet did not seem to matter. However, some of these trends, such as income and Internet experience, were likely because of the age of people who preferred IM. IM appealed to 62% of Internet users aged eighteen to twenty-seven. IM usage dropped off sharply with those aged twenty-eight to thirty-nine and remained low in all other older age groups.

Voice Over Internet Protocol

Another type of Internet communications technology is voice over Internet protocol (VoIP). VoIP is an application that allows the user to make phone calls over the Internet. The user attaches the phone to an adapter that sits between the phone and the computer. When a call is in progress, the adapter breaks down the voice stream into data packets that can then be routed over the Internet just like e-mail to the user's destination. (Regular phone conversations typically travel as streams of continuous data over a dedicated phone line that connects two people directly.) If the person on the other end of the call is also equipped with VoIP, then the entire conversation is treated by the Internet as nothing more than an instant message or an e-mail. If the person using VoIP dials to a traditional phone, then the call must be converted into a continuous voice stream by a telecom company before the call reaches its destination.

TABLE 2.4 Instant messaging (IM) users by selected characteristics,
MayJune 2004
source: Eulynn Shiu and Amanda Lenhart, Who Uses Instant Messaging, in How Americans Use Instant Messaging, Pew Internet & American Life
Project, September 1, 2004, (accessed July 15, 2008). Used by permission of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
 The percent of Internet users in each group who are IM users (e.g. 42% of online men are IM users)The proportion of the IM population each group makes up (e.g. 50% of all IM-ers are men)
Gen Y (ages 1827)62%31%
Gen X (ages 2839)3728
Trailing boomers
(ages 4049)3320
Leading boomers
(ages 5058)2912
Matures (ages 5968)257
After work (age 69 )293
Household income
Less than $30,00053%31%
Educational attainment
Did not graduate from high school49%8%
High school grad4431
Some college4832
College degree+3429
Community type
Type of Internet connection at home
Population = 1,399.
The percentages in the right column do not at times add up to 100 because of rounding.

VoIP is a technology gaining wide acceptance with little fanfare. According to the Pew/Internet and New Millennium Research Council (June 30, 2004,, 34 million Americans (27% of Internet users) had heard of VoIP, and nearly 14 million (11%) had used VoIP at some point in their life. The marketing research firm TeleGeography (May 19, 2008, http://www.telegeography .com/wordpress/?p=70) indicates that by the first quarter of 2008, 16.3 million consumer VoIP lines were in service, representing 13.8 percent of all U.S. households. This reflects growth of 758% since 2005, when 1.9 million households had subscribed to VoIP.

Even though it is being adopted at a rapid pace, VoIP still has to overcome a few obstacles. First, the user of the service is required to have a broadband Internet connection, which as of 2008 was installed in roughly 55% of American homes, according to John B. Horrigan of the Pew/Internet, in Home Broadband Adoption 2008 (July 2008, _2008.pdf). Second, not all telecommunications companies have installed gateways to convert VoIP to voice stream and back again on all their phone systems, so some normal phones with local area codes cannot take VoIP calls. Third, VoIP shuts down when the power dies, which can be disastrous in a hurricane, earthquake, or other massive power outage. One early obstacle, the inability of 911 emergency services to adequately respond to VoIP calls, was overcome in 2005 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC; 2008, mandated that VoIP services provide timely emergency responses.

Mobile Phones

The cell phone is the only information technology released since the mid-1980s that has outpaced the Internet in terms of use. The development of the modern cell phone began in the mid-1940s, nearly twenty years before scientists even conceived of an Internet. In St. Louis, Missouri, the Bell System introduced the first commercial radio-telephone service that could connect to the national phone system. The radio-telephone, typically mounted under the front dashboard of a car or truck, received incoming telephone calls via radio waves transmitted from a large tower planted on a downtown building. A bell rang and a light went off on the radio-telephone to signify an incoming call. When the person using the radio-telephone answered, his or her side of the conversation was transmitted to one of several receiving stations around the city that were all open to the same frequencies. Both the incoming and outgoing signals were relayed through a switchboard and routed into the national phone system. From its inception in 1946, this system had a number of limitations. Calls had to be routed through a live switchboard operator, both parties involved in a conversation could not talk at once, and only three conversations could take place city-wide at any given time because of bandwidth restrictions.

History and Development

D. H. Ring at Bell Laboratories first posited the idea for the modern mobile cellular phone network in 1947 in an internal memorandum. The memo proposed a system that would overcome many of the flaws inherent in the Bell radio-telephone. The plan called for a network of low-powered cellular towers that could receive and transmit telephone calls via radio waves to and from mobile phones. Each tower would have a 3-mile (4.8-km) broadcast radius. As the user of the mobile phone traveled across these cells, the call would be automatically routed from one tower to the next and the phone would switch frequencies. Because of a limited number of frequencies available in the spectrum, towers that were out of range of one another were to send and receive radio signals of the same frequency. That way two people 3 miles (4.8 km) apart or more could carry on separate conversations using the same frequency without interfering with each other's reception.

To implement this vision on a large scale and make a profit, AT&T required more frequencies on the radio spectrum than the FCC then allowed for two-way radio communications. The radio spectrum is essentially a long ribbon of frequencies that stretch from 3 kilohertz (kHz) to 300 gigahertz. Only one device in an area, be it a radio station or a television station, can use a particular part of this ribbon to broadcast or else interference will arise. The FCC regulates what type of devices can operate over various sections of the radio spectrum. Cell phones generally eat up a big part of each spectrum because each cell phone requires two signals at two different frequencies one signal for the incoming signal and one for the outgoing signal. With the limits the FCC imposed in 1947, only twenty-three cellular phone conversations could take place in a metropolitan area equipped with BellLab's proposed cellular system. When AT&T approached the FCC and asked for additional room on the radio spectrum, the FCC granted AT&T only a fraction of the space requested.

Over the next twenty years, mobile phone technology advanced slowly. In 1948 the Richmond Radiotelephone Company implemented the first automated radio-telephone service that did not require a live switchboard operator. In 1964 the Bell System rolled out the Improved Mobile Telephone Service to replace its aging radio-telephone network. This system allowed for both people to talk at once during a call. The bandwidth each phone occupied on the radio spectrum was narrowed, so more people in a city could use it.

Technological Developments after 1960

AT&T once again approached the FCC in 1958, this time asking for 75 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum located in the 800 MHz range of the radio spectrum. At the time, hardly anyone in the United States employed this part of the spectrum for broadcasting. The FCC did not review the proposal until 1968. It considered the request for two years and made a tentative decision to let AT&T use that part of spectrum for two-way radio in 1970. Meanwhile, the Bell System, Motorola, and several other companies began engineering the technologies necessary for the cell phone network. In 1969 the Bell System installed the first working cell phone system aboard a train. The system consisted of a set of payphones placed on the Metroliner trains that ran between New York City and Washington, D.C. Cell phone towers were set up along the track. As the train sped along, telephone conversations were routed from tower to tower just as described in the 1947 Bell Labs memo. Four years after this first cellular phone went into use, Martin Cooper (1938) at Motorola developed the first personal, handheld cellular phone. Motorola erected a single prototype cellular tower in New York City to test the phone. Cooper made his first call to his rival at Bell Labs, who was attempting to create a similar device.

In 1978 the FCC allowed AT&T to test an analog cellular telephone service. AT&T chose Chicago, Illinois, as one of the trial cities and set up ten cellular towers, which covered 21,000 square miles (54,000 sq km) of the Chicagoland area. Customers who wanted to use the service leased large, car-mounted telephones. The trial run was a success, and Ameritech, the regional Bell in metropolitan Chicago, launched the first commercial cellular service in the United States in 1983. (Other cell phone services had already begun operating in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.) Two months after Ameritech began service, Cellular One offered service in the Washington-Baltimore area. Most people had car-mounted phones that occupied the middle of the front seat of a car. The alternatives were large portable phones that were so big they had to be carried around in a suitcase. At first, none of the cellular systems being put in place were compatible with one another, and roaming outside of the calling area was not a possibility.

During the late 1980s the Telecommunications Industry Association established some basic standards for cell phone companies. The standards paved the way for a continuous, cross-country network that everyone could use regardless of which company was providing the service (oftentimes with extra roaming charges). The first standard was for analog phones. Analog phones process signals in much the same way as car radios or traditional phones do. When a person speaks into the cell phone, the microphone turns the signal into a continuous stream of electrical impulses, which travels out from the phone's antennae and to the cellular tower. Both the outgoing signals and the incoming signals on modern analog phones were each allowed 30 kHz of space on the radio wave spectrum.

Modern Cell Phone Networks

The Census Bureau notes in Statistical Abstract of the United States that by 1990 the number of people using cell phones increased dramatically to 5.3 million subscribers. With the analog standard and the frequency limitations imposed by the FCC, less than sixty people in each network were able to use one cellular tower at once. If the number of cell phones maintained the same rate of growth, then cell phone companies would soon require

new technologies that allowed more cell phone conversations to take place in a given area. The cell phone companies' solution was to adopt digital technology.

A digital signal is a signal that is broken down into impulses representing ones and zeros. When a digital cell phone receives a digital signal, a chip inside the phone known as a digital signal processor (DSP) reads these ones and zeros and then constructs an analog signal that travels to the phone's speaker. Conversely, the DSP also processes analog signals coming from the phone's microphone, converting them into ones and zeros, before sending the signal to a cell tower. By breaking down the signal into ones and zeros, more telephone calls can be handled by one-frequency cell phone towers. The process is analogous to breaking down and cutting up boxes to allow more to fit inside a trash can. The first digital system widely used by the cell phone companies was the time division multiple access (TDMA) method. Figure 2.1 and Figure 2.2 show the difference between the older, frequency division multiple access (FDMA) used for analog phones and TDMA. FDMA requires each phone to use a different frequency. TDMA allows three cell phone conversations to be contained in the same 30-kHz-wide band that holds only one analog conversation. By the early 1990s cellular companies were erecting digital cellular towers enabled with TDMA across the country.

According to the Census Bureau, by 1995 the number of cell phone users had grown to nearly 33.8 million people. Meanwhile, the TDMA systems were looking as if they might hit capacity. In response, the FCC auctioned off more frequency bands in the radio wave spectrum in the 1850 MHz to the 1900 MHz range. Services set up on these bands were known as personal communications services (PCS). PCS networks were designed for handheld mobile phones instead of car phones and had smaller cells than the original cellular network. The PCS networks also employed a newer technology known as code division multiple access (CDMA). CDMA could pack up to ten calls into one frequency band. (See Figure 2.3.) With so many bands available, cell phone companies introduced a multitude of standard features into their phones, such as the ability to send instant messages, surf the Web, play games, send e-mail, and check the identity of callers.

Issues and Concerns

DISTRACTED DRIVING. Though cell phones have brought a great deal of convenience to modern life, they have become a source of trouble as well. Many believe that cell phones contribute to automobile accidents because drivers cannot concentrate on the road appropriately while

speaking on a cell phone. As of 2008 Congress continued to debate whether or not to institute a nationwide ban on handheld cell phone use in automobiles, but many states already had laws in place. Table 2.5 displays the states that had adopted cell phone driving laws as of 2008. As can be seen, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, and Washington all had statewide bans on the use of handheld cell phones while driving. Alaska, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington banned drivers from text-messaging while behind the wheel. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia banned cell phones just for drivers with learner permits or provisional licenses, and sixteen states and the District of Columbia prohibited the use of cell phones by school bus drivers carrying passengers.

USE BY CHILDREN. As cell phone makers add features such as Internet access and video games, many believe cell phones are becoming a bigger distraction and a source of potential trouble for children. According to Jeff McAndrews of the Nielsen Company (December 3, 2007,, 35% of U.S. tweens (those between the ages of eight and twelve) owned a cell phone in 2007, and most used their phones to access television, music, and Internet sites. School districts throughout the country banned the use of phones during school hours, citing the disruptive nature of phones as well as the potential use of phones for cheating and for taking inappropriate photographs, among other reasons. Parents and students disagreed, however, claiming that it is a violation of students' rights to prohibit them from carrying a cell phone. In the post-Columbine, postSeptember 11, 2001, age, many parents consider cell phones a crucial communication tool and an integral part of a family emergency plan. In New York City, where a legal battle has raged regarding cell phones in public schools, a court upheld the ban in 2008, affecting 1.1 million students. Jennifer Medina reports in Court Upholds School Cellphone Ban (New York Times, April 22, 2008) that the court ruled squarely in favor of the city, stating that: Nothing about the cell phone policy forbids or prevents parents and their children from communicating with each other before or after school.

Other concerns about child cell-phone use were also the subject of debate in 2008. Doreen Carvajal outlines some additional issues in Growing Concern over Safety of Cellphones for Children (International Herald Tribune, March 7, 2008), including the lack of safety data concerning health risks for long-term use, the rising costs to parents, and whether or not children are mature enough to handle cell phone ownership responsibly.

HEALTH RISKS. Finally, health concerns associated with cell phone use have also been identified. In Nerve Cell Damage in Mammalian Brain after Exposure to Microwaves from GSM Mobile Phones (Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 111, no. 7, June 2003), Leif G. Salford et al. of Lund University find that cell phone radiation causes brain damage in rats. The researchers mounted a cell phone to the side of the rats' cage for two hours a day for fifty days to emulate the amount of exposure received by a habitual cell phone user. The rats' brains showed significant blood vessel leakage as well as areas of damaged neurons. Other studies followed but were inconclusive. However, in The Case for Precaution in the Use of Cell Phones (2008,, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute warns that:

Electromagnetic fields generated by cell phones should be considered a potential human health risk. Sufficient time has not elapsed in order for us to have conclusive data on the biological effects of cell phones and other cordless phonesa technology that is now universal.

Studies in humans do not indicate that cell phones are safe, nor do they yet clearly show that they are dangerous. But, growing evidence indicates that we should reduce exposures, while research continues on this important question.

The institute emphasizes that children are particularly at risk because their brains are still developing and suggests that children should not use mobile phones except in emergencies. Other recommendations include keeping the cell phone away from the head by using the speaker function or a wireless Bluetooth headset, which greatly diminishes electromagnetic exposure; limiting conversations

TABLE 2.5 State laws regarding cell phone use while driving, 2008
source: Cell Phone Driving Laws, in State Info and Laws, Governors Highway Safety Association, February 2008, (accessed July 15, 2008). Data from American Automobile Association (AAA), Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and State Highway Safety Offices.
     All cell phone ban 
StateCrash data
messaging ban
School bus
AlaskaYes  Yes (eff. 9/1/08)   
Arizona    Yes Primary
Arkansas    Yes Primary
CaliforniaYes Yes (commercial drivers Yes<18Primary
   exempted until 2011)    
ColoradoYes    Learners permitSecondary
ConnecticutYes Yes (some professions YesLearners permit andPrimary
   exempted)  <18 
DelawareYes   YesGDLaPrimary
D.C.  Yes (applies to all drivers, YesLearners permitPrimary
   regardless of residency;    
   some professions    
FloridaYes (driver distraction      
 w/ cell phone in the      
 narrative. <0.2%Yes     
 of 2006 reports cited      
 cell phone use.)      
GeorgiaYes   Yes Primary
IllinoisYes By jurisdiction Yes<19 with permitPrimary
      or GDLa 
Kentucky Yes  Yes Primary
Louisiana Yes     
Maine     <18Primary
MarylandYes    <18 w/learner orSecondary
      provisional license 
MassachusettsYes By jurisdiction Yes Primary
MichiganbYes By jurisdiction  See footnote 
MinnesotaYes  Yes (eff. 8/1/08)YesLearner or provisionalPrimary
      license or until age 18 
Mississippi Yes     
NebraskaYes    Teens w/learners orSecondary
      provisional license 
New Hampshirec       
New JerseyYesYesYesYesYes<21 w/ GDLa orPrimary
      provisional license 
New Mexico  By jurisdiction and    
   in state vehicles    
New YorkYes Yes   Primary
North CarolinaYes   Yes<18Primary
North Dakota       
Ohio  By jurisdiction    
OregonYesYes   <18 w/learner orSecondary
      provisional license 
PennsylvaniaYes By jurisdiction    
Rhode Island    Yes<18 
South Carolina       
South DakotaYes      
TennesseeYes   YesLearners permit orPrimary
      intermediate license 
TexasYes   Yes, w/<18 in learner orPrimary
     passenger<17intermediate stage 
Virgin IslandsYes Yes   No data
VirginiaYes   YesIntermediateSecondary
WashingtonYes YesYes  Secondary
West Virginia     Learner or
Total29 states + Virgin Islands9 states5 states + D.C., Virgin Islands4 states16 states + D.C.17 states + D.C.Varies
aGDL = Graduated Driver License.
bIn Michigan, teens with probationary licenses whose cell phone usage contributes to a traffic crash or ticket may not use a cell phone while driving.
cDealt with as a distracted driving issue; New Hampshire enacted a comprehensive distracted driving law.
dUtah's law defines careless driving as committing a moving violation (other than speeding) while distracted by use of a hand-held cellphone or other activities not related to driving.

on cell phones and cordless phones to only a few minutes and switching sides to distribute the exposure; making sure the cell phone keypad faces the body so that electromagnetic fields are transmitted away from the body rather than toward it; and using text messaging functions rather than voice transmissions whenever possible.

Developments in Communications Technology

In Statistical Abstract of the United States, the Census Bureau indicates that by 2006 there were 233 million cell phone subscribers in the United States, and they were connecting with each other and with the Internet at an unprecedented rate. Consumers quickly adopted mobile technologies and began to demand that more and more functions be integrated into portable devices. As of 2008, many people were using BlackBerry devices and other personal digital assistants and smart phones that combine Internet, computer, and cellular technology. These devices are wireless and handheld, and they can download e-mail on the Web by dialing into a cell phone network and then connecting to the Internet. Such devices also have personal organizer capabilities, including an address book and planner, and they can surf the Web.

High-speed third-generation (3G) cell phone service, the next generation of wireless technology, allows for even more integration of Internet technologies into cell phones. Because it is an advanced form of CDMA, 3G allows more people to share a broader bandwidth of frequencies on the current cell phone networks. Cell phone providers installed software known as high-speed downlink packet access into cell phone base stations. This software increased the amount of data that could flow through cell phone networks and boosted Internet connection speeds to over 1 megabyte per second. With such high-speed access, more people began using their cell phones to download and play video files, watch newscasts, and shop online. Continued development of smaller electronics and display screens will bring even higher quality cameras, video game systems, and Web cameras to cell phones.

About this article

Developments in Telecommunications

Updated About content Print Article