From Type to Touch: The Evolution of Telecommunication Devices in India!

On World Telecommunication Day, here is a brief history of how India went from a click of a telegraph to the touch of a smartphone and how the journey of different telecommunication devices transcended.

Hitanshu Bhatt
New Update
evolution of telecommunication devices

Echoing in Indian households one would hear “Arey ji sunte ho, Ramesh ka taar aaya hai” or “Choti bhua trunk kall (call) pe hai” if you slip back to the time when smartphones were not invented. Today’s generation, are you confused as to what this means? Well, this is how people used to communicate when smartphones were not in fashion or rather not invented. 

The world has now come to a fingertip with the introduction of smart devices but the scene was not the same back then. If you wanted to communicate with a distant relative or someone you know, you would probably have to wait for hours to receive a telegraph code or go distances to a PCO. Here is how the story of telecommunication devices in India started.

The stage was set for future expansion in the telecom industry when the Department of Telecom (DoT) was established in 1985 to oversee the telecommunications network in place of India Post (then known as the Indian Post and Telecommunications Department). This was further divided into two companies: Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) which operated connections in metro areas, and Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Ltd (MTNL), and another company that handled long-distance calls. Let’s revisit time and see how the telecommunication devices in India evolved with the changing authorities. 

The click of a 'Telegraph' 


A telegraph is a communication system that sends information by making and breaking an electrical connection. It is most associated with sending electrical current pulses along a wire with Morse code encoding. In 1849, Lord Dalhousie was appointed Governor-General of India. He brought the Electric Telegraph System to India in 1852 and with that in 1854, the first telegraph line was established, spanning 800 miles from Calcutta to Agra.

'Trunk calls' that made everybody wait

trunk call

Before the 1960s if a person had to call someone they had to book a trunk call. Meaning, they had to call an operator who worked at the telephone exchange and the operator in exchange would call the concerned person from the trunk. Quite a world play right? But this was the hassle people had to go through before the first-ever introduction of Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) in India in 1960 where the caller no longer had to wait for the operator to connect the call. This involved dialing a city code (STD code) and the phone number to get connected instantly without an operator to mediate. The first call went through from Lucknow to Kanpur. A few years later in 1975, the first PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) system was commissioned between Mumbai City and Andheri telephone exchanges which was similar to STD but functioned on a digital scheme for transmitting analogue data. 

Better connection, however, caused STD and PCM calls to gradually decline until the 2010s, at which point they were all standardized to a single fee for calls made anywhere in the nation, as opposed to being rated according to distance. Additionally, voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) and more affordable smartphone plans killed the STD/ISD/PCO market at the start of the previous decade which will be talked about later in this article.

The boom of the 'Internet'


The Internet has been available in India since 1986, but only to a select few research institutes and universities. On August 15, 1995, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL), then a public sector company, launched internet access for the general public. An internet connection in 1995 cost Rs 5,000 a year for a student account (no images, only text) or Rs 15,000 for a TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) account. Compared to today, speeds were incredibly slow, with dial-up modems typically operating at 133 kbps. A basic 1MB photo would take approximately 30 minutes to download.

Walking with a style with a 'Pager' in the hand 


Only after the economic reforms in 1991, when India was getting used to the internet (not really, due to its cost), was the pager introduced. Radio Paging Services (RPS) and pagers (wireless telecommunications devices that receive and display alphanumeric or voice messages) were introduced to the Indian market in 1992 in 27 cities and 19 circles through an open tendering process. The service became commercially available in 1995 and saw significant usage. Pagers gave people the freedom to move about in cities while still being contactable—either by receiving a number (numeric pager) to call back or one line of text (alpha-numeric pagers). Not to forget, the internet was still in its growing stage, slowly gaining pace and leading to the decline of pagers.

The mobility of 'Mobile Phones' 


With the increase of the internet, there was a rising demand for mobile phones as some private telecom companies started entering into the business. Almost around the mid-1990s, the industry saw a shift to mobile phones. But the original prices for mobile tariffs were really expensive. They even went up to Rs 16.80 per minute for incoming calls. It was only in the early 2000s that incoming calls were made free through the CPP (calling party pays) regime.

'Smartphones' at a touch


Slowly, as people started getting accustomed to mobile phones, many new versions began flooding the market. The first smartphone in India is often attributed to the HTC Touch, also known as the HTC Touch P3450. It was launched in India in 2007. This Windows Mobile-based smartphone had a touchscreen interface and played a significant role in popularizing smartphones in the country.

Over the years, we have seen significant upgrades in smartphones. With foldable smartphones, slide smartphones, flexible smartphones, and even smartwatches and smart bands, the possibilities are endless. It’s so ‘technically nostalgic’ to see the transformation of telecommunication devices from the click of a telegraph to the touch of a smartphone.

Telecommunication Devices Telecommunication Devices in India Trunk calls smartphones telegraph mobile phones pager Department of Telecom World Telecommunication Day