Home / Definitions / Telecommunication


Jenna Phipps
Last Updated August 9, 2021 9:37 am

Telecommunication refers to telephony and cellular network technology. However, the broader definition includes all wired and wireless networks, such as the Internet. Now that telephony includes media sent across the Internet through mobile devices, the term has grown to include a more expansive set of technologies. Generally speaking, the term telecommunication can refer to all types of data transmission, from voice to video.

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Analog and digital telecommunication

Telecommunication transmissions can be either digital or analog. The first telephone lines were analog, sending sound through electrical signals. Digital connections use binary computer code (bits, either 0 or 1) to send information. For many years, digital connections to the Internet ran on traditional telephone lines. To transmit computer data across an analog telecommunication system, devices called modems translated the binary code so that it would be understood and transmitted across the line.

Wired and wireless telecommunication

Initially, telecommunication was entirely wired, using either copper cables or (for the past three decades) fiber optic cables. Copper cables are more durable under heavy weather and wind conditions and require less insulation; however, they do not transmit signals as quickly as fiber optic cables. Fiber optic cables, though they require more protection, are not as likely to degrade. They’re faster and have greater bandwidth capacity to transmit more data at once. However, they are more delicate and must be properly insulated.

Wireless networks send signals by modulating electromagnetic waves. Modulation changes the wave so that it contains the specific data that needs to be transmitted. That data is then transmitted and picked up by the receiver, which is able to understand and interpret the waves.

Telecommunication now uses advanced technology such as fifth-generation (5G) cellular networks, to move voice, video, and data. 5G supports edge computing, a technology for transmitting and analyzing data at the edge of a network, which can include rural areas that didn’t previously have reliable connectivity. 5G also enables the Internet of Things—smart devices and buildings, including homes, security systems, watches, and refrigerators—to all communicate quickly with each other.

Signals and channels

 All telecommunication systems consist of a transmitter, which emits a data signal, and a receiver, which accepts that signal. In wired systems, a transmitter is a piece of hardware that sends a signal. Switches route the signal through the network, along a set path of wires, until it reaches the receiver. In wireless systems, the transmitter sends radio signals, electromagnetic waves which are broadcast and picked up by the receiver.

Social and cultural impact of telecommunication

The invention of the telephone in 1876 and its rapid growth in the following decades allowed people to make an immediate connection (rather than waiting for a letter or traveling to have a discussion). At first, it was used largely for business purposes and important messages, although in the early 1900s users enjoyed experimenting with this new technology purely for fun.

Telecommunication no longer only includes phone calls but extends to every transmission over telephone, web, or satellite networks. Emails, messages, applications, smart watches, and video conferences all fall under telecommunication when used to perform communications or transactions at a distance.

Social media, used both on the web and mobile devices, has changed not only how frequently people can communicate, but with what degree of social intimacy. Social applications enable people to communicate with others at varying levels of familiarity. Connecting on LinkedIn, for instance, is much less personal than sending a good friend texts every day.

Telcommunication networks are also partly responsible for today’s entertainment systems. This includes streaming movies and music via an internet connection.

IP telephony

Often known as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) interchangeably, IP telephony uses internet and IP addresses to send telephone signals, rather than cables and analog phone systems. IP phone hardware has an Internet jack, just like computers do. A company using IP telephony has an Internet service provider that manages and routes all telephone signals on the local network.

IP telephony requires a codec specifically designed for internet telephony, to compress and decompress voice data. IP telephony requires an Internet connection for all communications.

Initially, VoIP and IP telephony referred to slightly different technologies: VoIP was just for phone calls, while IP telephony extended to all such communication systems across the internet. Now, the terms have merged, and telecommunications experts use them to refer to both.

Telecommunication software and providers

Telecommunication service providers now not only provide cellular networks for phones but also digital data management. This can include web-based telephony, edge computing capabilities, IoT management, and business intelligence and analytics. Businesses that purchase software or hardware from a top telecom service provider will have access to communication features much more advanced than just phone call management.

We distinguish here between telecommunication software providers and network providers. Software providers sell solutions for managing and analyzing digital data; network providers run entire cellular networks and sell subscriptions to those networks.

Telecommunication software providers include:

  • Calero
  • Chetu
  • Clearview (Valicom)
  • Datagate (for billing)

Key telecommunication network providers globally include:

  • AT&T – North American telecom provider and one of the top enterprises investing in 5G
  • Verizon – North American telecom provider investing in 5G, including mid-band spectrum
  • China Mobile – Based in Hong Kong, serves Mainland China and 37 countries worldwide.
  • T-Mobile – North American telecom provider with a widespread low-band 5G network
  • Vodaphone UK – UK-based provider
  • Telefonica – Madrid, Spain-based provider with service in EY and Central American countries.
  • América Móvil – Mexicon-based provider provides fixed and wireless service throughout Central and South America.
  • NTT – Global provider based in Tokyo, Japan.
  • Deutsche Telekom – Largest EU telecom provider, parent company to T-Mobile
  • Nokia – European telecom provider that offers 5G solutions including private wireless networks
  • Orange – French provider with 266 million customers worldwide

Some enterprises can fall into both categories; for example, Ericsson is a Swedish network and telecom provider that offers both networking and equipment and services.