Who Invented The Modem? (Invention Timeline Explained)

The modem is a device that works as the modulator-demodulator for data signals crossing digital and analog networks. Today’s modems have faster transfer speeds due to the high-speed transfer rate and new protocols for data transfer. Initially, news agencies used modems to transfer data faster. But, it became popular in the U.S. during the Cold War since the internet and computers became prevalent.

The invention of the modem was indeed a massive step in advancing communication. So, let us look back on when, where, and who started it all.

Who invented the modem?

While the inventor of the computer, Dennis C. Hayes, is responsible for the modem’s emergence, many investors like Dr. Brent Townshend and Robert Lucky have significant contributions to the modem’s invention.

The modem’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Dennis C. Hayes
    The inventor of the computer

    Hayes invented the modem for personal computers in 1977, and with that began the birth of the online and internet era. At first, modems were used to communicate between the host computer and data terminals. Afterward, modems began interpreting data from different networks to the host. 

  • AT&T
    The first company to sell modems

    While the earlier modems were only available to a select few, such as gov’t services, AT&T made it possible for the public to buy one. The first-ever modem that became available for selling in the U.S. was the Bell 103 by AT&T. This modem granted full-duplex transmission of data over conventional wired phone circuits up to 300 bits per second.

  • Dr. Rouzbeh Yassini
    The broadband visionary

    Yassini is also called the “broadband visionary”. He invented the cable modem that established the Cable Modem Industry Standards through the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers, Cable Television Laboratories, and the International Telecommunication Union.

  • Dale Heatherington
    Dennis C. Hayes’ right-hand man

    Dale Heatherington worked with Dennis C. Hayes to develop Hayes Microcomputer Products, the company that invented the Hayes modem and command set.

When was the modem invented?

The modulator/demodulator (modem) was invented in 1955, allowing data communication over audio telephone lines.

A brief history of the modem

The first types of modems were invented in the 1920s. The primary purpose of a modem back then was to deliver data types across assigned telephone lines, which news agencies primarily utilized. With a paper punch, they could create data at one location, transfer over telephone wires to another site, then print them for users to look at. It was the first time when “instant messaging” happened.

During the Cold War in the 1940s, the U.S. Air Force discovered that modems could help transmit information. This began the advancement of the said technology. For the United States to monitor Soviet activity, large amounts of radar images, as well as other data, had to be swapped across various sites worldwide. The Air Force Cambridge Research Center developed the modem to solve the problem.

By the 1950s, most strategic military locations, such as radar stations and bases, had modulator-demodulator capabilities. By 1959, Bell Laboratories’ Bell 101 modem, which offered 110 bit/s, was available for commercial use (bits per second). In 1962, the 300 bit/s speed Bell 103 type offered full-form models almost three times faster than the speed of the previous model. The Bell 103 modem set the bar for the industry, and non-AT&T models began to produce full-form modems for data transmission.

In the 1990s, that speed increased exponentially from 300 bits per second to 56k/56kbit per second. In addition to 56k speeds, various protocols were utilized for data compression of those being sent without speeding up, which sends data even faster. The modem was eventually used to enable personal computers to use dial-up Internet connections at home.

The modem timeline

  1. 1950s
    When telephone line modems were mass-produced

    The United State’s SAGE air-defense system was the reason for the mass production of the telephone line modems in 1958. Its sole purpose was to connect various terminals at several airbases, command-and-control centers, and radar sites to the SAGE director centers all over the United States and Canada.

  2. 1960s
    The undeterred engineer

    The early types of modems were touch-tone frequencies or dual-tone multi-frequency signaling, such as the Bell 400 modems. Touch-tone frequencies worked by pressing a button that would emit tones to be heard by the receiving end. The touch-tone was not new at that time as it was A&T’s trademark in the 1950s.The next to be developed was the Bell 103A in 1962. Back then, this modem was the only one capable of providing full-duplex service with 300 bits per second over normal phone lines. The Bell 103A used FSK or frequency-shift keying to transmit data at 1,070 or 1,270 HZ from the call originator to 2,025 OR 2,225 HZ to the other end of the call. 

  3. 1970s
    The introduction of different types of modems

    In the 1970s, a synchronous modem was made, the 201A Data-Phone. While this modem could only provide 2,000 bits half-duplex over regular phone lines, it used two-bit-per-symbol phase-shift keying encoding.In 1973, a known company was able to compete with AT&T. Racal-Vadic made a new modem named VA3400. This modem was able to run in full-duplex at 1,2000 bits per second over a regular phone line.In 1976, to compete with Vadic, AT&T invented the 212A modem. It had a similar design to Vadic’s VA3400, but it used a set of lower frequency transmissions. While the modem could operate with other AT&T modems such as the Bell 103A, it was not compatible Vadic’s VA3400.In 1977, Vadic responded by making a faster modem called the VA3467 triple modem. This modem was sold only to people or agencies owning a central processing unit that supported Vadic’s 1,200 bits mode, AT&T’s Bell 103A and 212A.

  4. 1980s
    Significant advancement in modems

    A more advanced modem was introduced in 1981. Communication became much easier and more convenient since the introduction of Hayes Smartmodem. This invention made the modem vendors grow by competing with the price and features of the Smartmodem. Unfortunately, the growth of the modem industry led to legal actions as some inventors or vendors illegally used the patent of Hayes command language. 

  5. 1990s
    Modems running at 9600 bit/s were introduced

    V.32 modems running at 9600 bit/s were introduced in the early 1990s, but they were expensive and only began to enter the market when V.32bis, which operated at 14,400 bit/s, was standardized. 

Where was the modem invented?

While the first modem, defined as a modulator-demodulator device, was developed in the 1920s, the first commercial modem was developed at Bell Laboratories, an AT&T subsidiary.

The importance of the modem

  • Data Converter

    We require a converter to transfer data to the telephone’s analog system. Today, we can also convert digital data to analog data. The signal is then converted to digital by the modem via demodulation. This is a basic explanation of the processes that occur in a modem. Error corrections, error detection, data compression, and encryption are all processes in a modem. 

  • Higher quality and faster transfer of data 

    Fast modems will eliminate the time delays that most businesses face. They also require this to provide real-time customer support. It also allows for quick communication, which is essential for many people. 

  • Good quality graphics for bigger applications  

    Good quality graphics for bigger applications are essential for applications like Java. In addition, a fast modem is required for developing multimedia applications and three-dimensional games.

  • Creating the local area network for homes or offices  

    Today, this is one of the most cost-effective methods of connecting two computers. It allows for faster communication, such as in a hospital where patients and medical staff have quicker access to health records. In addition, this is required for the entertainment industry to provide clearer images and sounds, similar to HDTV.

The modem by the numbers

  • 56,000A 56k modem (k stands for 1000, as opposed to M, which stands for million) meant that the hypothetical speed was 56 thousand bits per second. Actual speeds were half or less of that. 
  • 103AT&T produced and sold the Bell 103, the first commercial modem, in 1962. This modem was the only modem at that time to feature frequency-shift keying (FSK), full-duplex transmission, and a 300 bits per second (bauds) speed.
  • 9600V. 32 modems running at 9600 bit/s were introduced in the early 1990s. However, they were expensive and only entered the market when V. 32bis, which operated at 14,400 bit/s, was standardized.
  • 1950Commercial modems did not become widely available until the late 1950s, when the growth of computer innovation created a demand for connecting computers over long distances, leading to the Bell Company and then other companies producing a rising number of computer modems for use.

Five facts about the modem

  • Traditional modem alternatives

    Other technologies also provide the same functionality offered by a traditional dial-up modem, which is to electronically transmit information. 

  • Modem types

    The modem you’re using is either a standard modem or a Windows modem. You can use a standard modem  as an external or internal device, or a legacy or plug and play. It utilizes generic device drivers and is OS-independent. Meanwhile, Windows modem utilizes a Windows operating system device driver.You can tell the type of the modem by reading the system documentation or go to the manufacturer’s website.

  • External versus internal modems

    Like any expansion card, internal modems are mounted in a suitable expansion slot. Typical modern modems might not need physical configuration, but some include DIP switches or jumpers that you should set.

  • Modems improved substantially through the years

    Transfer speeds increased as the product evolved, not only because of the actual transfer rate but also because of the protocols used to transfer data. Data compression was eventually used, which allowed data to be moved faster while not increasing the bit/s rate.

FAQ about the modem

  • Is a router required, or can I just use the modem?

    You can use just the modem if you only have one or a few devices that connect to the internet. Keep in mind that many modems lack wireless capabilities so additional ethernet cables may be required.

  • What is the method by which a modem receives data?

    A modem sends data by modulating one or more carrier wave signals to encode digital information, which is then demodulated by the receiver to recreate the original digital data. The goal is to create a signal that can be easily transmitted and reliably decoded.

  • Can I use a cable modem from the United States in other countries?

    As long as they adhere to the same standard. A DOCSIS cable modem will not function on a EuroDOCSIS system, and vice versa. For starters, the downstream (T.V.) channel width varies. Take note of the differences in A.C. voltage and power plugs as well.

  • Can I use a cable modem to send and receive faxes?

    No. The Cable Modem does not transmit or receive faxes in the same way that an analog telephone modem does. However, if you sign up for fax service, you can receive and send faxes via email (for free or at a minimal fee).

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