Skip to Content
Corporate Technology – Communications Technology
Communications come of Age
The pointer telegraph, our company’s foundation stone, was invented by Werner von Siemens in 1847. Communications have come a long way since then. Today, the focus is on the convergence of fixed-line networks, mobile communications, Internet and TV—and once again Siemens is leading the way.
In the near future, driving to a new customer for the first time will be easier than ever. You’ll plug your personal digital assistant (PDA) into the car, call up the customer’s name and off you’ll go. The PDA will automatically transfer the customer’s address to the navigation system, which will guide you to your destination. "Initial tests are already being conducted," says Michael Berger of Siemens Corporate Technology (CT), a specialist in Ambient Intelligence (Aml). "The tests make extensive use of our research into the autonomous behavior of devices." The objective of Aml research is to achieve wireless networking of sensors, radio modules and computer systems, and to endow these with the ability to communicate and sufficient intelligence to adapt to the user’s needs according to the situation. "And we’re talking about all environments—from the factory and the office to the car and the home," says Berger. Looking a few years ahead, he adds: "In addition to recognizing the user’s context, these intelligent systems will need to act autonomously and with foresight." There are several reasons why such visions are becoming increasingly realistic. These include wireless connection systems such as Bluetooth and WLAN, the miniaturization of high-performance components like sensors, and above all new software that’s not only self-configuring but also self-organizing.
Werner von Siemens, the company’s founder, was also eager to satisfy customers’ needs. In 1847 he invented the pointer telegraph, which provided a pointer that even a lay person could easily set to transmit letters of the alphabet without having to use Morse code. "Ridiculously simple" he called his invention in a letter to his brother Wilhelm. But British patent documents indicate how systematically he had researched the suitability of different materials for the electrical contacts in the small laboratory at Siemens & Halske in Berlin. He preferred inincluding novations that required little capital but involved clever ideas. However, communications research in the first Siemens Corporate laboratory, which was established in 1905, and indeed until the postwar years, focused much less on short-term products. Back then communications engineering was still in its infancy, and groundbreaking inventions still had to be developed.
One of the pioneers in that era was Hans Ferdinand Mayer, who was appointed head of the Siemens Laboratory for Long Distance Telephony in 1924 and later became director of the Corporate Laboratory in 1936. That’s where he developed many innovations, inincluding the "Echo Suppressor with Electron Relay," which eliminated interfering echoes in longdistance connections. Carrier frequency technology for undersea cables, another of his revolutionary inventions, enabled him to multiplex communications through land lines and undersea cables and thus double the number of simultaneous calls. In other words, Siemens research in that period was focused on perfecting high-quality voice transmission for a large number of subscribers. By the time Mayer passed the baton to his successor in 1962, he had already begun to miniaturize components and to emphasize the importance of information theory to communications engineering. Application-oriented research dominated the ensuing years well into the early 1970s. "Companies would virtually snatch inventions from scientists’ hands, because products were so simple to implement," recalls Karl-Ulrich Stein, former director of the Public Networks Corporate Laboratory.
Gustav Hertz (1887 – 1975),
nephew of Heinrich Hertz, the discoverer of electromagnetic waves, shared the 1925 Nobel Prize for physics with James Franck for their work concerning interactions during the collision of electrons with gas molecules. From 1935 until 1945 he headed the Siemens Research Laboratory II in Berlin, which had been established especially for him. He made important contributions basic physics research topics, such as the generation of microwaves, and electroacoustics.
Hans Ferdinand Mayer (1895 – 1980)
was a pioneer in electronic communications engineering. He conducted research into interference-free data transmission in long-distance connections and multiplexing in land lines and undersea cables. From 1935 on, he participated in the development of the first broadband television cable. During the Nazi years he was arrested and imprisoned. In 1946 he went to the U.S., taught as a professor of communications technology for four years and wrote a standard textbook about pulse code modulation. From 1950 until 1962, Mayer headed the Communications Engineering Research Department at Siemens. Under his direction, significant progress was made in the areas of information theory and component miniaturization.
A revolutionary advance for data transmission occurred when analog technology was replaced by digital and pulse methods. Siemens introduced the Hicom private communications system in 1984. It met the worldwide ISDN standard and was the first system to integrate all forms of communication in a single network, on a single line, and for a single subscriber number.
Significant developments from Siemens laboratories resulted in another bestseller: The digital electronic switching system EWSD, which replaced analog switching in 1980. "EWSD was a breakthrough in digitization, hardware and software architecture. It advanced all developments that shaped communications engineering in the late 20th century," says Stein. "EWSD was not only number one in the world market for years; it was also a key to success in addressing the mobile communications infrastructure."
Research also kept setting new world records in bit rates—whether in transmissions through optical fibers or by means of optimized modulation and encoding algorithms in UMTS. Siemens has played a key role in advancing UMTS, the third mobile communications generation. In 2001, Siemens transferred over 7 Tbit/s through a 50-km glass fiber—the equivalent of 100 million simultaneous telephone conversations. And in 2004, a Siemens laboratory in Munich achieved another first by transferring 1 Gbit/s through a mobile communications connection—that’s about 2,500 times more data than can normally be transferred via UMTS.
Powerful new software has played a decisive role in many communications developments. "Up to 80 % of today’s investment in research and develop ment on larger networks is spent on software," says Hartmut Raffler, who heads Information & Communications at Corporate Technology. "10 to 15 years ago, it was the other way round," he recalls.
One example of the rapid progress in software is the softswitch, a software-based network component for next-generation networks that acts as an intelligent switch in routing networkwide signals. A key factor in this area is the media-independent Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). SIP makes it possible to integrate all existing communications networks (land lines, the Internet and mobile communications). As a result, future users will be reachable anytime, anywhere, on any network, and with any type of equipment. "Today, our research is increasingly focused on ease of use," says Raffler. For example, future users won’t have to care at all about mystifying network terminology like WLAN, Ethernet, DSL, UMTS, HSDPA and WIMAX. The new applications for notebooks and mobile phones will automatically select the fastest and most economical connection. And if one connection fails, another will replace it. Although systems will become more complex and functionality more dependent on software, the process will remain just as "ridiculously simple"—from a user’s point of view—as in the pointer telegraph of 1847.