We take a look at the history of unified communications; from the very first public video calling service in Germany in 1936 all the way through to the launch of high definition video conferencing tools such as Skype or Facetime and glimpse into what the future holds for seamless, unified, communications.


Remote conferencing is everywhere – but that smartphone in your pocket is just the latest development in a very long journey. Here’s the complete history of unified communications:

1.     1936 – First public video calling service launched in Germany by Gegensehen-Fersprechanlagen. Hardwired video-phone booths allow people in Berlin, Leipzig, Hamburg, Nuremberg and Munich to talk for 20p per minute – about 1/15th of a weeks wages.

2.     1964 – World’s Fair debut – UHF/VHF links connect two people using traditional TV broadcast technology.

3.     1970 – AT&T Picturephone – $160 per month per fixed end point for businesses in the downtown Pittsburgh area. The system only transmits pictures.

4.     1982 – Inter-continental calling – IBM launches a 48,000bps video conferencing link between their US and Japanese offices.

5.     1982 – Commercial Labs offers first “public” service – costs $250,000 for the hardware plus $1,000 per hour for hard line use between offices.

6.     1986 – PictureTel launches – system costs $80,000 and line fee drops to $100 per hour. Still only good for point-to-point calls.

7.     1991 – IBM PicTel – Inter-office calling costs $20,000 with line charges set at just $30 per hour.

8.     1992 – CU-SeeMe video calling software launches on Apple computers – later ported to Windows with audio.

9.     1996 – Microsoft NetMeeting launches – offers “free” video and audio conferencing for Windows PC users.

10.  1997 – Caltech-CERN builds the Virtual Room Video conferencing System (VRVS), linking several global scientific communities.

11.  2003 – low-cost broadband makes video conferencing a reality for consumers and SMEs.

12.  2015 – Hi Definition Video conferencing is now ubiquitous, with Skype, Google Hangouts and Apple FaceTime dominating the consumer sector and solutions like Skype for Business, formerly Microsoft Lync, serving business needs. 4G and BYOD make video conferencing any place, any time a reality.

So what is the future of unified communications?

  • The growth of BYOA – Bring Your Own App – for business applications will create a ‘shadow IT’ scenario as employees bypass the IT department and choose the apps they need to do their jobs.
  • 4K video calling as standard, even to mobile devices, provides ultra-clear video.
  • Improved multi-participant calling that takes advantage of improved bandwidth available from 5G mobile networks.
  • 3D video conferencing tools that use holographic projection to give the impression of being physically present at meetings.


Unified Communications are becoming essential to businesses who need to maintain relationships with remote clients and employees. Unified communications:

  • Allows you to read the body language of your colleagues, pick up on non-verbal cues and use this information to really drive your pitch home.
  • Experience the benefits of face to face communications in building your business relationships.
  • Demonstrate concepts, products and ideas visually in a way that is impossible with other communications tools.

Find out why unified communications should be an integral part of your business operations and how the technology can boost your profits by reading ‘The connected business: Managing beyond the remote workforce.

This post first appeared on the Arkadin blog.