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Director research & sustainability, GSM Association.


In respect of wireless communications, it is difficult to isolate a specific moment of innovation or contribution by an individual in a field reliant on the theories of Maxwell and Shannon, the experiments of Hertz and the electronic innovations associated with the integrated circuit – (and many others who could also be listed).

My innovation choice is the first successful transmission under the leadership of Guglielmo Marconi of radio signals across the Atlantic on 12 December 1901 between Poldhu, Cornwall and Signal Hill, Newfoundland. This was a significant engineering achievement involving the construction of high power transmitter systems at both sites. However, high winds destroyed the Newfoundland antennas and the first signals were actually received by means of a kite trailing 150 metres of antenna wire! This 3200 km transmission is all the more incredible knowing that in 1895 Marconi’s successful transmission range was only about two km.

Successful transatlantic radio transmissions were hugely symbolic, linking two continents and by extension the planet with signals that did not need a physical connection to cross borders. Further innovations by Marconi and others have brought us to a world of ubiquitous radio and TV coverage where distance is no barrier to information sharing and where more than two billion people use radio waves every day to communicate via their mobile phone.