Our story begins in the 1920s, which saw the first widespread use of radio transmissions and radio equipment in every home.
Due to the hustle and bustle of trams and motor cars – whose ignition coils acted as transmitters – interference in the airwaves was common and many people were frustrated by crackling sounds on radio programmes.
Looking for solutions, radio engineers began using cable in radio equipment in Brussels and a number of German cities to deliver higher-quality sound.
An innovative Belgian company called Radio Distribution – which later became a member of the Liberty Global family as part of UPC Belgium – was one of the first to use cable in this game-changing way. The technology of choice was coaxial cable, invented and patented by the English engineer and mathematician Oliver Heaviside in 1880. It contained a heavy layer of insulation which reduced signal loss and interference from magnetic fields.
Fast-forward to 1940 and radio had new competition. Television was just beginning to attract American viewers. Everyone wanted it – but some were too far away from the aerial broadcasting stations, while others found the signal was blocked by the terrain.
The first cable entrepreneurs – the so-called “cable cowboys” – spotted an opportunity and began planting big antennae on mountains and other high points that could connect with the distant TV stations. They strung strands of coaxial cable from pole to pole down into the valleys and charged residents to be connected.
This rural antenna service – known as community antenna television, or CATV – was the forerunner of the modern cable industry. It brought the wonders of television to millions of people across the United States.
Happy days for the cable pioneers and their customers. And for their counterparts in Europe where, throughout the 1950s, CATV systems were proliferating in urban areas of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.
Yet the future brought even greater opportunities: it turned out that the network of coaxial cables installed by the early cable pioneers would be able to deliver high-frequency signals to carry data and internet traffic at speeds unmatched by the telephone companies.
It would be transformative to the growth of the internet, which would completely change the way we communicate, book our holidays, consume our news, buy and sell stocks and entertain ourselves.
It was the beginning of the digital age, and we have been at the centre of it ever since.