The History of Caller ID

by Jeff Kirchick (@JeffreyKirchick)

“You blocked me on Facebook…and now you are going to die.” These are lyrics to a popular song called “Internet Friends.” While these lyrics are certainly hyperbolic, it is still fascinating to think about the society we live in today, where privacy seems like an afterthought. In this fictional scenario, blocking someone from seeing your personal information leads to your impending doom.

Years ago, it was a rule of thumb not to answer the phone during dinner time because presumably you were busy, but also because you assumed it was a telemarketer. Then caller ID came out, and suddenly when you got that important family phone call during dinner, you could answer the phone. That relative you don’t feel like talking to right now? Well, maybe they can wait.

The point is, caller identification is part of a growing movement where information is shared more easily and seamlessly. The invention of caller ID not only allows us to “screen” our calls before answering, but it also eliminates the 15-20 seconds we used to have at the beginning of every phone call figuring out who is calling to begin with.

What’s amazing to me is the lack of innovation in this arena in the past few decades. Seriously, what improvements have you seen to caller ID ever since it first came out? The best I have seen is that on my iPhone, I can now see a picture of the person calling me along with their name. And while a picture may mean a thousand words, it really does not offer much additional insight – like what the person has tweeted lately, or what products they are searching for on Google.

The first prototype of modern Caller ID was developed in 1971 by Theodore Paraskevakos. In patents related to those devices, he proposed to send alphanumeric information to the receiving apparatus, and this was received with great success. His invention was improved by Japanese inventor Kazuo Hashimoto, who in 1976 built a prototype of a Caller ID display device that could receive Caller ID information. The first market trial for Caller ID was conducted by BellSouth in 1984.

But since 1984, there has been very little innovation to traditional caller ID. In 1995, call waiting ID was introduced by Bellcore, but this only allowed caller ID to be transmitted while the user was simultaneously on the phone; it did not make any improvement to traditional caller ID. Rising popularity of cellular phones is actually making caller ID increasingly obsolete; most networks do not support the necessary infrastructure to support the transmission of this data. For this reason, carriers report the name as “unavailable” or “wireless caller.” In 2002, mobile users surpassed landline subscribers, and in 2014, cell phones outnumber landlines 6:1. In ten years, it is anticipated that this ratio will grow to 18:1.

We at Next Caller are working hard to finally improve caller ID once again. What kinds of improvements do you foresee in the world of caller ID? What is missing today that would be helpful to your business?