In January 1858, the first 74-mile long needle telegraph line (Type: Cooke and Wheatstone Telegraph) was installed between Colombo and Galle. This was done before the invention of telephone in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell. See below for the timeline of events.

1858: First Telegraph Line in Sri Lanka (74 Miles)

2022 - 1858 = 164 Years Back

Source: from SLT website

The First Telegraph Line in Sri Lanka

Image Source: from SLT website

Challenges: Herds of Wild Elephants

Challenges to telecommunication installations in Sri Lanka: Herds of wild elephants roaming the countryside knocked down posts and broke the wires. - recorded in Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon by Arnold Wright. See the book below. You can find the link to the page (page 207) below.

Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon Cover Page The First Telegraph Line in Sri Lanka

Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon Page One The First Telegraph Line in Sri Lanka

The First Telegraph Line in Sri Lanka

View Book (Page 207)

View Page 207: "Herds of wild elephants roaming the countryside..."

1858: Second Telegraph Line

Six months after the first line, (June 1858), the second one was installed between Colombo and Kandy. Then step by step The Telegraphic Network of Sri Lanka came into operation.

Cooke and Wheatstone Needle Telegraph

The Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph was an early electrical telegraph system dating from the 1830s invented by English inventor William Fothergill Cooke and English scientist Charles Wheatstone. It was a form of needle telegraph, and the first telegraph system to be put into commercial service. The receiver consisted of a number of needles which could be moved by electromagnetic coils to point to letters on a board. This feature was liked by early users who were unwilling to learn codes, and employers who did not want to invest in staff training. - Wikipedia

Read more: Cooke and Wheatstone Telegraph

This type of telegraph was used as the first telecommunication link in Sri Lanka back in 1858. It was 74-mile long cable supported by coastal coconut trees stretching between Colombo and Galle.

Cooke and Wheatstone Telegraph Line in Sri Lanka

Read more: Needle Telegraph

Oriental Telephone Company

The Oriental Telephone Company was established on January 25, 1881, as the result of an agreement between Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, the Oriental Bell Telephone Company of New York and the Anglo-Indian Telephone Company, Ltd. The company was licensed to sell telephones in Greece, Turkey, South Africa, India, Japan, China, and other Asian countries.

Read more about: Oriental Telephone Company

Thomas Edison, 1906, H.C. White Co., and Alexander Graham Bell, 1892

Thomas Edison, 1906, H.C. White Co., and Alexander Graham Bell, 1892 source

  • 1876 March: Alexander Graham Bell: A patent for the first telephone. (Design is ready. Not working)
  • Three Days Later: to assistant Thomas Watson, "Mr. Watson, Come Here, I Want to See You" (Working!)
  • Three Months Later: Machinery Hall, first demonstration (Centennial Exhibition: But the winner was 'Corliss Engine')
  • Another 2 months Later: approached Western Union attempting to sell his patent for $100,000 (WU rejected the offer; but two years later patent was worth $25 million !!!)
  • 5 Years Later (1881): The Oriental Telephone Company

Read more about these historical records.


The First International Telegraphic Link in Sri Lanka

1859: The needle telegraph instrument in use in Ceylon was replaced by the Morse telegraph: invented in 1838 by American Samuel Morse (or his assistant Alfred Vail?). The Morse instruments were used in Sri Lanka as the new standard for telegraphy from 1864 to 1878. These telegraph links were used for railway signaling. The telegraph had an enormous impact on business and government in Sri Lanka.

Separate railway and postal telegraph lines (along the railway track from Colombo to Kandy) The original circuit along the cart road dismantled.

1865 March: First telegraphic message from Europe via India.

1865 August: First telegraphic message from North America.

Morse Code

To transmit messages across telegraph wires, in the 1830s Morse and Vail created what came to be known as Morse code.

Read more about Morse Code

  • assigned letters in the alphabet and numbers a set of dots (short marks) and dashes (long marks)
  • letters used often (such as “E”) got a simple code
  • while those used infrequently (such as “Q”) got a longer and more complex code

Read more about Electrical Telegraph

International Morse Code

...---... = SOS

SOS in Morse Code

On May 24, 1844, Morse sent Vail the historic first message: “What hath God wrought!” The telegraph system subsequently spread across America and the world, aided by further innovations.

Source: on history.com


National Telecommunications Museum in Sri Lanka

To showcase the historical journey of telecommunications in Sri Lanka SLT decided to convert its iconic Padukka Satellite Station into a museum that will display SLT’s valuable collection of communications items. This will show the transformative journey of Sri Lanka’s telecommunications industry.

Source: slt.lk/museum

Visit online

National Telecommunications Museum in Sri Lanka


TRCSL - The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka

The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) was established under the Sri Lanka Telecommunication (Amendment) Act No. 27 of 1996. As the national regulatory agency for telecommunications in Sri Lanka we will promote sustained development in the telecommunication industry by shaping the regulatory process, protecting public interest and being responsive to challenges in an increasingly competitive market. TRCSL will ensure that competition in the market is open, fair and effective.

Learn more about TRCSL

Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act

Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act

  • Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act No. 25 of 1991
  • Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act No. 27 of 1996

Summary of Events related to the History of Telecommunications in Sri Lanka

These events may not be directly related to Sri Lanka. But many of them were mentioned in the article above. They are listed chronologically below.

1837

  • Jan 1837: Cooke proposed a design for a 60-code mechanical telegraph to the directors of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
  • May 1837: Cooke and Wheatstone patented a telegraph system which used a number of needles on a board that could be moved to point to letters of the alphabet.

1844

  • May 24: “What hath God wrought!” Morse sent Vail the historic first message.

1858

  • January: First telegraph line in Sri Lanka (Needle Telegraph)
  • June: Second telegraph line in Sri Lanka.
  • Ceylon Railway was inaugurated.

1859

  • First international telegraph line in Sri Lanka (Morse Telegraph)

1865

  • March: First telegraphic message from Europe.
  • August: First telegraphic message from North America.
  • May 17: World Telecom Day Paris - 20 Countries - The first international conventions and telegraph regulations.

1876

  • March: Alexander Graham Bell: A patent for the first telephone.
  • Western Union rejected the offer to sell the telephone patent!

1880

  • July 1: Indian Government > Ceylon Government (1,653 miles of posts and 3,366 miles of wire)

1881

  • Jan 25: The Oriental Telephone Company was established.

1896

  • Jan 01: Sri Lankan Government takes over a manually operated exchange at a cost of Rs. 42,666 from the Oriental Telephone Company (56 subscribers)

1905

  • Post and Telegraph Department of Ceylon established. at General Post Office building, Colombo. (Postmaster General and Director of Telegraphs T.E.B. Skinner)

1911

  • The Central Telegraph Office (CTO) building was opened.

1912

  • Colombo Wireless Telegraph Station, Sri Lanka.

1931

  • Installation of Automatic Telephone Exchange at Kahawatta.

1935

  • International Telephone Service of Sri Lanka inaugurated.

1938

  • Manually Operated Phone Exchange in Colombo is replaced by the Strowger automatic exchange.

1941

  • International operations handed over to Cable & Wireless Company.

1976

  • First Satellite Earth Station in Sri Lanka commissioned in Padukka.

1980

  • 1880: One-Posts and Telegraph Department 1980: Two=Postal Department + Telecom Department.

1981

  • The first digital master exchange was installed.

1982

  • A microwave link was set up between India and Sri Lanka.

1985

  • SE-ME-WE submarine cable connected to Sri Lanka.

1986

  • The First Fibre Optic Cable was laid.

1988

  • The First Mobile Telephone Licence was issued.

1990

  • Digital Packet Switching service was introduced.

1991

  • Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act No. 25 of 1991

1993

  • Mobitel was established as a joint venture between SLT and Telstra Australia.
  • Dialog was incorporated in 1993 as MTN Networks (Private) Limited with 90% of equity through Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM) and 10% by Capital Maharaja being the local promoters to the investment.

1995

  • Dialog or MTN Networks began its commercial operations under the brand name Dialog GSM by rolling out the first digital network in South Asia using GSM technology hence offering a superior service compared to analog networks at the time.

1996

  • Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act No. 27 of 1996
  • 1896: Oriental to Government 1996: Government privatized SLT. (SLT Corporation to SLT Limited)

2005

  • SLT launched CDMA telephone.
  • Dialog Telekom launched The Largest IPO seen by the Sri Lankan capital markets in an attempt to finance expanding the network. The Dialog Telekom initial offer, which was launched on a book building structure at a price range of LKR 8 to LKR 12 per share, consists of 712.3 million ordinary shares, which is a 9.6% stake of the company. Offer was oversubscribed 3 times within an hour of opening and Dialog Telekom was able to raise LKR 8.55 Billion (US$77 million).

2007

  • SLT launched Peo TV (Sri Lanka’s first IPTV service)

2011

  • Telecommunication Levy Act, No 21 of 2011.

2012

  • SLT’s 100Mbps Super-Fast Broadband Internet went live in Sri Lanka.

2014

  • SLT launched Fixed 4G/LTE technology in 2014, while partnering 15 global telcoms to connect continents via SEA-ME-WE 5 submarine cable system.

2016

  • May 17: Opened National Telecommunications Museum in Sri Lanka.