The history of the cell phone truly began with the creation of radio technology. Two-way radios were, after all, the ancestors of the cell phone. It wasn’t until the 1950s that what we would recognize as a cell phone was created. These were the first cell phones that allowed direct dialing. These phones, called the MTA for Mobile Telephone System A, were created by Ericsson and were released in 1956 in Sweden. They were very heavy and bulky, and the phones were usually installed in cars. Only about 150 people used the MTA system.
In 1957, Leonid Kupriyanovich created the radiophone, or a wearable mobile phone, in the USSR. These phones required a base station to operate, but each base station could be used by several customers. His phone weighted only 0.5 kg, making it much more portable that the MTA. A year later, the Altay national civil mobile phone service was developed in the USSR. This service was for car phones, and it went live in 1963.
The cell phone came to the United States in December of 1971. It started when AT&T submitted their cell network proposal to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC kept the proposal wrapped up in committee hearings for years, but in 1982, it was finally approved.
Cell Phones in the 1970s and 1980s
The First Generation, or 1G, of true cell phones began in 1973 when Dr. Martin Cooper of Motorola called AT&T’s Joel Engel, his rival, from outdoors in New York City. He used the DynaTAC prototype, Motorola’s first cell phone. This was followed by AT&T’s Bell Labs activating their first trial cell network in Chicago in 1978 (a network not yet approved by the FCC at this time). The next year, Japan launched the first ever commercial cell network in Tokyo, and it was followed by the NMT system in Scandinavia in 1981.
While AT&T had the first network, it was Motorola that launched the first handheld cell phone. It was the Motorola Dyna 8000X, and it was approved by the FCC in 1983. This opened the floodgates, and many different cell networks and cell phones were introduced throughout the 1980s. All of these phones used an analog system, and many, especially the early phones, were designed to be installed in vehicles instead of carried around. This was because these cell phones were still quite large and heavy. Phones designed to be carried around, for example, were often the size of a standard briefcase! Towards the mid to late 80s, however, Motorola created the first truly handheld cell phones.
Cell Phones in the 1990s
The 1990s saw the creation of the second generation of cell phones. These phones began appearing on the market in 1991, and they included many of the features we now take for granted. The frequencies used for these phones were higher, and many companies dropped their first generation systems to concentrate on these new phones.
During the early 90s, companies began shifting their focus from the large car phones to handheld devices, which quickly became standard. Thanks to new advances in technologies, batteries could be made smaller and devices became more energy efficient. As demand for cell phones rose, new transmission towers had to be installed, expanding the coverage areas.
The second generation of cell phones also introduced the concept of SMS text messaging. This was initially only available on GSM networks, but it soon expanded to all digital networks. The first text was sent in the UK in 1991 by a machine, while the first person to person text was sent in 1993 in Finland. Today, texting is an integral part of cell phones.
The 1990s also saw a few other innovations come to cell phones, including the concept of downloadable content. The option to change ring tones and even download new ring tones was introduced during this time.
Cell Phones in the New Century
The Third Generation of cell phones came about with the development of the 3G networks. These networks were fairly different from the 2G networks. They were digital instead of analog, and they all confirmed to the IMT-2000 standardization, which set data transfer rates. The first of these networks was tested in Japan by NTT DoCoMo n 2001. Shortly thereafter 3G networks appeared in South Korea and the United States. By 2002, 3G networks were in almost every country.
By late 2007/early 2008, there were nearly 300 million 3G cell phone users around the world. These new cell phones have gone way beyond simply sending and making calls. Users can download games, surf the internet, take and send pictures and video, and more. Smart phones even allow users to edit documents and send emails when away from the office. While there was some doubt about the viability of the 3G network, those doubts have been put to rest.
As technology becomes more and more advances, cell phones will continue to expand. Faster networks, more features, and new ways of customizing cell phones are on the way. With phones that weigh practically nothing and fit in a pocket, it’s hard to imagine the days of the huge briefcase sized phone.