Although mobile telephones have existed in some fashion or another since the 1950s, these were primarily 2 way radios with a phone operator on the stationary end. The first mobile telephones as we now know them emerged in the 1970s, with the emergence of six sided ‘cell’ transmitters and automated handover technology, which allowed you to carry on a phone call from one transmitter zone to the next without the need to re-dial. Most transportable on the market at this point were incredibly bulky and heavy, and at first, were only made available as a permanent installation in a sizable vehicle, which is why they were often referred to as being ‘car phones’. However, manufacturers soon converted these units into self-contained ‘transportable’ phones, which were about the size of a briefcase.
The first public demonstration of transportable mobile phone technology came on the third of April, 1973, when an employee of Motorola, Dr. Martin Cooper called his rival at AT&T Bell, Dr. Joel S. Engel on a prototype Motorola DynaTAC mobile telephone, while walking the streets of New York surrounded by a gaggle of reporters and cameramen. At this point, Motorola was better known for making two-way radios for taxis, police cruisers, and haulage trucks, rather than telecoms, so this represented a major coup for the firm.
Nowadays, mobile phones are so ubiquitous that network providers can afford to give away state of the art handsets for free with their monthly subscriptions. But it’s easy to forget that it was not so long ago that mobile phones as we now know them weren’t available at all.
The first trial of a commercial mobile telecommunications network, Bell Laboratories’ AMPS system, took place in Chicago in 1978. However, the FCC did not approve this system nationally until 1982, which meant that Japanese electronics firm NET were able to steal a march on Bell when they launched their NMT network in Japan in 1979. In 1981 the network was expanded to include Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
Although the AMPS network went online in 1982, it wasn’t until the following year that the first commercially available handheld mobile telephone, the Motorola Dyna 8000X, was released in the US. Mobile phone networks, consisting of an array of low-power transmitters placed relatively close to each other, linked by automated handover protocols, began to turn up everywhere as the eighties went on. At this point, all systems relied upon analogue technology, which severely restricted the amount of mobile telephones that could be in use in any one area. When these networks were changed over to digital in the early 90s, it was the end for analogue phone technology, which over time has come to be referred to as 1G, or first generation, mobile phone technology.