Science and Invention


When did mobile phones first come into use?

Mobile communication dates back to radiophones used in the 1940s and 1950s. They were two-way radio systems that were powered by car batteries and required operator assistance; they were not very reliable, and the phones were anchored to a place, not a person. The first truly mobile phone call, in that it used a portable handset, was manufactured on April 3, 1973. The caller was Dr. Martin Cooper of Motorola, who, from the streets of Manhattan, called rival researcher Joel Engel at Bell Laboratories (AT&T’s research arm); the two companies were in a heated race to develop mobile telephony. The device used by Cooper that day was called the Dyna-Tac; it weighed two pounds and had simple dial, talk, and listen features.

The first generation of mobile phones began to be widely used in the 1980s. These phones were large by today’s standards and were usually installed in a car or briefcase. Transmission was via clusters of base stations, or cellular networks. The next generation of mobile phones appeared in the 1990s; the handset and battery technology improved, allowing for more features in smaller-sized phones and greater mobility; these were reliable phones that people could carry with them. As more users adopted the technology, cellular providers expanded transmitting systems. In some areas of the world, usage took off to the point of near universality by 2000. Usage in the United States, though strong, lagged behind the rest of the developed world. Some analysts believed that this was due to relatively high service fees, while others cited a lack of reliability, especially in rural areas. The land-based telephone system in the United States was designed to nine nines of reliability (meaning it can be counted on to function 99.9999999 percent of the time), a standard as yet unmet by cellular technology.


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