The First Mobile Phone Call
- April 3rd 1973 -
It was way back in 1908, in Kentucky, that the first patent for a ‘wireless telephone’ was issued. The first call on a mobile device, however, was made by Martin Cooper, an executive and engineer with the firm Motorola on April 3rd 1973. From his office on 6th Avenue in New York he called Dr Joel Engel, of Bell Labs, a rival inventor. He was to recall that there was a silence on the other end of the line, except for the sound of teeth being ground.
This device weighed 1.1kg (Over 2 pounds) and measured 22.8cm x 12.7 x 4.4. You could get 30 minutes of talk time from a 10-hour charge. Whilst phones had been around in cars for a little while this was the first genuinely mobile device – albeit rather heavy!
It was to be a decade before mobile phones were available commercially and the first was sold in 1983 when Motorola released their DynaTAC 8000X. This is now referred to as an 0G phone. It had 30 minutes talk time, 6 hours standby and could store 30 numbers in its memory. In the US it sold for the equivalent of £2639. In the UK it wasn’t until 1985 that calls could be made – although some phones were ‘sold’ in 1984 before they had even been made, such was the clamour to get ahead. The companies in the UK at the time were Racal-Vodafone and Securicor-Cellnet and the official first call in the UK was made by Michael Harrison, the son of the former Vodafone Chairman. He secretly left a family party in Surry and went to Parliament Square where he called his father on a Vodafone VT1, weighing 5kg (11 pounds). His words were: “Hi Dad. It’s Mike. This is the first-ever call made on a UK commercial mobile network”. A few days later the comedian, Ernie Wise, made the official launch call from St Katherine’s Dock to the Vodafone offices – above an Indian restaurant in Newbury.
The development of the technology then took off and now more people in the world own a mobile phone than a toilet. Japan was the first country to have city-wide commercial networks in 1979 and First Generation (1G) phones became available in the mid 80s allowing for fully automatic cellular networks. The film Wall Street, in 1985, famously showed Michael Douglas, the ruthless trader, using a mobile and they quickly they became a ‘yupee’ trademark. In 1986 voicemail was added and by 1990 there were over a million users. Nokia and NEC entered the market in the 1990s and by 1991 2G was first introduced in Finland providing better quality and capacity as well as using digital signals. It also enabled users to send text and picture messages. The first text message is said to have been sent by Neil Papworth, a 22 year old software engineer, wishing Richard Jarvis, a fellow employee at Vodafone, a ‘Happy Birthday’.
In 1997 Philippe Kahn, a French inventor, is credited with sharing the first photograph of his new born daughter, Sophie, from the maternity hospital, and thus the first camera phone. In 2001 3G allowed video calling and better data transmission with 4G following quickly in 2012, enabling faster connections and downloads. 5G across the country is now a government aim by 2020.
The use of mobile technologies is huge. 27% of all uploaded web traffic is from photos and videos uploaded from mobile devices to Facebook and the average person unlocks their smartphone 110 times every day. It is estimated that there are over 5 billion handsets active worldwide. In 2012 Apple sold 340,000 of its phones a day and the iPhone has sold more units than everything Microsoft has to offer. The biggest selling phone of all time is the Nokia 1100 which sold 250 million devices putting it above the Sony Play Station 2.
China now has more internet users on a mobile device than on PCs; in Malaysia it is legal to divorce your partner by text and in Finland mobile throwing is an official sport. Extraordinarily over 100,000 phones are dropped down lavatories very year in the UK alone and there are more bacteria found on a mobile keyboard than on a lavatory handle. Also in the UK a phone is stolen once every 3 minutes and in 2011 calls from mobiles exceeded calls from landlines for the first time. It is no wonder that being without your device now has an official name – nomophobia.
The most expensive phone ever made was an iPhone 5 that cost $15 million. It had 135g of 24 carat gold and the chassis was inlaid with 600 white diamonds. I wonder whether Martin Cooper could ever have seen what he was creating when he uttered those words on 3rd April 1973.