These days, with the massive use of cell phones (also called cellular, mobile or hand phones), it's hard to believe that it was only a few years ago - in the early nineties - that the cell phone was a luxury enjoyed by only a few people. How did we manage to get through life without having a cell phone with us all the time?
This website provides information about the evolution of the cell / mobile phone. It covers the technologies involved, the companies and people that have played a significant role in the history of the cell phone and, of course, a look at some of the iconic handsets themselves.
What is a Cell Phone?
In a nutshell, a cell phone is a device that can make and receive telephone calls over a radio link whilst moving around a wide geographic area. It does this by connecting to a cellular network that is provided by a mobile network operator. The calls are to and from the public telephone network, which includes other mobiles and fixed-line phones across the world. By contrast, a cordless telephone is used only within the short range of a single, private base station, typically inside a house.
In addition to telephony, modern cell / mobile phones also support a wide variety of other services such as text messaging, MMS, Internet access, email, short-range wireless communications (infrared, Bluetooth), business applications, gaming and photography. Mobile phones that offer these and more general computing capabilities are referred to as smartphones.
Early Pioneers of the Cell Phone
The history of the cell phone can initially be traced back to 1843 when Michael Faraday began his research into whether space could conduct electricity or not. In 1865, a dentist from Virginia, Dr Mahlon Loomis was perhaps the first person to transmit a message without the use of a wire. He claimed to have managed to transmit a telegraphic message within a distance of 14 miles, although there were no independent witnesses available to verify the claim. Later, in 1900, inventor Reginald Fessenden carried out the what was possibly the first radio transmissions of voice and music.
By 1930, telephone customers in the United States could place a call to a passenger on a liner in the Atlantic Ocean. Air time charges were extremely high though: in 1930, the cost was $7/minute, which would equate to about $92.50/minute in 2011!
An Early Cell / Mobile Phone
It was not, however, until the 1940s that technology started to progress sufficiently to enable advances that have led to the cell / mobile phone we have today. Motorola developed a backpacked two-way radio, the Walkie-Talkie and a large hand-held two-way radio for the US military. This battery powered "Handie-Talkie" (HT) was about the size of a man's forearm.
Mobile telephones for automobiles became available from some telephone companies in the 1950s. Early devices were very bulky though and consumed a lot of power and the network supported only a few simultaneous conversations. Modern cellular networks allow automatic and pervasive use of cell phones for voice and data communications.
It was not until 1973 that the first handset was made by a team led by Dr Martin Cooper - a former general manager of Motorola's Systems Division. Dr Martin Cooper was the first person to talk through a cell phone when Motorola installed a base station to handle the first public demonstration of a phone call over the cellular network. Within a few years, testing of cell phones had begun using volunteers in the United States and later in Japan. By 1988 the cellular technology industry was starting to take shape and to lay down the goals for the future of the cell phone industry.
Generations of Cell Phone
Cell phone history is often divided into generations (first, second, third and so on) to mark significant changes in capabilities as technology has improved.
First generation (1G) cell phones
The technological development that distinguished the First Generation of cell phones from the previous generation, which is sometimes referred to as zero generation, was the use of multiple cell sites, and the ability to transfer calls from one site to the next as the user travelled between cells during a conversation. The first commercially automated cellular network (the 1G generation) was launched by NTT in Japan in 1979. The initial launch network covered the full metropolitan area of Tokyo with a cellular network of 23 base stations, servicing 20 million people. Within five years, the NTT network had been expanded to cover the whole population of Japan and became the first nation-wide 1G network.
Second generation (2G) cell phones
In the 1990s, the second generation (2G) cell phone systems emerged, primarily using the GSM standard. These differed from the previous (first) generation by using digital instead of analog transmission, and also fast out-of-band phone-to-network signaling. The rise in cell phone usage as a result of 2G was explosive and this era also saw the advent of prepaid cell phones (pay-as-you-go).
Third generation (3G) cell phones
In the mid 2000s an evolution of 3G technology begun to be implemented, namely High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA). It is an enhanced 3G (third generation) mobile telephony communications protocol in the High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) family, also coined 3.5G, 3G+ or turbo 3G, which allows networks based on Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) to have higher data transfer speeds and capacity. Current HSDPA deployments support down-link speeds of 1.8, 3.6, 7.2 and 14.0 Mbit/s. Further speed increases are available with HSPA+, which provides speeds of up to 42 Mbit/s downlink and 84 Mbit/s with Release 9 of the 3GPP standards.
Fourth generation (4G) cell phones
By 2009, it had become clear that, at some point, 3G networks would be overwhelmed by the growth of bandwidth-intensive applications like streaming media. Consequently, the industry began looking to data-optimized 4th-generation technologies, with the promise of speed improvements up to 10-fold over existing 3G technologies. The first two commercially available technologies billed as 4G were the WiMAX standard (offered in the U.S. by Sprint) and the LTE standard, first offered in Scandinavia by TeliaSonera.
One of the main ways in which 4G differs technologically from 3G is in its elimination of circuit switching, instead employing an all-IP network. Thus, 4G ushered in a treatment of voice calls just like any other type of streaming audio media, utilizing packet switching over internet, LAN or WAN networks via VoIP.
Cell Phone Use in 2011
Here are a few facts and figures to demostrate how, in the space of a few years, the cell phone has become such a big part of our lives:
- In 2011 there were 5.3 billion mobile subscribers (that's 77 percent of the world's population). Growth is led by China and India.
- In 2009, half a billion people accessed the mobile Internet worldwide. Usage is expected to double within five years as mobile overtakes the PC as the most popular way to get on the Web.
- Many mobile Web users rarely, or never, use a desktop, laptop or tablet to access the Web. Even in the US, 25 percent of mobile Web users are mobile-only. By 2011, over 85 percent of new handsets are able to access the mobile Web.
April 2012: Chip Shortage for Smartphones
In April 2012, Qualcomm - the world's best-selling mobile phone chipmaker - warned that it cannot meet demand for its Snapdragon S4 processors.
The company said that the third-party factories that manufacture the "28 nanometre" chips would not be able to create enough supply until the end of 2012.
The shortage will impact Android and Windows-based phone makers who had planned to use the chips.
April 2012: First Intel-Powered Smartphone Launched
April 2012 sees the release of the first Intel-powered smartphone. The phone, called the Lava XOLO X900, runs Google's Android operating system and will go on sale in India on 23 April priced at about 22,000 rupees (£265). Lava has teamed up with Indian retail chain Croma to distribute the device across the country.
April 2012: Push for Roll-Out of 4G Data Services in the UK
Mobile network Everything Everywhere is urging business leaders and consumer champions across the United Kingdom to join 4GBritain - a campaign calling on the UK's Conservative government "to do whatever is necessary to move forward" with the roll-out of 4G data services.
May 2012: Mobile Firms Protest Against Everything Everywhere (EE)
The UK's telecoms regulator has been told by three mobile operators that it should block rival Everything Everywhere (EE) from rolling out 4G mobile services before them.
EE had previously asked seeked permission from Ofcom to reuse some of its existing spectrum for next-generation data services.
During a consultation period, which ended this week, all three rivals stated their objections. Ofcom is due to make its decision in June.
You can read the full story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-18008666.
May 2012: Cheaper Mobile Phone Calls in Europe
The European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, has passed regulations to make using a mobile (cell) phone in European countries significantly cheaper than they have been to-date.
Included in the plans is a price cap on how much operators can charge. From July, operators will not be able to charge more than 56p per megabyte of mobile data, which is considerably less than the current rates.
Mobile phone users will also have the choice of which operator to use while they are abroad and will not be forced to use the same one as they use at home.
May 2012: Banning Mobile Phones from School
The UK's top school inspector (Sir Michael Wilshaw) has said that he would like to see mobile (cell) phones banned from school. The problem, according to the inspector, is that the use of phones at school causes a lot of disruption during lessons due to children texting, talking or using the Internet.
May 2012: New Smartphone from Search Engine Giant Baidu
Baidu, China's search engine giant has released its first smartphone - the Changhong H5018 - built by Foxconn. The phone is powered by Baidu's own mobile operating system: Cloud.
The mobile (cell) phone market in China is booming and Baidu will not want to miss out on the spoils on offer. China has the largest number of smartphone users in the world.
May 2012: British Police to Extract Mobile (Cell) Phone Data
The Metropolitan Police in London, England, has implemented a system to extract mobile (cell) phone data from suspects held in custody.
The data includes call history, texts and contacts, and the data will be retained regardless of whether any charges are brought.
You can read the full story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-18102793.
May 2012: SIM Card to Help Fight Against Mobile Phone Bullying
Thanks to a SIM card remotely managed from a computer, parents in the UK will soon be able to control their child's mobile (cell) phone.
The Bemilo system, to be run on the Vodafone network, offers a service for parents to prevent their children from going online, texting or calling during certain hours.
The service is different from an app because the child will be unable to switch the service off.
The UK's Family and Parenting Institute said the SIM would help protect children from mobile phone bullying.
You can read the full story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-18144038.
May 2012: 4G May Cause Interference
Ilse Howling, head of UK company Freeview, has warned that the introduction of 4G cell (mobile) services in 2013 may cause interference issues for up to two million UK households, and has called on the UK governement to ensure sufficient funds are made available to deal with any problems caused.
It is likely that millions of UK homes are likely to need filters installed to mitigate the issue.
June 2012: Vodafone and Telefonica Join Forces Over 4G
Mobile (cell) phone companies Vodafone and 02-owner Telefonica, have announced plans to create one shared grid in the UK. A move which is designed to improve existing coverage and to speed up the roll-out of superfast 4G services.
The companies say it will mean 4G mobile services can be delivered by 2015 - two years ahead of regulator Ofcom's requirement of 98% coverage by 2017.
June 2012: Smartphone Users Risking Health
According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, many people are risking their health by continuing to work on smartphones, tablets and laptops after they have left work for the day.
The society says that people have become "screen slaves" and are often working while commuting on a train or after they get home. The society said poor posture in these environments could lead to back and neck pain.
Nearly two-thirds of people questioned in an online survey carried out by the society said they continued to work after they had left the office for the day.
July 2012: Mobile Phones Overtake PCs in China
According to a report from the China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC), mobile (cell) phones are now the most common way for people in China to connect to the internet. Experts think that a drop in the price of smartphones has been largely responsible for the growth in mobile phone usage, especially in rural areas, where over 50% of new Internet users have come from in the past year.
July 2012: 4G Mobile Plans Revealed
Telecoms regulator Ofcom has unveiled plans for the auction of fourth generation (4G) bandwidth for mobile phone services. The sales process will start later this year but bidding will not begin until early 2013, which Ofcom said was in line with its previous timetable.
The regulator says it expects consumers to start getting services in late 2013.
You can read the full story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-18965011.
More information about the cell phone and its history can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phone and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_mobile_phones.