The Good Old Days

By Phil Downing

Today, my cell phone is so small that it could easily fit into the tight pockets of a hipster’s skinny jeans. But it hasn’t always been that way. It has taken over sixty years of innovation in communication to get cell phones and cell phones services to where they are today.

Will Ferrell's famous SNL skit with tiny cell phones

In the late 1940s through the 1960s telecommunications pioneers, namely Bell laboratories, the research division of AT&T, made a string of innovations that made today’s cell phone industry possible. In 1947 Bell lab engineers Douglas H. Ring and W. Rae Young proposed hexagonal cells that would eventually develop a market for technically “mobile” car phones. However, the few customers of this communication service were extremely limited to one specific cell area, until Amos Edward Joel, another Bell Labs engineer, invented the automatic handoff system that allowed phones to travel easily between cell areas.

In the 1970’s cellular communications became a legitimately mobile form of communication.  In 1971 AT&T submitted its request to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to set aside airwave frequencies for cell phone services. After a decade of hearings the FCC allocated frequencies 824-894 MHZ for cell phone services.

In 1973 Martin Cooper of Motorola made the first true cellular phone call from the streets of New York City. To whom you ask, none other than his archrivals AT&T’s Bell Laboratories (that’s awesome). Cooper made the call on a 2-pound brick called the Motorola DynaTAC. Ten years after Cooper’s phone call Motorola launched commercial cell phone service with the DynaTAC. 80’s trend setters shelled out over $3,500 for the phone and additional charges for every phone call. When all was said and done it cost over 100 million dollars to develop the technology for the DynaTAC alone.

Above: Cooper displays a DynaTAC prototype

Since the DynaTAC the cell phone has been ever evolving, transforming to new styles and transitioning first generation phones to today’s 3G benchmarks.  

Although the cell phones of the 90s were huge and expensive, they laid the frame work for the ultra-thin stylish phones that we use today.

Bell laboratories

Douglas H. Ring

W. Rae Young

Martin Cooper

3G

 
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