Can you imagine how telephones were back in the 80’s? Compare them to the mobiles now. I’m just talking about a few 20 some years. Imagine those brick like ‘devices’ talking pictures (black and white?) and playing music. Difficult to do so. I can not start to dream what Graham Bell would do with an iPhone. So lets take a look at the interesting and lively past of these little boy toys and how they turned from washing machine to a matchbox
The history and development of ‘mobile phones’ is a very deep and fascinating one. Actually, in the true sense of ‘mobile’ communication, the walkie-talkie was used in the second word war (1940). However, that was just 2 way, looked like a microwave, weighed about 40 kg and not within the commercial network. Likewise, in 1936, the Motorola Police Cruiser mobile receiver was the first entry into the new field of mobile radio communications. Just six calls could be made before the car’s battery ran out. The same technology was introduced in Sweden by LM Ericsson in 1944 (you know, the Ericsson in Sony-Ericsson).
On July 28, 1945 a cellular radio (small zone system) was first described in print in the United States. The head of the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, outlined a two way radio service. Weirdly, FCC never allocated the spectrum needed for this service. Still, radio engineers were thinking of cellular, even if they couldn’t build such a scheme yet. A year later on June 17, 1946 in Saint Louis, Missouri, AT&T and one of its regional telephone companies, South-western Bell, began operating MTS (Mobile Telephone Service). Motorola built the radios and Bell System installed them. MTS was modeled after conventional dispatch radio. A centrally located antenna transmitted to mobiles moving across a wide area. The mobiles, all of them car based radio-telephones, transmitted to several receivers situated around the city. The traffic from the receivers and to the transmitter was connected by an operator at a central telephone office. Unexpected interference between channels soon forced the Bell System to use only three channels.
In December, 1947 Bell Laboratories’ D.H. Ring, with help from W.R. Young, articulated a true cellular radio system for mobile telephony in an internal company memorandum. Better technology would help, but more spectrum and channels, were essential to developing a high capacity mobile telephone service. However we all know, as the stakes get higher for a potentially remarkable technology to evolve and expand, politics play an imperative role. The Federal Communications Commission allocated a few more channels in 1949, but they also did something unexpected. They gave half of those frequency allocations to other companies wanting to sell mobile telephone services.
At the time of all the competition, on July 1, 1948 the Bell System unveiled the transistor. As we engineers know, it would revolutionize every aspect of the telephone and communications industry. Improvements came, more channels allocated, more subscribers poured in. In 1964 the Bell System introduced Improved Mobile Telephone Service or IMTS. Within no time they reached the peak of about 600 subscribers! Till mid 60’s many countries other than US were also working on this field and came about as close as US in the technology. Within this time Japan had adopted the quality first approach in Electronics which boosted their respect and exports. In 1967 Nokia was formed by consolidating two companies: the Finnish Rubber Works and the Finnish Cable Works. Nokia expanded Finnish Cable Works electronics division to include semi-conductor research. Something that really helped the Finn’s was a free market for telecom equipment, an open economic climate which promoted creativity and competitiveness. Unlike most European countries, Finland’s PT&T was not required to buy equipment from a Finnish company which gave them a choice. Nokia’s later cellular development was greatly enhanced by this free market background and their early research.
Back in the US, there were delays, lawsuits and objections from radio common carriers, independent telephone companies and their suppliers. All three groups feared the Bell System would dominate cellular radio if private companies weren’t allowed to compete equally. In the time they argued their case with FCC for open market rules, Bell System was already working on cellular radio. In January, 1969 the Bell System made commercial cellular radio operational for the first time by employing frequency reuse in a small zone system. Passengers on the Metro-liner train running between New York City and Washington, DC found they could make calls while on the move. A computerized control center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, managed the system. In fact, the first commercial mobile phone was a payphone!
There was another innovation which revolutionized everything from computing to communications. In November, 1971 Intel introduced the first commercial microprocessor, a miniature computer on a silicon chip, the 4004 which contained 2,300 transistors and did 92,000 single word ops per second and had 640 bytes of RAM. In comparison, today’s transistors contain about 291 million transistors and does trillions of calculations per second! Due to this, several older services which required human operators were being replaced by automated systems. Then in 1973 Motorola’s Dr. Martin Cooper made a call to their contender Bell Labs with the first handheld cell phone, the DynaTAC (Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage) portable radio telephone! What they had done was engineered the mobile pay phone into the first hand held mobile phone.
In 1976 there were 44,000 Bell subscribers with AT&T mobiles and about 20,000 people were on five to ten year waiting lists! Demand existed but licensed spectrum to accommodate them did not. Like all statistic analysts do, it was estimated that by the end of the century there would be a little less than a million subscribers. And as always, they had no idea what they were talking about. The new millennium came and a million phones were being sold every day! By now, 2007, after just 30 years there are more than 3 billion subscribers around the world! The ancient life of being alone and out of touch had vanished in a blink of an eye. In these years there have been staggeringly numerous developments like, AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone Service), GSM (earlier Groupe Speciale Mobile, now known as Global System for Mobile Communications), CDMA (Code division multiple access) and TDMA (Time division multiple access), being just a few crucial of the many trialed and implemented.
The mobile is one of those rare things which truly have altered the way we live. Over these years the mobile has evolved into a multifunctional device which encompasses complex gadgetry and software. As well as trying to keep it simple and usable. Do you think we can get away with much more in these little wonder toys over the next 50 years or have we reached a point of saturation? Think about it!
-Varun Dhanwantri (c)
The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2007