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A Short History of the Mobile Telephone

For somebody who has been around for a time the mobile telephone might seem like a recent invention, but for the millennials who are the most adept at using them they have a history in very much the same sense as other popular gadgets that adorn today’s market.

The widely accepted definition of a mobile ‘phone is an audio communication device which is wireless, portable and capable of connecting to the standard telephone network, distinguishing it from the much older medium of communication by radio.  It is an important distinction to make, because devices which were both wireless and handheld were in evidence as far back as 1908.  But the first handset that could truly be described as a mobile ‘phone as defined by the acknowledged criteria emerged as a prototype in 1973 – when Dr Martin Cooper, the General Manager at Motorola Communications System Division, made what went down in history as the first public mobile telephone call on a device that weighed in at over a kilogram – and as a saleable unit a whole decade later.  When the Motorola DynaTAC 800x made its maiden call in 1983 it was on a piece of equipment that sold at a cool $4000 and enjoyed less than half an hour of battery life.

From gimmickry to a brand new, popular concept

Motorola continued to make the running as mobile handsets began to make the gradual transformation from inventors’ gimmick to a tool, if not of the masses, then at least of a small but significant minority who eagerly embraced the new technology.  By the end of the 1980s the famed “brick” ‘phone, whilst slimmed down a little from the DynaTAC concept of a few years before, still had to be clipped onto the belt rather than slipped into the pocket.  Carrying almost as much height as the handpiece itself was a menacing aerial, which brought many owners to grief as they bent over to tie their laces or to recover a dropped item whilst forgetting it was there.  The “brick” had a screen upon which digits were revealed in illuminated red and strictly rectangular integers, but the cost of calls remained fairly prohibitive other than in emergencies, and the concept took a while to catch on with the bulk of the public.

Pay-as-you-go heralds explosive growth in mobile ownership

It was in the 1990s that the first manifestations of the modern mobile began to emerge from within the shadows of their crude precursors.  In 1992 the first text message was sent in the UK, and by 1997 one in six households boasted ownership of a mobile ‘phone.  By 2007 it was 80%, and the exponential growth in ownership was almost certainly down to the emergence of the non-contract, pay-as-you-go service first pioneered by Vodafone.

Once it had become a household commodity the door had been pushed widely open to the development of the sophisticated gadgets that we own today, with internet connection, broadband access, cameras and ever more innovative applications.  And the rest, as they say, is history.