Saturday, April 1, 2017

The History of Mobile Phones

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Today, mobile phones have become one of the most commonly used technologies and their popularity is growing every day. We use them to communicate with people, take pictures, surf the internet, hang out on social media, read news, watch interesting videos, listen to music or do pretty much everything thanks to thousands of useful apps.
It’s safe to say that mobile phones have become an indispensable element of the social life of young people and are constantly creating more functions that most of us find appealing.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that tech companies are investing millions of dollars in developing new smartphones and apps that will be the next big hit.
And even though most of us can’t imagine the world without mobile phones, the reality is that they have not been in existence for a long time. In fact, mobile phones, as we know them today, have appeared in the last 25 years. However, the history of mobile phones takes us way back to the beginning of the 20th century.


If we want to tell the real story behind the development of mobile phones, we simply have to start with Albert Jahnke, a professor who claimed that he invented the first wireless telephone in 1908. Was that true or not we will never know, but the fact is that Albert was accused of fraud and had not proceeded with the production.
Ten years later, Germans tested wireless telephony on trains between Zossen and Berlin, and in 1924, trials continued on trains between Hamburg and Berlin. In 1926, a German company established the first telephone service on the route between Berlin and Hamburg that was offered to first class travelers.
The WWII brought us a need to communicate wirelessly, and in 1940, the first hand-held radio transceiver was developed. In the same year, some telephone companies used the same technology and developed the first mobile phones for cars.
However, these mobile devices were not so popular due to their excessive weight and size, high price, high power consumption and the fact that the network only supported a few simultaneous conversations.
During that time, Bell, one of the first companies that offered mobile telephony service, was founded in the U.S. Their engineers quickly started working on a system that would allow users to receive and place telephone calls from their automobiles. As a result, in June 1946, the first mobile service called Bell System Service was established. Their devices could only be used in cars as they had to be mounted in the trunk due to their weight and size. Despite the fact that this technology was unpopular, it hadn’t changed for decades, until we finally made a ground-breaking technological change that allowed mobile communications to evolve.
In 1949, another U.S. company called AT&T, commercialized the Mobile Telephone Service, and on average, around 5,000 users placed more than 30,000 calls per week. This technology had many constraints, including 3 radio channels, which meant that only 3 users could make a call at the same time. In addition, this service was not affordable, costing $15 per month, and additional $0.3–0.4 per call, which is equal to around $185 per month and $4–$5 per call today.
In 1959, a similar vehicle-based system appeared in the UK near Manchester, with the only difference being that the caller had to first speak to an operator who transferred the call to a subscriber in the UK.
In 1965, AT&T significantly improved their service by introducing customer dialing, reducing the weight and size of the equipment and adding more radio channels that allowed more simultaneous calls. However, despite these improvements, the demand outstripped capacity and their service was limited to only 40,000 users. At that particular moment it became obvious that something drastically has to change.

The Mobile Generations

The new mobile technology was developed in a series of waves or, as we call them, generations. This terminology was first used when 3G appeared, and today we use it retroactively when discussing the earlier systems. With that being said, let’s start with the first generation.

First Generation – Analogue Cellular Networks

The first generation of cellular network paved the way to the network we use today. “1G” refers to the first automated analog cellular network that used multiple cell tower sites connected through a network. Simply put, it allowed mobile users to travel and switch cell towers during a call.
This technology was first introduced in 1979 in Tokyo, after which it quickly spread throughout the entire country. In 1981, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden received 1G as well.
Two years later, the 1G technology came to the U.S., where it was called the Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS). The network was built by AT&T company and suffered from serious security issues as it was unencrypted and exposed to eavesdropping. However, at that time no one bothered about security and people were amazed by the fact that they can call other people across the nation.
On April 3, 1973, Marti Cooper, Motorola researcher and executive, made the first mobile phone. Ironically, he called their rival telecommunications company, Bell Labs, to inform them that he was speaking via the first mobile phone. This first hand-held mobile phone weighed 1.1 kg, measured 23 cm and enabled 30 minutes of talk-time, after which you had to charge it for 10 hours.
However, it created a wireless communication, which meant that the researchers were on the right path and that they only had to find a way to make it smaller and lighter.
Ten years later, in 1983, the same company launched the first commercial mobile phone, known as the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x. It was able to store 30 phone numbers, offered 30 minutes of talk time and six hours standby. The mobile was about the size of a foot long sub from Subway and had a $4000 price tag.
Despite its large size, high price, short battery life and many other flaws, Motorola DynaTAC 8000x was considered as the most portable telephone ever made and was surprisingly successful. It was a historical moment where, for the first time, people could call someone without the constraints of portable phone holders or wires.
By late 1990, the AMPS network was replaced by Digital AMPS, and in 2008, AMPS service was completely shut down, which marked the end of a significant era.

Second Generation – Digital Cellular Networks

The 1990s saw the arrival of the 2nd generation of mobile phones and the American and European networks started splitting apart and competing against each other. In the U.S, Americans used CDMA standard, while in the Europe, the European-developed GSM standard prevailed.
They both used digital transmission which improved the security and enabled faster networking. As a result, the popularity of mobile phones skyrocketed and more tower cell sites were built.
The year 1993 also brought to us the world’s first smartphone known as IBM Simon. And even though today this would be far from a smartphone, it was a ground-breaking invention at that time. IBM Simon had an address book, calendar, clock, email service, notepad, QWERTY keyboard, touchscreen and apps. Basically, it was a fax machine, mobile phone, PDA and a pager. It even featured the so-called predictive typing where the mobile would try to guess the following letters as you were tapping.
The second generation also brought the basis of SMS communication and the first computer generated SMS was sent in 1992 in the UK. The following year, the first person-to-person SMS text message was sent in Finland using GSM technology. With the increasing popularity also came the first pre-paid mobile phones that cemented the popularity of SMS.
The second generation introduced the very first download services that enabled users to access media content on their mobile devices and download ringtones. As a result, the first ringtone was downloaded in 1998, and two years later, many companies started advertising via mobile phones. In addition, mobile phones became the newest method of payment for services like car parking and vending machines.
And finally, in 1999 the first full mobile internet service was introduced in Japan – a technological advancement that will change everything forever.

Third Generation – Mobile Broadband

Once the 2nd generation phones became increasingly popular, suddenly everyone wanted to have a mobile device. And before long, the demand outstripped the 2G technology as users wanted to do everything on their mobile and browse the web at a faster speed.
The second generation technology couldn't deliver customers’ expectations and was unable to follow the newest pace. Therefore, developers started working on the newest technology – the 3G. Not surprisingly, the first 3G network appeared in Tokyo in 2001. One year later, the first 3G network came to the United States.
The biggest difference between the two generations was that the third generation used packet switching to transmit data. This shift enabled faster data transmission speeds and opened a whole new world of media streaming via mobile phones as they were finally fast enough to support music streaming and online videos.

Fourth Generation – Native IP

In 2009, it became obvious that 3G networks were becoming overwhelmed by the number of application and that something had to change, again. Therefore, the industry started to look for data-optimized 4th generation technology that could improve the speed up to 10 times.
As a result, two 4G technologies were invented – LTE standard and WiMAX standard. The fourth generation managed to eliminate circuit switching and employed an all-IP network, which enabled WAN or LAN networks via VoIP.
To this day, the fourth generation is still evolving and we will certainly see new standards, increased speed and improved coverage benefits in the future.

Takeaway Notes

Tapping into a rich history of mobile phones is difficult, but we believe that we managed to cover all major events without sounding too boring. Throughout the last four decades, many people contributed to the development of the mobile phones and it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate their contribution.
Cell phones that were originally created for people to communicate while driving their car are now used for million different things and have become an irreplaceable tool of the modern life. Today, it’s not the question how mobile phones will change in the future – rather, we should ask ourselves how they will change our lives in the upcoming years.