The Invention Of Cell Phones

By Adriana Noton

Images of old cell phones from the 90s are a surefire way to spark laughter-they are big, cumbersome, and look ridiculously outdated compared to the small gizmos we have today. So it should be surprising to learn that the first conception of crude, mobile phones actually dates all the way back to 1947. Researchers tried to evolve the technology used in walkie talkies. They realized that by using small cells instead of relying on single frequencies they could reuse the same frequencies, and thereby dramatically increase the traffic capacity. In other words, the initial kernel of invention was present, but unfortunately its potential was halted.

The FCC (the organization in the U.S which regulates anything to do with broadcasting or sending television or radio waves) blocked AT & T's request to allocate a large number of radio spectrum frequencies. This would have provided the groundwork for widespread cell phone use and would have given AT & T incentive to further develop the technology. Under the strict FCC regulations of the time, airwaves only allowed for twenty-three phone conversations to take place at any given time. This mentality was symbolic of the limited understanding of cell phone technology's potential. In hindsight it looks like a boneheaded decision, but it should be remembered that this was 1947, so the FCC should be at least partially excused for not understanding the full implications of modern communications technology. Still though, the idea lay buried for decades.

It wasn't until 1973 when Dr. Martin Cooper, former general manager of the Systems division at Motorola, was credited with making the first ever call on a portable cell phone-a privilege he enjoyed as its chief creator. Ironically, the first call was made to the head of research labs at Bell, their chief competitor. Perhaps this was actually fitting since Bell was responsible for inventing the crude mobile phone that was designed to be used in police cars in the 40s. Four years later, Bell created a prototype that was used on trial in Chicago by up to two thousand people. Two years after that, in a completely unrelated venture, a separate operation was undertaken in Tokyo. There was considerable international buzz about the new technology as it went from being something existing only in science fiction to something that would appear imminently.

In 1981 Motorola joined with American Radio Telephone to start a second U.S. cellular telephone system test in Washington and Buffalo. The movement was gaining momentum, and by 1982 the FCC finally authorized commercial cellular services for the United States. Ameritech made the first American commercial analog cellular service available in Chicago. Still, the technology was expensive and it was far from being as accessible as cell phones are today. But by 1987 cellular phone subscribers exceeded one million and airways were crowded.

The 90s brought on a new wave of cell phone technology that ushered in the modern era where one belongs to the average person. Yes, those big 90s clunkers look old, but who would have believed that the cell phone was actually conceived of so many decades ago?

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