Although most of us feel like we couldn’t live without our mobile phones, they’ve not really been in existence for very long.
In fact, mobile phones as we know them today have only been around in the last 20 years.
When were mobile phones invented?
Mobile phones, particularly the smartphones that have become our inseparable companions today, are relatively new.
However, the history of mobile phones goes back to 1908 when a US Patent was issued in Kentucky for a wireless telephone.
Mobile phones were invented as early as the 1940s when engineers working at AT&T developed cells for mobile phone base stations.
The very first mobile phones were not really mobile phones at all. They were two-way radios that allowed people like taxi drivers and the emergency services to communicate.
Instead of relying on base stations with separate cells (and the signal being passed from one cell to another), the first mobile phone networks involved one very powerful base station covering a much wider area.
Motorola, on 3 April 1973 were first company to mass produce the the first handheld mobile phone.
These early mobile phones are often referred to as 0G mobile phones, or Zero Generation mobile phones. Most phones today rely on 3G or 4G mobile technology.
Landmarks in mobile history
Mobile telephony has a long history that started off with experiments of communications from and to moving vehicle rather then handheld devices.
In later years, the main challenges have laid in the development of interoperable standard and coping with the explosive success and ever increasing demand for bandwidth and reliability.
1926: The first successful mobile telephony service was offered to first class passengers on the Deutsche Reichsbahn on the route between Berlin and Hamburg.
1946: The first calls were made on a car radiotelephone in Chicago. Due to the small number of radio frequencies available, the service quickly reached capacity.
1956: The first automated mobile phone system for private vehicles launched in Sweden. The device to install in the car used vacuum tube technology with rotary dial and weighed 40Kg.
It had a total of 125 subscribers between Stockholm and Gothenburg.
1969: The Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) Group was established. It included engineers representing Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. Its purpose was to develop a mobile phone system that, unlike the systems being introduced in the US, focused on accessibility.
1973: Dr Martin Cooper general manager at Motorola communications system division made the first public mobile phone call on a device that weighed 1.1Kg.
1982: Engineers and administrators from eleven European countries gathered in Stockholm to consider whether a Europe wide digital cellular phone system was technically and politically possible. The group adopted the nordic model of cooperation and laid the foundation of an international standard.
1985: Comedian Ernie Wise made the first “public” mobile phone call in the UK from outside the Dicken’s Pub in St Catherine’s dock to Vodafone’s HQ. He made the call in full Dickensian coachman’s garb.
1987: The Technical specifications for the GSM standard are approved. Based on digital technology, it focused on interoperability across national boundaries and consequent different frequency bands, call quality and low costs.
1992: The world’s first ever SMS message was sent in the UK. Neil Papworth, aged 22 at the time was a developer for a telecom contractor tasked with developing a messaging service for Vodafone. The text message read “Merry Christmas” and was sent to Richard Jarvis, a director at Vodafone, who was enjoying his office Christmas party.
1996/97: UK phone ownership stood at 16% of households. A decade later the figure was 80%. The explosion in growth was in part driven the launch of the first pay as you go, non-contract phone service, Vodafone Prepaid, in 1996.
1998: The first downloadable content sold to mobile phones was the ringtone, launched by Finland’s Radiolinja, laying the groundwork for an industry that would eventually see the Crazy Frog ringtone rack up total earnings of half a billion dollars and beat stadium-filling sob-rockers Coldplay to the number one spot in the UK charts.
1999: Emojis were invented by Shigetaka Kurita in Japan. Unlike their all-text predecessors emoticons, emojis are pictures. The same year in the UK sees the first shots fired in a supermarket price war, with Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda selling Pay and Go phones at discounted prices. For the first time, you could pick up a mobile phone for just under £40.
The first BlackBerry phone was also unveiled in 1999. Famous for its super-easy email service, BlackBerry handsets were seen as the ultimate business tool, allowing users to read and respond to emails from anywhere. This led to 83% of users reading and responding to work emails while on holiday, and over half admitted to sending emails on the toilet, winning the manufacturer the nickname CrackBerry.
2000: The all-conquering Nokia 3310 crash landed on shop shelves. Naturally it was unscathed and went on to sell 126 million units. Over in Japan, the first commercially available camera phone The Sharp J-SH04, launched in November 2000 in Japan. The only snag? you could only use it in Japan. Europe wouldn’t get its first camera phone until the arrival of the
2003: The 3G standard started to be adopted worldwide, kicking off the age of mobile internet and paving the way for the rise of smartphones. Honk Kong-based Hutchinson Wampoa owned Three brand offered the first 3G network connection in the UK among other countries. Staying very much on-brand, Three ranged a trio of 3G handsets, namely: the Motorola A830, the NEC e606 and NEC e808.
Nepal was one of the first countries in southern Asia to launch 3G services. One of Nepal’s first companies to offer the service, Ncell, also covered Mount Everest with 3G.
2007: The iPhone debuted. Solely available on O2 at launch in the UK and priced at a then eye-watering $499, Nokia CEO confidently dismissed it as little more than a ‘cool phone’ that wouldn’t translate column inches into market share.
2008: The first Android phone turned up, in the form of the T-Mobile G1. Now dubbed the O.G of Android phones, it was a long way from the high-end Android smartphones we use today. Not least because it retained a physical keyboard and a BlackBerry-style trackball for navigation. This year also saw the advent of both Apple’s App Store and Android Market, later renamed Google Play Store, paving the way for our modern-day app culture and creating a $77 billion industry.
2009: O2 publicly announced that it had successfully demonstrated a 4G connection using six LTE masts in Slough, UK. The technology, which was supplied by Huawei, achieved a peak downlink rate of 150Mbps.
WhatsApp also launched that year, letting customers send and receive calls and messages via the internet. The messaging system now has 1.2 billion users sending more than 10 billion messages a day. Which makes it 50% more popular than