The idea for cell phones has been around for a lot longer than the technology to provide them was. As soon as the first landlines came into use, people had the idea of improving the convenience and flexibility of this new communication medium, and of bringing it to new areas such as cars. At first, cellular phones were little more than two way portable radios, but as technology improved, the concepts behind cell phones improved rapidly.
Bell labs and Motorola were both involved in a dramatic race to see who could invent the first viable cellular phones. While Bell labs had installed innovative radio systems into police cars, these devices were far too large for anyone to carry around and were thus impractical as a truly mobile telephone. However, in 1973, Martin Cooper, a scientist working for Motorola successfully made the first ever cell phone call using a portable handset. The age of the cellular phone was at last born, and who did he call? None other than his rival at Bell Labs, Joel Engel, who had been racing with him to create the invention.
Within a couple of years, both Bell and AT&T had come up with prototypes of their own and the first trial areas were set up. Chicago and Tokyo were the first cities in the world where you could use a cell phone but their availability was extremely limited and the new phones were only available to a select number of trial customers to begin with. For example, the 1979 trial venture in Chicago distributed cell phones to just 2000 customers.
The idea caught on like wildfire. By 1987 there were over one million cell phone users in the US alone. It seemed as if everyone wanted a cell phone and the major companies involved had really hit a home run. However, there were difficulties. For example, in the US, the FCC regulates and allocates radio bandwidth for different purposes. The radio spectrum is limited and can become ‘full’, so it is necessary to control who gets use of different parts of it. The area they licensed for cellular phones, at 800 MHz was quickly crowded. However, instead of giving more, they forced the telecommunication companies to improve technology and come up with more efficient ways of utilising the bandwidth they had. By the end of the 80’s this had been achieved and the cell phone age we know at present really got underway. And the rest as they say is history.