As one who had a small part in Marty's team in the "batcave" I can attest that we started working on TRUE cellular networks in 1970! I've posted elsewhere (on the blog with the Marty Cooper interview video) in more detail. I have to admit I was skeptical about whether we could ever figure out the right hand-off processes.
Remember when one could buy a fake carphone antenna to make it look like you had a phone built into the car? That would hardly be a mark of prestige now.
In 1973 I think if you'd asked people to predict what they'd see in 2013, I bet they'd have predicted we'd have landed on Mars and would have (huge) HAL-like computers and robots to wash the dishes, but they probably would never have guessed that even children would own phones that made the Star Trek communicators look bulky and primitive. It's so hard to forecast.
Exactly. And beyond that, although perhaps not so popular in the US yet, a whole lot of people around the world get their Internet broadband connections at home, as well as on the go, via 3G. Soon 4G, no doubt.
So that's why my emphasis on what transpired 40 years ago is not on that walkie-talkie looking gadget itself, but on the word "cellular."
As remarkable as the evolution of the mobile phone was from a "brick" to a pocket-sized device, I find it even more remarkable how rapidly the pocket-sized phone of the mid-2000s evolved to today's pocket-sized connected computers with their incredibly wide variety of apps -- and that for many users, the fact that these devices can also make voice calls is almost incidental.
Thanks for commemorating the anniversary of such an important technology that most of us take for granted these days. Reading this story really does make me reflect on my own career, and I am grateful that I had a chance to at least play a (very) small part in this industry. As an engineering student at the University of Illinois in the 1980s, many of my friends went on to work at Motorola after graduation. I was fortunate enough to join some of them a few years later and worked on battery and system power management technology for mobile phones during some of the “glory years” in the 1990s. Now, as an applications engineer at TI, I still see the influence of the mobile phone on our work at the IC level every day. The system-level need drives the component technology, and new components enable better system solutions. The circle of life…
There have been tremendous changes over the past 40 years – the components available, the design philosophies we follow, the engineering work environment, and of course the economics that drive the industry as a whole. One lesson we can we learn from history is that sometimes, brilliant ideas can take a long time to really pay off. It was nearly twenty years after this first phone call before mobile phones started becoming commonplace. It was another ten years before they became ubiquitous. During that time, entire new segments of our industry were created. Batteries, displays, antennas, connectors, and of course semiconductors have made huge strides over this time period. I expect that Mr. Cooper could not have fully envisioned the scale of the revolution that would be launched because of his invention. He and his team have changed the lives of billions of people as a result.
Scary-amazing that it's already been 40 years. But I don't see the actual innovation that of a cell phone per se. The telephone instrument looked very much like a walkie-talkie, and we had those for decades prior. No big deal there. We already knew how to tie wireless sets to the telephone network.
The problem to solve was to achieve scale. And for that, the super-duper invention was that of cellular communications. In cellular (this very much relates to the article on TV white spaces), you shorten the RF range enormously, and you reuse the same RF frequency channels over and over again, in a small area. Not city-wide, but only a few blocks at most.
Most importantly, for this to be practical, you have to automate the frequent re-tuning necessary, as you jump from one cell to the next.
That's the huge innovation. The phone instrument is just about immaterial. Cellular provides ubiquitous RF coverage for any type of comms. Fashionable iPhones are but one of the uses of this great innovation.