Mobile Technology Milestone: First Cellular Call Made 40 Years Ago

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The cell phone turned 40 just a few days ago.  Martin Cooper, former VP at Motorola, likely didn't appreciate the full significance of making the world's first cell phone call in 1973, but 40 years later, mobile technology is an unstoppable force, poised to transform just about everything that makes up modern living. The famous call made by Cooper to a colleague at rival telecom Bell Labs (who was actually heading the AT&T program) is the stuff of legend and forged the path to the first cellular phone, the 2.2-pound DynaTAC, made commercially available a decade later for a whopping cost of about $4,000.

Media outlets around the world are celebrating the achievement, especially in light of the recent smartphone wars and the excitement brewing about Google Glass, which may be the beginning of the end for the smartphone. The advances of mobile technology are ushering in the Internet of Things that will likely see many objects come online, everything from wristwatches to refrigerators. As all of these devices depend on wireless connections, we can continue to thank the efforts of Cooper and colleagues to make a vision reality.

In an interview with CBS, Cooper noted that the strides that have been made are just first steps toward what the technology could evolve into. He said, "Technology has to be invisible. Transparent. Just simple. A modern cell phone in general has an instruction book that's bigger and heavier than the cell phone. That's not right."

For those interested in more about the tech, Mashable has put together a Cell-ebration! timeline and cnet has a "The Wow of Mobility" infographic. In case you need a reminder of what "brick" phones were once like, you only need to watch this YouTube compilation from the old classic "Saved By The Bell":

 [images: jbtaylor/Flickr, YouTube]

David J. Hill

Managing Director, Digital Media at Singularity University
I've been writing for Singularity Hub since 2011 and have been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. My interests cover digital education, publishing, and media, but I'll always be a chemist at heart.

Discussion — 4 Responses

  • Che Mort April 6, 2013 on 1:38 pm

    awesome, Cell phones have fallen in price 99.25% since 1973.

  • Robert Huenemann April 7, 2013 on 8:54 am

    In recent months, I have seen several accounts in the press discussing Martin Cooper’s role in the development of the cell phone. I worked for Martin at Motorola Communications and Industrial Electronics (C&IE) from November 1959 to June 1960. Motorola was developing the latest in a series of two way radio products of ever smaller size. These developments were part of an evolutionary process that led eventually to the cell phone. I was fresh out of school and my contributions were of no particular significance.

    But let me tell you about something I observed on a daily basis at Motorola’s plant in Chicago. Motorola C&IE had two black employees. They tended an incinerator on the opposite side of the parking lot from the plant. They were not allowed into the building. Not to take a break or eat lunch. Not to use the rest rooms. Not to warm up in the middle of Chicago’s sub zero winters. And my fellow employees would take their breaks at the second floor windows overlooking that parking lot, and they would make insulting, racist comments about the two black employees.

    I went to human relations, and in the most non-confrontational way that I could muster I asked why Motorola did not employ on the basis of ability, without regard to race. And at my six month review, I was terminated.

    You don’t have to take my word concerning Motorola’s employment policies. In September of 1980, Motorola agreed to pay up to $10 million in back pay to some 11,000 blacks who were denied jobs over a seven-year period and to institute a $5 million affirmative action program, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. See the attached PDF file for details.

    I have a question for Martin Cooper. Marty, what did you ever do to challenge the blatant, toxic racial discrimination at Motorola?

    Robert Gilchrist Huenemann, M.S.E.E.
    120 Harbern Way
    Hollister, CA 95023-9708

  • Tony Pelliccio April 7, 2013 on 1:29 pm

    Actually the cell phone as we know it dates back to Bell Labs in the early 1940’s. It’s just they understood then that the computing power necessary to make this a reality wasn’t going to happen for at least 20 or 30 years. So they filed way the patent and it was brought out in the early 70’s.

    One of the key things that happened just prior was the introduction of Electronic Switching Systems. Essentially they married a computer processor to a wired network.

    Once that happened cellular was a given.

  • alexjhon July 20, 2013 on 6:16 am

    Mobile phones are the most important elements in our life and plays a vital role in supporting many task of our daily routine. The new technologies in this regard are provide more reliability on this media.