US Patent for the wireless telephone in 1908 gave birth to the cell phone invention. Certainly, it was long before the demonstration of the first handheld mobile phone By John F. Mitchell and Martin Cooper in 1973. During the 1940s, Bell Labs played a crucial role in developing cell phone technology. Furthermore, the US military’s role in developing and being lead users of two-way radios in both WWI and WWII was vital in cell phone invention. Furthermore, the invention of the Transistor in 1947 and its subsequent miniaturization as an integrated circuit made it possible to invent software-intensive cell phones. Standardization efforts of European countries also played a critical role in inventing mobile phones, having roaming facilities across the boundaries of cells and countries.
Cell Phone Invention commenced with issuing a US Patent for a wireless telephone in 1908. However, engineers working at AT&T in developing cells for mobile phone base stations in the 1940s seeded the mobile phone invention. They created cells upon dividing the target geography into smaller segments. Unlike many other inventions like the telephone, the military played a vital role in shaping cell phone inventions. The war field communication interest of the US military played a significant role in inventing the mobile phone. Mobile phone invention appears to be a textbook example of the military’s role in nurturing ideas for addressing war needs, creating a market for a technology possibility in civilian space.
The primitive emergence of cell phones was useful for military and emergency services:
However, unlike modern mobile phones, the military started using two-way radios. But it was pretty helpful for the military in the war field. It was useful for the people in delivering taxi and emergence services. The main challenge was developing an interoperable standard and meeting the ever-increasing demand for bandwidth. Besides, reliability, increasing the range, and reducing the handset’s weight were also barriers. Like the invention of the telephone, the Cell phone invention is also the cumulated effects of creative works of many individuals. Like many great ideas, it also needed a Flow of Ideas.
Significant milestones of cell phone inventions are (i) issuance of a patent in 1908 for the wireless telephone, (ii) adoption of the precursor of the cell phone, two-way radios, by the US military in WWI and WWII, (iii) advancement of handsets leading to Motorola’s DynaTAC 8000x in 1983, (iv) initiatives of European for standardization, and (v) launching of cellular network by NTT in Japan in 1979. AT&T’s commercial services such as Mobile Telephone Service (MTS), launched in 1949, and Improved Mobile Telephone Service (IMTS), rolled out in 1965, are also notable in the journey of mobile phone invention.
Role of military in early days of cell phone invention:
Civilians have been using cell phones since the 1970s. Notably, during the 1990s, it started diffusing through every market segment worldwide. However, some early forms of Cellular Phone technology contributed to the cell phone invention that we use today. As early as in the twentieth century, starting in World War I, the precursors of cell phones were in use for military operations. In those days, cell phones were not like those we have been using now. They had many limitations. They were bulky and also costly. Hence, civilians could not see any perceived value in them. But those primitive solutions, in today’s standard, were quite valuable for the military personnel to communicate in the war fields.
US military played a vital role in carrying out R&D and being lead users of precursors of the cell phone. The U.S. Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories made the first portable AM radios. In WWII, they were used for infantry communication. However, unlike today’s mobile phone handsets, they weighed approximately 25 pounds and had a 5-mile range.
The advanced version of AM radios was Motorola SCR-300 FM Radio Transceiver. They were in use in WWII. Motorola produced 50,000 of these portable radios, weighing from 32 to 38 pounds and having a 3-mile range. Subsequently, Motorola kept improving, leading to a two-way AM radio, weighing just 5 pounds—far less than 35 pounds of SCR-300. As a result, a single person could carry and operate this device with one hand. Hence, U.S. Army Signal Corps Started using this lightweight device for the paratrooper.
Progression of Cell Phone invention in serving civilians:
In Germany, in 1926, first-class passengers had the luxury of being first in using mobile telephony service. It was on the route between Berlin and Hamburg. After 20 years, in 1946, only a few fortunate ones seceded to use car radiotelephone in Chicago. This service quickly reached saturation due to the small number of radio frequencies available. Automated mobile phone service came into operation, in 1956, for private vehicles in Sweden. To avail this service, car owners had to install a 40kg user unit in the trunks of their cars. To improve this technology further in enhancing accessibility, European countries Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland took the initiative in setting up The Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) Group in 1969.
For unveiling a mobile phone handset, weighing 1.1 kg, in 1973, Dr. Martin Cooper of Motorola is considered the inventor of the Cell Phone that we know today. It appears that Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) was the first to launch the world’s first cellular network in Japan in 1979. On the other hand, Motorola continued the advancement of mobile handsets, leading to the release of the DynaTAC 8000x in 1983. To many, DynaTac was the first commercially available handheld mobile phone.
Initiatives of Europeans for standardization:
In the 1980s, Europeans took several initiatives in shaping cell phone invention. A notable one is a gathering of engineers and administrators of eleven European countries in Stockholm in 1982 to consider whether a Europe-wide digital cellular phone system was technically and politically possible. They laid the foundation for an international standard by adopting the Nordic cooperation model. Subsequently, in 1987, technical specifications for the GSM standard got approval. GSM focused on interoperability across national boundaries and different frequency bands by leveraging digital technology. This standardization process played a critical role in diffusing mobile phone invention through creating a positive network Externality Effect.
Role of Transistor and Lithium-ion battery in cell phone invention:
As noticed, the weight of user-end units, limited bandwidth, and interoperability were significant barriers to the invention of modern mobile phones. The invention of the transistor by Bell Labs, in 1947, opened the door for changing the bulky vacuumed tub technology core with Transistor. The integration of transistors and other discrete components as integrated circuits (IC) led to continued weight reduction.
Besides, the transistor created the option of operating complex circuitry at a higher frequency, expanding the bandwidth. Furthermore, the advancement of the lithium-ion battery, since the 1980s, kept contributing to weight reduction. The advancement of integrated circuits in the form of ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit), DSP (digital signal processing) chips, and microprocessors led to the software-intensive design of the technology core. As a result, interoperability, billing, users roaming between cells and countries, and many other essential features of cell phone invention became a reality.
Like many other great inventions, the cell phone invention is not the outcome of a single Eureka moment. It did neither happen on a specific date nor did a single individual invent it. Cell phone invention is the culmination of many individuals and institutions over more than 75 years. Furthermore, the invention of two critical technologies, such as Transistor and Lithium-ion batteries, made a significant contribution to the fruition of mobile phones for the masses. Besides, the role of the US military, in both R&D and market creation for primitive solutions, played a pivotal role in nurturing the latent potential of radio communication, leading to the invention of the cell phone. However, this model of using defense as the springboard for creating a civilian Innovation market has been weakening due to the reinvention race.