Dr. Martin Cooper is the person credited with both inventing the modern cell phone as well as making the first cell phone call in New York City, New York in April 1973. A related invention is the cave radio phone invented by Nathan Stubblefield who was awarded a patent for the idea in the early 20th Century (1908). Since his work does not provide the technology behind modern cell phones, he is not given credit for inventing the cell phone.
History of the Telephone
Alexander Graham Bell is given credit by historians with the invention of the traditional telephone in 1876. Less than three decades later, on December 23rd, 2000, Reginald Fessenden was able to make the world’s first wireless phone call. His invention used radio waves to transmit communication via voice between radio towers. His work provided the technical background later used in broadcast technology. It would also provide the conceptual basis for future network and mobile phone tower development.
As the world emerged from WW2, engineer William Rae Young (Bell Labs engineer that was part of AT&T), made the proposal of setting up radio towers in a hexagonal pattern to support a network of phones. His work incorporated transmitters designed to transport calls to destinations on the network and included the idea of handoffs between towers based on the end-user’s location. Despite the concept being technically sound, it would take another 10+ years before additional advances in mobile phone technology to be realized.
In order to address a growing demand by consumers for some type of mobile communication technology, there were a few companies in this timeframe that sold radio telephones. These early phones operated very similar to hand held radios but relied upon an installed network to operate. The network could only support a few simultaneous calls at a time. If the person making a call could not access the network, he or she would have to wait for someone to finish their call before making an attempt. The setup of the network reduced privacy to almost nil; however, and the phones were heavy coming in at 80 or more pounds.
What Came before the Cell Phone?
Before cell phones as we know them came into existence, “Hexagonal Cells,” were used by smaller numbers of consumers in the later portion of the 1950s. These early radio telephones were created by AT&T and Bell Labs. They were primarily used by the rich and did not see widespread adoption due to their size and cost. Before the Hexagonal Cell was invented, radio telephones were the primary method to wirelessly communicate by government agencies, the military, and large businesses. The legacy radio phones required a backpack that would then transmit the phone call to a nearby base station. Today, the hexagonal cell phones are referred to with the relatively new label of “zero generation phone.”
1G Mobile Phones
When Dr. Martin Cooper placed the world’s first cell phone call to Dr. Joel Engel on April 3rd, 1973, the technology used by the device became known as a 1G or first generation mobile phone. This first cell phone weighed approximately two pounds and was named the Motoroloa Dyna-Tac. When Dr. Cooper made the call, Dr. Engel was standing on the street near the Manhattan Hilton hotel while there were a fair number of media personnel and press nearby to observe the event. After making the call, the first cell phone patent was granted on October 17th, 1973. After Dr. Cooper’s demonstration, there were be several companies who would develop cell phone networks and release cell phones of their own in the subsequent years. It would take several decades after Dr. Cooper’s demonstration; however, before there would be a significant decrease in the use of traditional land lines.
2G Mobile Phones
Mobile phone technology would not see another significant leap in capability until the advent of 2G mobile phones. Some of the early second generation cell phone networks included IS-95, IDEN, and GSM. The early GSM networks started seeing significant use and deployment in 1991. 2G phone networks supported faster mobile phone to network connections and also included digital circuit switched transmissions that supported a higher quality of service for the end user. In addition to the improvements in technology, mobile phone companies were able to significantly reduce the physical size of the cell phone making it easier for customers to carry the phone with them.
Second generation mobile phones took advantage of improvements in chip design to reduce the size of the phone(s). Chip manufacturers were able to produce smaller chips that had an increased capacity for installation of additional circuitry resulting in an overall smaller phone. Combined with an increase in mobile phone tower power output, there was a significant increase in overall capability of the devices. 2G phones were also the first to support SMS texting capability in the early-mid 1990s as well as ring tones.
SMS Text History
The concept of SMS texting arose in the 1980s when discussions on what services to support in the GSM mobile phone standard were underway. Many of the engineers and scientists working on the standard believed that a messaging system would be the best method to alert individual users for items such as incoming voicemail, etc. When work on the GSM standard started to get to the publication point in the mid-1980s, there were parallel discussions on creating a messaging standard. As a result, the IDEG (Implementation of Data and Telematic Services Expert Group) was formed in 1987 and was tasked with creating a standard for a messaging system for use on GSM.
Just five years later at the end of 1992 (December), Neil Papworth would send the first commercial text message from a computer to Richard Jarvis’s Vodafone on the GSM network in the U.K. The first commercial message was “Merry Christmas.” Prior to this, Riku Pihkonen is credited with sending a text message in 1992 from a Nokia GSM phone. After these first texts, most GSM phones would include SMS texting capability over the 1990s; however, it would take until 2000 for the popularity of the texting format to take off. This was primarily due to the incompatibility of SMS text across different mobile phone network carriers.
By the late 1990s and early 2000s, SMS text would grow to be supported on most mobile networks to include TDMA and CDMA. The use continued to increase to the point of there being more than 1.5 trillion text messages sent by the end of 2009 in a given year. Today, mobile phone users are able to interchangeably use SMS, or MMS messaging that is capable of including file attachments, pictures, and even short video clips!
3G Mobile Phones
Shortly after second generation mobile phones started to see widespread use, industry started to work on the third generation (3G) mobile phone standard. The 3G standard leverages wideband frequency carriers as well as a CDMA air interface. They are able to support much higher speed data applications with maximum speed ratings of two megabits. The networks deployed or upgraded to support the 3G standard were designed to support wireless data rates of up to 144 kilobits per second.
The first country to deploy a 3G network was Japan in May of 2001. The network would later see commercial launch by NTT DoCoMo in the fall of 2001 (October). By 2002, there were third generation mobile networks that leveraged CDMA2000 technology in South Korea. Due to the commercial success in Asia, third generation networks started to be launched in 2003 in Europe in Italy and Great Britain.
In the United States, the first commercial 3G mobile network was deployed by Monet Mobile Networks but was eventually shut down. Verizon Wireless would launch the second 3G network in the U.S. in July of 2002 using CDMA2000 1x EVDO.
Despite the significant improvements in speed and quality of service, the adoption rate of 3G technology world-wide was relatively slow. Since these networks do not use the same frequencies that the more established (at the time) 2G networks leveraged, mobile network operators had to license new frequencies and deploy new network infrastructure to support 3G. By the end of 2007; however, there were 190 third generation cell phone networks in operation in 40 countries as well as 154 HSDPA networks in 71 countries across the world. One of the technology improvements which increased the popularity of 3G was the advent of the smartphone. Combining the capabilities of a PDA with a cell phone, the demand to be connected at much faster data rates not realized on 2G networks helped encourage mobile companies to continue to invest in the newer technology.
LTE / 4G Mobile Phones
The succeeding technology to third generation cell phones is the 4G mobile phone. Another common term used to refer to the succeeding generation of technology is Long Term Evolution. Although phones that implement LTE have demonstrable improvements over 3G phones, not all LTE devices comply with the full 4G standard. As a result, although they may be marketed as 4G devices, they likely do not provide the full spectrum of performance improvements guaranteed by the standard. LTE supports a significant improvement in data download and upload speeds as well as other improved capabilities for mobile phones and devices. The majority of major mobile phone providers began providing support for LTE during 2009 . They have been making steady improvements to legacy third generation phone networks to support the newer technologies.
One of the most fundamental differences between a 4G or LTE mobile phone and the older 2G/3G devices is that the newer phones are IP-based. Additionally, LTE phones are assigned their own IP address which help mobile phone networks provide an increase in overall capability for the devices. Additional improvements include a max upload speed of 50 Mbs, 100 Mbps download speed, a scalable carrier bandwidth, as well as handoff between 4G and legacy phone towers.
What are the Advantages of 4G Cell Phones Over 3G Phones?
The single biggest advantage of a 4G mobile phone over 3G technology is the vast improvement in network bandwidth and capacity. For example, on a 3G network a mobile user would likely require a WiFi connection in order to place a usable, clear video call via Skype or other equivalent technology. On a 4G phone, the majority of mobile providers are able to support live video over the cell network. Additionally, 4G mobiles are able to include more “always on” services such as GPS, location services, etc. 4G also includes support for legacy 3G phones; however, the older mobiles are not able to realize the improvements in data down/upload speeds. Finally, the mobile phone architecture is cheaper to deploy and maintain on the part of the cell phone companies. Once the underlying switching system is changed out to support flat IP addressing, the overall cost of a 4G network is less than for that of legacy 3G or 2G.
Why are LTE Phones Marketed as 4G?
Based on lessons learned over the previous decades of cell phone technology adoption and consumer behavior, there has been a rush by mobile phone companies to gain market share for 4G mobile devices. Consequently, there has been an ensuing debate on what really qualifies a mobile phone or other device as being a true 4G device since LTE does not fully support the 4G standard. Although all major providers are in progress of releasing true 4G networks, most have been guilty of marketing existing HSPA+ or 3G+ networks as 4G since the networks support many of the improvements promised by the 4G standard. The mobile phones for many carriers will actually display a “4G” network in these cases even though full network upgrades have not been completed. Many devices have actually stopped displaying the “4G” or “3G” indication to the end user in order to avoid continued debate on the matter at the time of this writing.
What is the Current Status of 5G Mobile Phones?
At the time of this writing, there has not been a fifth generation mobile phone standard developed. It is believed that when a 5G standard is developed, that it will be focused more on ensuring quality of service to the end user than on drastic improvements in speed. There will be some improvement in the speed area, but it is expected that this will be more due to improvements in hardware and other supporting technologies. The focus on quality of service is based on the expected increase in total number of connected devices in a home by the time the 5G standard is expected to be released and adopted.
Despite the absence of a 5G standard, Samsung publicly stated that the company had released the world’s first 5G phone on May 12th, 2013. The claims are made due to the increase in maximum speed of 1.056 Gbit/sec at a range of up two kilometers. Other related announcements for 5G include a major announcement by Israel and India in July of 2013 that the countries have agreed to work together on creating and adopting 5G technologies.