History of Cellphones

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October 21, 2012 by thesmallmediumdenver

The history of cellphones may be presented up as an on-going evolution with constant aspirations of gaining more bandwidth in order to further the technology of the device.  Bandwidth refers to the signal of frequency waves which represent how much information can be sent, and at what speed, through cellphone communications.  The continuous acquisition of more bandwidth made available for mobile communications is the driving force that gives cellphones their capability to be a convergent media device with all of their multi-functionalities that currently exist today.  Over the last century, private companies around the world have played major roles in the transformation of the cellphone from a mobile radio signal device to a digital cellular device.  One may compare the transformation of cellphone bandwidth from analog to digital as the same transformation radio has taken from AM to FM, but with the cellphone transformation being of the most important trends in the history of communications.  Today, the digital bandwidth created for cellphones allows for high speed and a large capacity for information, thus giving the device functionality that includes mobile Internet access and creation of Internet-based cellphone applications which give users literally hundreds of thousands of cellphone functions.  The current state of cellphone functionality would not be possible had it been for worldwide corporations to evolve the device from a local one-way radio to a global mover of information.

The first forms of cellphones were products of radio communication technology and referred to as mobile phones, as the term better represents phones that use radio frequencies.  The distinction of the term, cellphone, is made in 1979 when the mobile phone technology switched to an analog bandwidth system that was not restricted to the low reaching capability of radio frequencies.  In 1921, the Detroit Police Department was the first to install one-way receivers in squad cars so that the police station could relay information to officers.  In 1940, Connecticut State Police were the first to use two-way radio systems allowing communications from both station to officer and officer to station.  In 1943, Motorola’s walkie-talkie was invented and initially used for military communications in World War II, and then became a popular gadget among consumers after the war.  In 1946, the first actual mobile phone device was created that did not resemble the previously mentioned radio devices, but was instead an actual phone receiver.  This first mobile device did not succeed as it was too big and could only fit in a car, was too expensive and only attainable by the wealthy, and too popular for use because the technology was not available to facilitate a high population of users.

Interest in mobile communications was not limited to the United States.  In 1955, Nordic countries entered the mobile research development phase with Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson leading the way in international advancement of mobile phone technology.

The first research study examining the potential consumer market success of cellphone use was conducted in 1978 among 60 Illinois Bell employees using mobile phones created by the Japanese company, Oki.  The results of the test trial supported the predictions that cellphones would become a popular consumer device.

By the late 1980’s, the global cellphone business was firmly established, yet the industry would need to be re-invented due to the looming problem of lack of bandwidth to facilitate popular global use of the device.  In other words, the problem for cellphone makers was not creating a consumer market for the device, but rather creating a cellular system with enough bandwidth to handle all of the cellphone traffic.  The answer to this bandwidth problem was found in the current digital system, as opposed to the recent analog system of the time.  A digital system allowed for more compression of cellphone signals, hence more bandwidth space meant greater capacity for data to be sent.  The transformation from analog to digital compression took place from 1989 to 1998 and companies that more readily adopted the digital technology, like Nokia, took off in the global market while companies that held on to the analog system for too long, like Motorola, quickly fell behind pace in the global cellphone market.

In 2000, the Japanese company, Docomo, launched the first Internet accessible cellphones.  Internet access became a key functionality for furthering the technology of the device, as web-based applications were created for individual cellphone functionalities.  One of the earliest and most successful cellphones using applications has been the iPhone introduced by Apple in 2007, which currently has over 800,000 different applications for its users.

The history of the cellphone evolving from a one-way police radio system to today’s multi-media convergent device with hundreds of thousands of specific uses is a very interesting and impressive journey for the device.  The worldwide diffusion of the cellphone may be more impressive, where as early as 2004, market saturation surpassed 100% in North America and Europe.  In other words, there were more cellphones than people in these continents by 2004.  Also in 2004, there were 75 million cellphone subscribers in Africa, which includes many subscribers in underdeveloped African countries.  It is witnessed that several villages in Africa had not adopted the use of electricity or modern plumbing, yet the villages had adopted use of the cellphone.  Reports of global cellphone use surpass 60% of the entire population.

Taking into account the lengthy and motivated history of the cellphone and current global diffusion rate of the device, it may be a well supported hypothesis that cellphones will become the most highly used medium for nearly all forms of mass communications in the near future.

Much of the provided information comes from research from the following source:

Klemens, G.  (2010).  The cellphone: The history and technology of the gadget that changed the world.  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.


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