The world is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first call from a cell phone, which was made in New York City on April 3, 1973.
That momentous first call was made by Motorola employee Marty Cooper, who used a prototype known as a DynaTAC to call rivals Bell Labs (then a division of AT&T) to inform them that they had been beaten in the race to achieve the technological breakthrough.
Cooper, then 42, reportedly said: ‘I’m ringing you just to see if my call sounds good at your end.’
The Motorola DynaTAC was nine inches tall, weighed 2.5lbs, had a talk-time of 35 minutes and took 10 hours to recharge.
It would be another 10 years before Motorola finally introduced the DynaTAC 8000x, the first commercially available mobile phone weighing 1lb, with a one-line text-only LED display and costing $3,995.
Few would have predicted 40 years ago that what was then perceived as a niche device for businessmen would blossom into a global industry with annual revenues of $1,200bn.
From 1990 to 2011, worldwide mobile phone subscriptions grew from 12.4 million to over 6 billion, penetrating an estimated 87% of the global population and bringing telecommunications to people in some of the poorest parts of the world.
Today’s market is dominated smartphones manufactured by Samsung and Apple which people use for internet access, social networking, maps, morning alarms, games, apps, to take photos, watch video clips – as well as talking and texting.
The iconic chunky DynaTAC phone can be seen in several Hollywood films, including ‘Wall Street,’ where Gordon Gekko uses it to place a call from the beach, and ‘American Psycho,’ where Patrick Bateman uses it to place a fake dinner reservation call.
Back in 1973 when he took the prototype phone for a walk around New York City, Marty Cooper recalls the reaction from passers-by was one of complete bewilderment.
Mr Cooper, now 84, recalls: ‘As I walked down the street while talking on the phone, sophisticated New Yorkers gaped at the sight of someone actually moving around while making a phone call.
‘Remember that in 1973, there weren’t cordless telephones, let alone cellular phones.
‘I made numerous calls, including one where I crossed the street while talking to a New York radio reporter – probably one of the more dangerous things I have ever done in my life.’
At the time Mr Cooper was general manager of Motorola’s Communications Systems Division.
As he walked around New York that day, his made his first call to Dr Joel S Engel, his rival and head of research at Bell Labs phone company.
Mr Cooper called his office landline to break the news that Motorola had beaten Bell in developing the first mobile phone.
He then let reporters make their own calls to verify that the invention actually worked and that they weren’t the victims of an elaborate hoax.
It had long been Mr Cooper’s vision for phones to become portable, in an age when even James Bond dared not dream of making a phone call outside of a vehicle. For that was as portable as phones had become up to that point.
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