The Mobile Phone Celebrates The Big Four-0
April 3, 2013

The Mobile Phone Celebrates The Big Four-0

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

Many 40-year-olds may proclaim that “40 is the new 30,” but when it comes to mobile phones it is hardly a new anything. The ubiquitous technology is used by all ages; however, few would realize that it is also 40 years old this day.

Moreover, while most know that Alexander Graham Bell can be credited with “inventing” the telephone, only a few can name the engineer responsible for the creation of the mobile phone.

However, while Bell´s work is now the subject of debate over whether the Scottish-born inventor actually invented the telephone — as rival Elisha Gray may have in fact been working on, and had developed a similar device before Bell — few would argue that Martin Cooper can be credited with being the first to use a mobile phone to call a business associate. Cooper had reportedly conceived the idea for a mobile phone in the 1960s when rival AT&T invented the car phone.

As the story goes: Cooper, a senior engineer at Motorola, used the newly developed mobile device to call a rival colleague at another telecom company and announced that he was making the first call on a “real” cellular telephone on April 3, 1973.

That first phone was the Motorola DynaTAC, and while most might not know the name it would be hard to miss. It was hardly a smartphone and couldn´t do much besides make calls. Unlike many of today´s ultra-compact mobile devices it was rather large — some nine inches tall — and was dubbed a “brick” because of its size and weight.

The DynaTAC didn´t actually launch the mobile phone industry overnight either. The following 10 years after that first call were one of development, and research, with much of it carried out in laboratories. In fact, the mobile phone services weren´t actually launched in the United States until nearly a decade later. Even then the phones weren´t actually in everyone´s´ pockets as the devices are today.

In a past interview with the BBC, Cooper said that in 1983 the initial cost of the mobile phone was prohibitively expensive, costing upwards of $3,500. While he did believe that the prices would fall, he said he always knew the size would also shrink.

“We did envision that some day the phone would be so small that you could hang it on your ear or even have it embedded under your skin,” Cooper told the BBC.

The question is what the next 40 years might bring for the mobile phone?

“It´s very difficult to predict 40 years' time because the pace of innovation is speeding up. I would say that we´ll all be mobile, globally, everyone will be mobile,” Mike Short, an expert from the Institution of Engineering and Technology told The Guardian. “I´d also say that we'll be connecting many more machines via wireless mobile technology as well.”

Perhaps even Cooper and the other early mobile phone pioneers couldn´t have foreseen exactly how mainstream the devices would eventually become. When Cooper made that first call on April 3, 1973 the world population was about seven billion. Today the actual number of people with a mobile phone is closing in on that number.

According to a 2012 report from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), there are six billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide. Today phones are used as much for texting, emailing and even watching videos as for actual voice calls.

Yet voice is where it all began. While history records that Bell uttered to his assistant the words, “Mr. Watson, come here,” what exactly Cooper said isn´t known.