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Cell Phone History

by Esther Evans

Cell phones have definitely taken over the majority of people’s lives. They are a part of this era, and oftentimes we take all the access to the information we have on our hands for granted. If you stop and think for a moment, you likely rely on your phone for more than just communication. Although they may have originally been invented to make communicating easier, you now use your cell phone as a tool for many aspects of your life.

Not to mention, we no longer only use the calling and texting features to communicate, and we also rely on the messaging system social media apps have to talk with other people. Prepare yourself to read all about where it all began and the invention of mobile phones.

Telephone History

Telephones are incredible devices that allow us to connect with people worldwide. This allows for better communication and saves you so much time. If you ever miss someone that’s far away or have a pressing issue to talk about but can’t wait to see them in person for it, they’re only ever a phone call away, but how did it all begin?

It all started in 1672 when a man named Robert Hooke invented the first acoustic telephone. In movies or cartoons, you may have seen how characters who were neighbors used two cans and a piece of string to talk to each other. Although logically it makes no sense for two people to talk through a piece of string, the first acoustic telephone was similar to this. Robert Hooke figured out that sound could be sent through a wire.

Then we jump to the 1800s when Samuel B. Morse discovered messages could be sent by pressing/releasing buttons in intervals, transmitting a specific sound pattern. This is what we now know as morse code. About 20 years later, in 1858, Cyrus Field decided to elaborate the first transatlantic telephone cable, which made connecting England and the US by telegraph possible. Ten years later, inspired by morse code, dots and dashes flashed by signal lamps were used by ships to communicate while out at sea. Yet, a telephone was nowhere in sight until about a decade later.

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and would later be the first to make a wireless call. In January of 1915, he made the first long-distance phone call using a landline. International phone calls were much more expensive back then. In 1927 when the first phone service between the US and UK was established, radio phones were used to communicate. They had a cost of $10 for only 3 minutes of talk time.

Next came the Iconophone, made by AT&T. This device allowed people to see, hear, and be able to reply to one another right then and there. However, this idea wasn’t very successful. Still, the first public videophone network was set up not too long after this, in Germany, but its use was extremely limited.

Through the years, other forms of communication via phone were explored, but it wasn’t until 1973 that Martin Cooper made the first cell phone call. It wasn’t very convenient yet, considering the first mobile device took one year to recharge, and the longest you could talk for was half an hour. Then in 1977, in just a few cities, the FCC launched the first primary cellular test network.

Mobile Networks

There have been several generations of mobile networks. Read below to learn more about each one:

  • 1G: This was the first generation of mobile networks to exist. It first became available in the United States, and shortly after, it was also available in Japan.
  • 2G: This network meshed digital signals into cellular networks. The 2G networks first appeared in the late 90s. Back then, the mobile network towers were owned by various companies, so different carriers supported different 2G systems.
  • 3G: These networks came about in the early 2000s. 3G systems became infamous for being the system to support broadband data. This became a must-have for smartphones that would process a variety of apps, aside from the basic calling and texting we require our phones to do.
  • 4G: With the speed at which the usage of phones was growing, it was necessary to develop a better data bandwidth using 4G.
  • 5G: This is the modern network we are currently using. Again, because of the number of people using cell phones nowadays and what they are being used for, a better, faster network is required.

Cell Phone Numbers

Back when the cell phone was first invented, there were only two phones in existence, so Bell didn’t even need a phone number for that call to be possible. However, when there was more technology in the world, things had to change. Telephone companies started to be a necessary thing to have a working phone, and you also needed to have a telephone number, and area codes then became a thing of concern.

Phone numbers tend to vary in length depending on where you are in the world. But before the phone numbers you know today, there was a special code that would decide your phone number. This special code was called the alphanumeric code. Also called the 2L-5N system because of the 2 letters and 5 numbers. Next regional dialing would come into the picture.

Because of the number of people connecting via phone, phone numbers ran short, and area codes were required. Keep in mind, back then, rotary phones were still being used, so effective dialing was important. This is why locations with bigger populations received easier-to-dial area codes.

Biggest Cell Phone Carriers in the U.S.

Biggest cell phone carriers.
Biggest cell phone carriers.

In the United States, a few different cell phone carriers are strong competitors to one another and very popular throughout all 50 states. Learn more about each one below.

  • T-Mobile: This phone carrier is the second-largest wireless carrier in the US. It is owned by Deutsche Telekom, and its headquarters are based in Washington. T-Mobile and another well-known phone company, Sprint, merged in early 2020, and T-Mobile is now the sole proprietor of Sprint. T-Mobile has accessible, low-cost phone and data plans, among other perks. They offer 5g nationwide, and they have plans for as low as $15 a month.
  • Verizon: This phone company came about in June of 2000. It was created by Bell Atlantic and GTE Corporations, making it one of the most significant mergers in business history. Although some of their best plans are pricier than other phone companies, their network has a very good reach, and they have speedy 5g and very good prepaid plans to choose from.
  • AT&T: This might be the most important phone company to date. Considering its origins as the Bell Telephone Company once Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone. Although Verizon has a larger network, and T-Mobile’s prices are more affordable, AT&T has perks to obtain a plan with their company.

Text Messaging

Cell phone text messaging.
Cell phone text messaging.

With the invention of cell phones came the possibility to not only talk on the phone with someone, but to use the same device to communicate without having to speak, but instead type. Texting is a common form of communication nowadays, and you likely can’t get through the day without receiving or sending a text.

SMS was first created in 1984 by someone named Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert. However, the very first text message was sent in 1992 by Neil Papworth. At first, you could only exchange messages within the same network, but by 1999, that was no longer an issue.

This made texting even more useful because you didn’t have to be on the same network to communicate. Keep in mind that phones didn’t have keyboards when this all happened, so these messages had to be typed on computers. Nokia was the first to manufacture a cell phone with a keyboard.

Although having a keyboard on a phone may seem like something basic, you shouldn’t take it for granted. Think back to the first phones. Remember each number had designated letters. The number 2 would be used to dial a,b,c. The number 3 would dial d,e,f. The number 4 dials g,h,i. The number 5 dials j,k,l. And so on and so forth, allowing you to use the numbers available on the keypad to write messages with their corresponding letters.

However, because several letters are designated to the same number, you would need to press the number a certain number of times to get to the letter you wanted to use. This made it easy to have typos, and it wasn’t very efficient because it took a long time to type even the shortest words.

Nowadays, keyboards are equipped with autocorrect, different language settings, and predictive text. You can even use accents on certain letters or adjust the keyboard size, so it’s more comfortable for you.

In conclusion

The history of the cell phone starts with the history of the telephone. If it weren’t for people like Robert Hooke, or Samuel Morse, perhaps Alexander Bell could have never invented the telephone. It’s hard to imagine a world without phones. They have become one of the most useful pieces of technology.

About the Author

Esther Evans Image

Esther Evans is a professional journalist passionate about music culture, human rights, photography, and writing. She is originally from Nashville, TN. However, she now lives in San Francisco, CA, where she works from our local office. Esther mixes her passion for writing and photography, creating unique pieces of content for our readers. She loves creating meaningful viral content for readers to enjoy, learn, and share.