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What is the History of the Cellular Phone?

Wireless possibilities were being considered during the prime of the rotary phone.
A closeup view of a SIM card, used in GSM cellular phones.
Advances in technology have led to a variety of different types of cell phone.
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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 April 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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It does not seem that long ago that cell phones were once reserved for the rich or for those companies who could ill afford to have a key employee out of touch for too long. Today, they are commonplace. However, to get to that point, the history of the cellular phone developed rather slowly. Instead of coming in a flash, the cellular phone came at a crawl.

Though some may laugh at the idea, the first person to achieve wireless communication through the sending of electronic signals was likely a man by the name of Dr. Mahlon Loomis in 1865. He sent a telegraphic message 18 miles (29 km). While that feat was a monumental achievement that even earned Loomis the recognition of the U.S. Congress, it was still a far cry from the voice communication the cellular phone now offers.

Ever since the invention of the landline telephone, the quest for portability has been there. Even when the now outdated rotary phone was in its prime, there were those looking at wireless capabilities. In 1947, AT&T proposed frequencies be allocated to help with wireless communication. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), perhaps not truly understanding the gravity of what was being proposed, limited the amount of frequencies available to such an extent that only 23 conversations could be held at the same time in a single service location.

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Still, despite these limitations, the cellular phone concept continued on until Dr. Martin Cooper, who was a general manager for a division at Motorola, invented the first usable handheld cellular phone in 1973. Before this point, there were some car phones available. This prototype eventually gave way the blueprint for millions of other cell phones. They first went public four years later and demand began to increase.

However, there was still a problem. Though the demand was skyrocketing, the FCC was still limiting the bandwidth to the 1947 standard. Anytime there is short supply and high demand, it makes things expensive. Therefore, cellular phones were not affordable for the vast majority of people, even in developed nations.

In 1987, the FCC opened up more frequencies in the 800 MHz band. The FCC was beginning to realize the importance not only of the cellular phone, but the cordless phone as well. Regulations were relaxed for both. Although there was a lull and cell phones remained expensive, this was the beginning of the price breaks that lead to their explosion in popularity. Since that time, a number of different standards have been invented to take advantage of the relaxed regulations, not only in the United States, but around the world.

Today, most places in the world have access to either analog service or digital service. Each has its own advantages. Digital service is further split up into competing technologies in some areas of the world. These include time division multiple access (TDMA), code division multiple access (CDMA), and global system for mobile communications (GSM).

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