#TBT: How the mobile radio telephone evolved into the modern cell phone
Your phone now fits in your hand, in your pocket and in a small handbag, yet this is far from the reality of the first mobile phones. The first commercial mobile phone, called a mobile radio telephone, became available on November 20, 1951. Some of these weighed as much as 90 pounds. Odds are high that the early users are quite surprised at how much this technology has evolved over the years.
Back then, these phones were often called “car phones,” and for good reason: the control terminals were typically installed in the trunk of a car. And, of course, the idea of reserving a table at a local restaurant or recording a video with these devices seemed like science fiction at the time, since early mobile phones simply placed and received calls. In those days, making a call didn’t involve just pressing a button — a real human had to actually connect the call once you initiated it.
Mobile radio telephone: The beginning of the cell phone as we know it
This technology was based on sending voice over radio frequencies and is often referred to as 0G technology. Because radios are designed for speaking and listening at different locations, engineers were able to tie this technology into the telephone network to allow people to talk to each other while not connected to wired phones. With early versions (and to some extent today), control terminals for mobile radio telephones allowed the people on the line to either speak or listen, but not do both at the same time, as is possible on wired telephones.
While early radio phones were used in World War II to help with field communications, radio phones became available commercially in the 1950s. The early versions were high-power and then evolved to low-power, but a big challenge with the early versions was that the call could not be transferred from one cell to another cell. As with radio, the callers needed to be on the same frequency.
Evolving to a cellular phone system
Then, in 1973, the cellular circuit known today was developed by Motorola, and the first modern-day cell phone was invented. The new device weighed six pounds — considerably smaller than early versions. This is now referred to as 1G technology, compared with the 4G technology you most likely have in your pocket. Since the invention of 1G, cell technology has evolved even more to allow SMS texting, faster service and GPS integration.
Like many inventions, mobile phones exist because of an evolution in technology. Yes, current cell phones look and function nothing like the early control terminals for mobile radio technology. However, that technology created the blocks upon which modern cellular technology was built. Without leveraging radio technology, it’s possible you would actually have to pick up a landline telephone to order your pizza or reach for an actual map to find your destination.