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Today Is The 40th Anniversary Of The First Cell Phone Call
April 3, 2013
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Cooper re-enacts the first cell phone call in 2010 (Photo: AP/CBS)

40 years ago today, on April 3, 1973, the first-ever cell phone call was made by Martin Cooper, a senior engineer at Motorola.

What was the call about? Well, Cooper phoned a rival at another telecom company (he says it was Joel Engel, then AT&T's head of research, although Engel says he has no memory of the call) and told him the call was coming from "a 'real' cellular telephone," the BBC reports.

The call took place in front of reporters on a New York City street, and the phone itself weighed one and a half kilograms. It cost Motorola almost $1 million to develop it, and according to this piece by Stewart Wolpin, the process of making the phone was pretty rushed: it was created in only four months.

Motorola made a big event out of the first-ever cell phone call as a way of proving that they had beaten AT&T to the punch. But handheld phones wouldn't be available to the general public for another decade.

And when they finally did go on sale to the consumer about 10 years later, they cost the equivalent of about $9,970 in today's money, weighed an awful lot, and offered a very small amount of talk time on a 10-hour charge.

"The first cell phone model weighed over one kilo and you could only talk for 20 minutes before the battery ran out," Cooper told The Telegraph, "which is just as well because you would not be able to hold it up for much longer."

Over the next few years, cell phones became a little more common, but they still weren't for everyone. For a window into how cellular technology was viewed in the early '80s, check out this awesome vintage promo video for Motorola's DynaTAC phone, which predicts a "cellular revolution" (hat tip to Digital Spy for the vid):

Cooper has become known as the "father" of the cell phone. He's 85 years old, and he told the BBC a few years back that his vision for the cell phone started in the late '60s when the car phone was invented.

He says he wanted to create a device that would "represent an individual so you could assign a number not to a place, not to a desk, not to a home but to a person."

As he put it, "People want to talk to other people - not a house, or an office, or a car."

Well, it's safe to say he's succeeded: there were six billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide in 2011, according to the International Telecommunication Union. As of March, 2012, there were seven billion people on the planet.

And in 2010, a Statistics Canada survey found that 78 per cent of Canadian households had a cell phone. No word on whether those phones weighed less than a kilogram.

Via BBC News


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