FROM THE ARCHIVES

An enormous, $13K cell phone? Yup, in 1986

A little more than 30 years ago this week, BC Tel made its first cellphones available in the province. The battery alone weighed 0.8 kilograms.

'Not only did they practically require a suitcase to port around, they were incredibly expensive'

CBC reporter Ted Chernecki took one of B.C. Tel's first cellphones for a test run around Vancouver. 2:23

With many cellphones these days small enough to fit into your pocket, it can be hard to imagine anything that could require some muscle to lug around. 

But that was the case a little more than 30 years ago this week, when what was then BC Tel made its first cellphones available in the province. 

"They were the size and weight of a brick, relying on a briefcase-sized battery case to function," said Telus spokeswoman Liz Sauvé. 

"The battery alone weighed 0.8 kilograms. Not only did they practically require a suitcase to port around, they were incredibly expensive."

In today's dollars, BC Tel's first cellphones cost nearly $13,000 — $6,000 at the time — and making a call was almost $2 per minute if the owner didn't have a monthly plan.

Even with a $97 monthly plan, calls were $0.61 per minute. 

In the video above, former CBC reporter Ted Chernecki tries out one of the new phones while on a shiny new SkyTrain. 

The first cellphones to arrive in B.C. were said to be small enough to fit in your briefcase. (CBC)

Sauvé said cellphones were first introduced in Edmonton in 1982 to support Alberta's resource economy. 

According to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, in 1986 there were 42,000 cellphone subscribers across the country. 

In 2016, there were more than 30 million subscribers — Rogers Wireless has the most. 

"Few of us could have imagined over 30 years ago that mobile phones and the extensive networks behind them would become the backbone of communications in the 21st century, and act as the remote controls for our lives," Sauvé said.

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.