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Thomas Farely

Tom has produced since 1995. He is now a freelance technology writer who contributes regularly to the site.

His knowledge of telecommunications has served, most notably, the American Heritage Invention and Technology Magazine and The History Channel.
His interview on Alexander Graham Bell will air on the History Channel the end of 2006.

Ken Schmidt

Ken is a licensed attorney who has worked in the tower industry for seven years. He has managed the development of broadcast towers nationwide and developed and built cell towers.

He has been quoted in newspapers and magazines on issues regarding cell towers and has spoke at industry and non-industry conferences on cell tower related issues.

He is recognized as an expert on cell tower leases and due diligence processes for tower acquisitions.

« Microprocessors | | First generation analog cellular systems begin »

January 02, 2006

Posted by Tom Farley & Mark van der Hoek at 05:28 AM

The First Handheld Cell Phone

In 1983 Texas Instruments introduced their single chip digital signal processor, operating at over five million operations a second. Though not the first to make a single chip DSP, Lucent claiming that distinction in 1979 (external link), TI's entry heralded the wide spread use of this technology. The digital signal processor is to cell phones what the microprocessor is to the computer. A DSP contains many individual circuits that do different things. A properly equipped DSP chip can compress speech so that a call takes less room in the radio bands, permitting more calls in the same amount of scarce radio spectrum. With a single chip DSP fully digital cellular systems like GSM and TDMA could make economic sense and come into being. Depending on design, at least three calls in a digital system could fit into the same radio frequency or channel space that a single analog call had taken before. DSP chips today run at over 35,000,000 operations a second. (external link)

In February, 1983 Canadian cellular service began. This wasn't AMPS but something different. Alberta Government Telephones, now Telus (external link), launched the AURORA-400 system , using GTE and NovAtel equipment. This so called decentralized system operates at 420 MHZ, using 86 cells but featuring no handoffs. As David Crowe explains, "It provides much better rural coverage, although its capacity is low." You had, in other words, a system employing frequency reuse, the defining principle of cellular, but no handoffs between the large sized cells. This worked well for a rural area needing wide area coverage but it could not deliver the capacity that a system with many more small cells could offer, since more cells means more customers served.

Visit this site for an excellent timeline on American cellular development:

On October 12, 1983 the regional Bell operating company Ameritech began the first United States commercial cellular service in Chicago, Illinois. This was AMPS, or Advanced Mobile Phone Service, which we've discussed in previous pages. United States cellular service developed from this AT&T model, along with Motorola's analog system known as Dyna-TAC(external link), first introduced commercially in Baltimore and Washington D.C. by Cellular One on December 16, 1983. Dyna-Tac stood for, hold your breath, Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage. Of course.

Analog or First Generation Cellular Systems

System Name or Standard Start Date Country of origin or region it operated in
AMPS  1979 trial, 1983 commerical  United States, then world wide
AURORA-400 1983 Alberta, Canada
C-Netz (external link, inGerman), link now dead) (C-Netz, C-450) Begins '81, upgraded in 1988? Germany, Austria, Portugal, South Africa
Comvik (external link)  August, 1981 Sweden
ETACS (external link) 1987? U.K., now world wide
JTACS (external link) June, 1991 Japan
NAMPS (Narrowband Advanced Mobile Phone Service) 1993? United States, Israel, ?

NMT 450 (Nordic Mobile Telephone) link dead

NMT 900 (Nordic Mobile Telephone)



Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Oman; NMT now exists in 30 countries

NTACS/JTACS (external links infra)

NTT (external link)

NTT Hi Cap (external link)

June, 1991

December, 1979

December, 1988




RadioCom (RadioCom2000) (external link), in French November, 1985 France
RTMS (Radio Telephone Mobile System) (external link, in Italian) September, 1985 Italy
TACS (Total Acess Communications System) (external link) 1985 United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Austria, Ireland

NB: Some systems may still be in use, others are defunct. All systems used analog routines for sending voice, signaling was done with a variety of tones and data bursts. Handoffs were based on measuring signal strength except C-Netz which measured the round trip delay. Early C-Netz phones, most made by Nokia, also used magnetic stripe cards to access a customer's information, a predecessor to the ubiquitous SIM cards of GSM/PCS phones. e-mail me with corrections or additions, I am still working on this table. Here is another look at an analog system table.

Before proceeding further, I must take up just a little space to discuss a huge event: the breakup of AT&T. Although they pioneered much of telecom, many people thought the information age was growing faster than the Bell System could handle. Some thought AT&T stood in the way of development and competition. And the thought of any large monopoly struck most as inherently wrong.

In 1982 the Bell System had grown to an unbelievable 155 billion dollars in assets (256 billion in today's dollars), with over one million employees. By comparison, Microsoft in 1998 had assets of around 10 billion dollars. On August 24, 1982, after seven years of wrangling with the federal justice department, the Bell System was split apart, succumbing to government pressure from without and a carefully thought up plan from within. Essentially, the Bell System divested itself.

In the decision reached, AT&T kept their long distance service, Western Electric, Bell Labs, the newly formed AT&T Technologies and AT&T Consumer Products. AT&T got their most profitable companies, in other words, and spun off their regional Bell Operating Companies or RBOCs. Complete divestiture took place on January, 1, 1984. After the breakup new companies, products, and services appeared immediately in all fields of American telecom, as a fresh, competitive spirit swept the country. The Bell System divestiture caused nations around the world to reconsider their state owned and operated telephone companies, with a view toward fostering competition in their own countries. But back to cellular.



Johann Storck recently checked in to make some comments:

"I've just read page 9 of "Mobile Telephone History" and found a picture I knew well ... the good old Ericsson GH 388 [code name Jane, ed.], one of the first really handy and still (from the size factor) small mobile phones. Just don't measure the weight! Well, you put a picture of the model 388 from 1996 on your page and I want to inform you that there was an earlier model, dating back to 1994 which had already the same size factor and nearly the same features (except SMS sending). I've included a picture of my own device manufactured in calendar week 44 in 1994. The phone measures 12.8cm (about 5 inches) in height, 4.8cm (about 1.9 inches) in width and the depth with the normal capacity battery is about 2.6cm (about 1 inch)."

"As for Ericsson getting out of the handset business, I think they were once the leading developer of mobile phones, back in the times when they made models like the 337. But they didn't learn from their design faults. Think of the small display the 337-owner had to deal with, they kept that size for several other models (377, 388 and even the latest phones like T-28 and the T-20). Or think of the fact that the menu structure was far too complicated and still is. From that point of view Ericsson could be better off giving away the mobile phone business to Flextronics because that could bring some innovations to their (technically very good) products."

"If you compare Ericsson to Nokia you see what can be done by listening to the consumer wishes. Nokia designed an easy-to-use graphical menu structure and (in some phones) eliminated the antenna to make the devices smaller and more robust. All these facts made the Nokia phones more mass-market compliant and, as a matter of fact, more people bought Nokia phones even when they weren't seen as having the same technical quality level (quality of speech transmission, battery life time, and so on, like the ones made by other companies."

Editor's note. I always liked Ericsson mobiles. They were rugged and worked. Their design philosophy seemed liked Porsche, you always knew an Ericsson phone when you saw one. There was a nice article on Ericsson design in the first issue of their publication On, once at this address:

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