Identifying Who Invented the Cell Phone

The invention of mobile phones began in 1880 with the development of the photophone by Alexander Graham Bell. Bell’s idea to transmit sound via light instead of wiring was well ahead of his time, just as his invention of the standard telephone back in 1876. The subsequent invention of the radiophone (walkie-talkies) by Dan Noble and the car phone gave way to the development of the mobile phone in 1973 by Martin Cooper. The cell phone has since become one of the most utilized and advanced personal technology devices in existence today.


The radiophone (also known as a walkie-talkie) is a push to talk two way radio system. The original device was developed by Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter in 1880 and was called a photophone because it worked by transmitting sound on a beam of light. Tainter made the first transmission to Bell on April 1, 1880, after which Bell hoped that his new invention could be used by ships at sea. However, because the device utilized beams of light, weather disrupted its transmissions too easily. The company Motorola, who created a backpacked walkie-talkie in 1940, later resolved this problem. Their design, conceived by Dan Noble, utilized radio frequencies as opposed to light to transmit sound. The radiophone typically uses a single frequency to transmit sound, requiring the users to push a button to open their end of the channel to speak and then release the button to close the channel and hear the other person. Dual frequency radiophones use two frequencies, with one channel transmitting sound and one channel receiving it, allowing users to both talk and listen at the same time. Today, the radiophone is used by the military, police force and the general public in places were portable and constant communication is necessary, which can include, among other things, public events, military operations and police operations.

Car Phones

Car phones are a mobile device fitted into an automobile. They were most popular during the 1970s and 1980s when, despite the availability of mobile phones, the public preferred the car phone because it did not have to be carried around, as mobile phones at that time were bulky and cost prohibitive. The idea for a car phone came from Lars Magnus Ericsson, who installed a telephone in his vehicle in 1901. However, as it was not a radiophone, Ericsson had to stop at accessible telephone lines, connect the phone to the telephone network using electric wires, and then make or receive a phone call. Car phone service first became available in Finland and St. Louis, Missouri in the early 1970s. Because the car phone utilizes a high powered transmitter, it is still used today in rural areas where mobile phones have little to no signal. However, there are few service providers for this device, as the US Federal Communications Commission forces carriers to pay a penalty for activating equipment that is not E911 compliant. Because car phones are analog devices, the providers of this service must pay the fee.

Invention of the Cell Phone

Ericsson developed the Mobile Telephone system A (MTA) in 1956, making it the first fully automatic mobile phone system. It was released in Sweden and the original phone weighed 90 pounds, though the upgraded version released in 1965 weighed 20 pounds. The service shut down in 1983 after only attracting 600 customers. The modern cell phone did not come about until 1973 when Motorola and Bell Labs began a race to develop the first mobile phone following AT&T’s proposal to the FCC for cellular service. Motorola won with their researcher and executive Martin Cooper inventing and patenting the first mobile cell phone with his boss John F. Mitchell. Martin Cooper made the first cellular phone call on April 3, 1973 to none other than his rival and competitor Dr. Joel S. Engel of Bell Labs. Ten years later in 1983, Motorola released the 30 ounce, $3,500 DynaTAC cell phone for sale. Seven years later there were one million subscribers. In stark contrast to the first mobile phone, today’s cell phones can weigh as little as 3 ounces, with retail prices being so cost effective that today more people subscribe to a cell phone service than do a land line service.

Advanced Technologies

Cell phone technology is commonly classified as first, second, third and fourth generation (1G, 2G, 3G, 4G). While Motorola’s 1973 invention is known as 1G, 2G came about in 1990 when cell phones began using digital transmission instead of analog. This change in transmission coupled with the new and much faster phone-to-network signaling gave way to the cell phone boom of the 90s, where mobile phones finally outpaced car phones. The 2G system also allowed for smaller phones as opposed to the “bricks” of the past. The 3G system was developed to include data services, directly coinciding with the replacement of high speed Internet with dialup Internet. This new technology used packet switching rather than circuit switching to transmit data, allowing much faster transmission. The system was officially launched on October 1, 2001 in Japan, followed shortly by other countries. At the end of 2007, there were 295 million worldwide subscribers to the 3G network and today, several markets no longer offer anything other than 3G, including Japan and South Korea. In 2009 researchers discovered that in the future the 3G network would not be able to handle the newest bandwidth intensive applications, such as streaming media. They began developing the data-optimized 4G network which uses an all-IP network instead of circuit switching, which first became available in 2010 from the US company Sprint and the Scandinavian company TeliaSonera.

The cell phone as it is known today is very different from the first wireless transmission made by Alexander Graham Bell in 1880. Modern mobile phones are compact, powerful and provide users with access to huge amounts of data, applications and options. The technology of cell phones is constantly advancing, and the cell phones of 100 years from now will most likely look vastly different.

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