Ron McHugh spoke about the history of the mobile phone at ameeting of Kirkcudbright and District Probus Club.
The development of the mobile phone dates back to the walkie-talkie used inWorldWarTwo. It was a massive radio carried like a rucksack on the soldier’s back with a long whippy aerial. It used low frequency and had a long range. Modern mobile phones use high frequency so can only be used over short distances.
The first steps in the development of the mobile phone system occurred in 1947 when the Bell laboratories came up with the idea of splitting the country into blocks or cells each served by a base station with a mast.
When moving to a different cell people received a different frequency.To work it needed the miniaturisation of the electronics and the development of computers which could handle the automatic switching of frequencies as the user moved between cells.
Setting up so many base stations and the infrastructure was very expensive and required both commercial and governmental support. So it was not until 1985 that the first mobile phone network in the UK was switched on using a system developed in America.
The phones worked well in open spaces but in towns the signal bounced around off buildings so reception could be erratic.
Despite this, the brick sized phones became a must-have status symbol. By 1987 there were 150 cells. They proved to be very profitable.Vodaphone made 45 per cent profit on their investment in one year. Much of this success was due to the fact that the mobile phones could not only talk to each other but could link to the landline network. One disadvantage was that anyone with a scanner could listen in to conversations from mobile phones.
The first generation mobile phones were analogue. In 1982, 25 European organisations began to pool their resources to develop a digital system.They collaborated to solve technical problems and worked together to establish a network. Amazingly it worked. In the USA on the other hand, a large number of companies each developed their own systems which initially resulted in phones from one area not working in other areas. By 1995, the European system was used by 86 countries and by 1997 it linked 110 countries
The first generation mobile phones could be tapped into by a scanner.The digital phones use encryption which scrambles the conversations and protects the subscriber’s identity.These phones could also access the internet.Texting was added as an afterthought. Before the development of mobile phones there were pagers which could alert people with a short message.This system was incorporated into the mobile phone and in the first few years more money was earned from texting than from speech.
These second generation phones are the basis of all subsequent phones. Even 4G phones can still work in areas with only second or third generation phone coverage.There are now more masts in each cell and the phone decides which gives the best signal.
Progress in the development of the mobile phone network was due to what was the most successful international peaceful collaboration of the world ever.