December 25, 2010

The Cell Phone

My son raised the question this evening: how long have cell phones been around. I wanted to be correct in my answer, so I looked it up. I remember my mother's first car phone : )


Unbelievably, the basic concept of the cell phone has been around for decades. In the nineteenth century, scientists experimented with using the earth's atmosphere to transmit and receive communications. There was, in this groundwork, the beginnings of the cell phone. It wasn't until 1973, though, that the first call was made from a cell phone.

In 1947, AT&T and Bell Labs requested that the Federal Communications Commission allocate more radio wave frequencies so mobile phone use could become more widespread. The FCC declined, and so there were only a limited amount of frequencies available. This meant that only about twenty-three conversations could take place simultaneously in the same service area. It wasn't worth any company's time and money to invest in the technology when it wouldn't be used in a more widespread manner.

Luckily, the FCC decided to allocate more frequencies to mobile phone use in 1968. This was the real beginning of cell phone use. Several small low-powered towers broadcast signal. Each cell covered a radius of a few miles, and calls could bounce between towers if they left the cell's range. Cell phone trials could now start, which they did with 2000 Chicago users in 1977. Cell phones have evolved from cumbersome, car phones to tiny phones we can fit in the palm of our hands.

Cell phones didn't become as common or popular until the 1990s, but they have been a work in progress for decades. Now, in addition to making calls, you can take pictures, listen to music, go online, send files, and much more. You can find out who owns a phone number, look numbers up, and communicate more freely with others. The cell phone has been one of the most important innovations of the past century and will undoubtedly continue to change the way that people communicate with each other in numerous ways.

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