Wireless Industry Celebrates 50 Years Since Cell Phone Invention

Engineer, inventor and futurist Martin (Marty) Cooper set the mobile communications industry on an upward trajectory 50 years ago yesterday, on April 3, 1973, when he made the first handheld mobile call from a New York City street to a friend at then-competitor AT&T using a prototype cell phone, Mobile World Live reported. The phone weighed about a kilogram and had a battery life of just 25 minutes. He often jokes that the battery life of the handset didn’t matter at the time because it was too heavy to hold up for very long.

Cooper is very optimistic about the future of cell phone use. In an interview with Radio Club of America, he believes that the world is “just beginning” to realize the impact of cell phones and that impact will be “unbelievable” in the next 20 years. He sees three areas in which cell phone use will dramatically change our lives.

In education, teachers and students now have instant access to the world’s knowledge via mobile devices. Students will be able to use artificial intelligence to discriminate the usefulness of information and also use AI as an aid to their own creativity.

In healthcare, Cooper says that since mobile devices are always with us, apps on the phone can provide continual monitoring of our health to flag abnormal conditions like a pending heart attack or detect loss of control of our immune system that allows diseases like cancer to flourish. He says annual medical checkups are “useless” because diseases don’t wait. By constant monitoring, and appropriate medical response, he sees a “future of no diseases.”

Thirdly, he envisages the cell phone as an enabler of connection and collaboration between people to resolve conflicts and to create. “The concept of collaboration will change,” he says.

Cooper and his team at Motorola developed the DynaTAC 8000X mobile phone (referred to as ‘the brick’ because of its shape and weight) for commercial use 10 years after the prototype was used for that first call. At the time, it sold for about $4,000 ($10,000 in today’s value) and worked in just two U.S. cities, New York and Chicago.

Though Cooper acknowledges it was expensive and didn’t work very well, he and his team at Motorola were convinced that someday, everyone would have a cell phone. From that first mobile call, the global mobile industry has grown to 5.4 billion unique mobile subscribers as of end-2022, and is on track to hit 6.3 billion by 2030. There are also more than 8.4 billion SIM connections globally, according to GSMA Intelligence.

By John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor

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