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Martin Cooper the inventor of the cell phone with DynaTAC prototype from 1973

The call heard 'round the world

Forty years ago this week, Martin Cooper called a number and changed everything.

Cooper, who was the head of the communications system division at Motorola at the time, made the first handheld cellular phone call in public on April 3, 1973.

He was in front of the New York Hilton on Sixth Avenue in New York City, on his way to a press conference. The call was to Dr. Joel Engel, the head of Bell Labs (Motorola’s chief competitor) and was essentially to let him know that Cooper was in fact making the call from a portable phone.

In an interview with About.com in 2003, Cooper said the call signified a shift in communications technology toward the person and away from the place. As Cooper put it, "People want to talk to other people — not a house, or an office, or a car. Given a choice, people will demand the freedom to communicate wherever they are, unfettered by the infamous copper wire. It is that freedom we sought to vividly demonstrate in 1973."

After this landmark call, it took a month short of 10 years for the first cellular network to become available to the U.S. public. Since then, there have been vast improvements in wireless capabilities, ever-shrinking handsets that then grew into smart phones (Cooper’s DynaTAC phone weighed about 2 pounds, 7 ounces as was dubbed the “brick”) and huge increases in bandwidth over cellular networks.

Public-sector agencies, like everyone else, are moving to mobile computing, developing mobile apps, instituting mobile strategies, and using mobile devices to build sensor networks.

And it won’t end any time soon. Cisco recently released an update of its five-year Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast, predicting that, by 2017, global data traffic will reach 11.2 exabytes per month (an exabyte is one billion gigabytes), which is a 13-fold increase in just five years.

All that from one single phone call.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Apr 03, 2013 at 9:39 AM


Reader Comments

Wed, Apr 3, 2013

The most important fact about today's cell phones is: Your mobile phone keeps transmitting information about your activities even after you've hit the OFF button? While incoming calls are going to voicemail, outgoing signals from your phone are letting your phone company – and an army of advertisers – know exactly where you've been, and how you spent your day There are solutions but until we get proper legislation making app developers have you op in instead of opting out, you will never know what you have downloaded to your mobile device. There will be a backlash as people learn how their privacy has been compromised. Using a SilentPocket™ allows you to take control of your own privacy when it comes to Smartphone tracking. MIAmobi™ addresses this issue and many more problems associated with mobile devices. With over a million mobile app’s developed for smartphones, many of which are stealth and are eavesdropping on your every move. Some are capable of turning on functions on your phone like your mic, camera, GPS, address book and more, even when it has been turned off. There is only one way to stop this if you really want to know for sure that you have control of your mobile device is to block all forms of wifi coming in or going out

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