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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


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