The First Cell Phone – Its History

first cell phone

A phone is a device that allows people to be in contact with one another by voice or electronic means. You can talk to someone else on the other side of the Earth with a phone. Phones have evolved: from rotary and corded phones to cell phones and smartphones.


A person talking on a cell phone

The first device that enabled people to communicate wirelessly was invented by Antonio Meucci; he called it “teletrofono”. This shows that some scientists had started believing in wireless communication as early as 1849. However, Alexander Graham Bell is given credit for inventing the first practical telephone in 1876. The first commercial telephone services were set up in 1878, both in London and New Haven, Connecticut. In 1880, the first permanent transatlantic service began between Clifden, Ireland, and Glace Bay Canada. During this period there were lots of problems with the new technology. People did not think it would be practical, others said that the new technology was just a “flash in the pan” and they predicted its quick demise. By 1890, there were over 10 million people around the world who owned phones.

A Rotary Dial Telephone:

A person holding a cell phone

As we can see from the picture above, in 1891, this was what a phone looked like. This kind of phone is called rotary dial because you had to rotate a metal disk fixed on top of it with your finger until you came across an alphanumeric sequence that by coincidence matched with someone nearby’s phone number. The first such phones didn’t have letters on the disk, just numbers. This phone worked on a “party line” system where multiple households shared the same line and it was first used commercially in 1877.

Phones started to look more modern with the advent of new technologies. The first touch-tone phone appeared around 1963. It came complete with push buttons, an electronic ringtone generator (yes, phones used to make noises), and other things that are common to us today but were rare back then.

Cordless Phone:

The next big change happened when phones became cordless. Mobile telephony is credited as having been pioneered by NTT Docomo of Japan who launched their network in 1979 originally offering only 2300 MHz personal ten-digit dialing cellular mobile phones to Japanese consumers. Many of these early phones were heavy and had very poor battery life. But, because of their exclusivity, they also had a certain edge over other brands that offered mobile telephony solutions around the same time.

Wireless Communication:

The power of wireless communication spread to North America in 1983, when Motorola launched DynaTAC 8000X (seen below), the first commercial portable cellular phone weighing 1.75 pounds (0.79 kg) including battery! The huge disadvantage here was that the battery only lasted for half an hour before needing to be recharged! However, this was still enough for it to find itself in common use by 1989-90. These phones retailed at just under $4,000 making them affordable only to the wealthy or business people who needed them for work.

The Early 1990s:

The early 1990s saw the rise of cellular phone services in North America and Europe, which made use of the digital/PCS (Personal Communications Services) standards. The NTT Docomo mobile phone service was launched in 1991 with 1.5 Mbps ISDN data transmission speed on 4G network infrastructure. With the development of all-IP networks, the Internet will be available anywhere around 2020 at high speeds. The big advantage here will be that all devices that are IP enabled will be able to connect using this technology without requiring separate connections for different devices. This is what we term ubiquitous connectivity.


This truly heralded in the era when phones started looking like phones. Even though cellphones were already in use, it was in the mid-1990s that they began to get a lot more popularity. Today almost everyone owns a cellphone, which brings us up to date with where we are today.

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