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History of Mobile Phones

Mobile phones today are a part of everyday life but this has not always been the case. First they were a plaything for the elite businessman and after that an object of popular ridicule whereas today, many people would be lost without one. In this section we take a brief look at the development of this life-changing technology - where it came from and where it is headed.

The beginning
The first mobile phones were known as Mobile Radio Telephones, and rather than operating on a specific network (Vodaphone or O2 for example) they functioned as part of the general switch network or switchboard and were usually mounted in cars, trucks or hefty briefcases. Although it has been possible to make direct calls from such phones since the 1950s, mobile phones, that is truly portable mobile phones as we know them today have been publicly available since the 1980s. The first mobile phone call ever made was in 1973 by Motorola employee Dr Martin Cooper to his rival Joe Engel at AT&T while walking the New York streets - using his prototype Motorola DynaTAC. The consumer version of this phone, the Motorla DynaTAC 8000X was finally approved for general use 10 years later in 1983!

First Generation (1G)
1G stands for first generation wireless mobile telephone technology, otherwise known as cellphones. Mobile phones continued to gain popularity throughout the 80s with the advent of the cellular phone based on the principle of a cellular network. This is where constant signal coverage is provided by a large network of individual but connected base stations or cells allowing coverage to be handed over from one cell to the next as the individual travels within the network. At this point cellular phone signals were purely analogue and these bulky phones became an icon of ostentatious yuppie chic, epitomising the excesses of that era - extortionate tariffs rendered cell phones an exclusive item.

Second Generation (2g)
2G simply stands for second generation wireless telephone technology. The main difference here is that 2G is digital whereas everything before that was analogue. You may be familiar with the term GSM - this is a worldwide standard for 2G digital cellphone technology. The main advantages are less bandwidth to send the signal and increased security - analogue signals could easily be tapped using a scanner. With the digital signal needing less power, batteries and thus handsets became rapidly smaller, gone were the days of heavy bricks. The transfer to a digital system allowed for additional services such as email via the GPRS system, WAP Internet and SMS texts. Digital is not better in every respect however - although digital phones transmit a clearer signal, the necessary compression means you actually hear less tonality in someone's voice than on analogue.

Third Generation (3G)
3G - third generation cellphone technology brings far greater data speeds to your mobile handset allowing for all kinds of extra services such as live video calling, music downloads, mobile video- broadcasts, fast Internet access, computer game downloads and picture messaging. Japan was the first country to introduce 3G in 2001. Live video calling, thought to be the deciding factor in 3G technology failed to take off in Japan much like it has failed to attract much interest in the UK after it first became available in 2005. 3G also means that you can now connect to the Internet anywhere there is coverage using your mobile or a wireless LAN card in your laptop - this works via the new UMTS mobile network (much faster than the old GPRS) which is an implicit part of 3G technology. Fast internet access from your mobile phone opens up a whole new world of functionality such as live TV, free Internet calls via Skype, seamless home PC and home entertainment system integration and a host of user-generated content (UGC) where you, the customer decides what to watch - you can even make your own programmes for broadcast.

Fourth Generation (4G)
And into the future! 4G, fourth generation wireless telephone technology is as of yet incompletely defined and in many instances still theoretical. Nevertheless, what is planned is a new type of worldwide Internet based telephone system that can seamlessly switch to take advantage of already existing technologies when necessary. Building on existing technologies such as Wi-fi (short range wireless Internet) and UMTS, the same Japanese company that first rolled out 3G in 2001 has already achieved mobile data speeds that would allow you to download an entire DVD to a handset in a matter of minutes. At such speeds HDTV (High Definition Television) is a proposed feature for 4G systems, 4G will also bring far greater connectivity in mobile computing and allow live mobile on-line gaming.

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