The first mobile phones

I read an article today that talked about the evolution of wireless access, starting from its humble beginnings with something called “Improved Mobile Telecommunications Service” (IMTS) in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Initially, mobile phone communications were conducted over 32 frequencies with no sharing — meaning that a single base station could service a maximum of 32 simultaneous calls (although most did not support all of those frequencies; supporting 11-13 was more common). The advance obtained by “cellular” phones was to break coverage areas into smaller “cells”, so that each base station serviced a smaller area (and presumably, fewer callers). Further advances were obtained with protocol improvements (like CDMA and TDMA) that permit multiple phones to share the same frequency.

But getting back to these first mobile phones, there were some other limitations. For example, calls were still dialed with a rotary dial. The phones themselves cost $2000-4000 (no mail-in rebates!), required a 12x12x6-inch transceiver box and a 19″ antenna, and drew so much power that they sometimes drained the car battery if used for prolonged times. And even for those willing to accept these terms, there was a 2-3 year waiting list (again due to the small number of simultaneous callers that could be supported).

My, how times have changed!