A Brief History of The Cell Phone: From Zack Morris to the iPhone

Zack Morris Cell PhoneEveryone knows that what made Zack Morris cool, aside from his looks, his charm, Kelly Kapowski, and his ability to freeze time, was his cell phone. Admit it – anyone falling in the age range of pre-teen to college student when “Saved by the Bell” was on the air would have killed for the ability to order a pizza to detention with that phone. But did you know that Zack’s phone (Motorola DynaTAC 8000X) was actually, in the US at least, the very first cellular phone?

Advances in “mobile” technology began in the early 1900’s and led to developments in radios, walki-talkies, car phones, and “bag phones,” but the true era of “cellular” technology began in 1947 when several engineers decided that towers should be placed at each corner of an imaginary hexagon, which would create a “cell” area (the inside of the imaginary hexagon) of wireless service. Because the FCC would only approve enough bandwidth for a limited amount of people to have service in one cell at any given time, the hexagonal cell system eventually allowed (not until the late 1960’s) service for a call to be transferred from cell to cell as the person walked/traveled through a city.

It wasn’t until the 70’s when what is considered to be the first cell phone call was made. In 1973, Dr. Martin Cooper of Motorola made a cellular phone call to his rival Joel S. Engel at AT&T’s Bell Lab’s from the first DynaTAC – Zack Morris – cell phone. Though Motorola gave Zack what every kid dreamed of, it was Bell Lab’s who gave Chicago the US’s first city wide commercial cellular network, which was approved by the FCC in 1983. Cell phone technology grew through the 80’s and produced several analog phone models, which are commonly referred to as the “First Generation” phones/technology.

The second generation of cell phone technology (2G) began in the 90’s with the birth of GSM technology, which began in Europe and is now the technology used by companies like T-Mobile, AT&T, and Nextel, who use SIM cards in their phones. CDMA technology, which is used by companies such as Sprint and Verizon Wireless also began in this era. It was in this decade when cell phones began to really drop in size and when the word’s greatest cell phone, the Nokia 5190, was created. Remember how badly you needed to get to the mall to pick up that new green keypad to match your Camouflage faceplate? It was also during the 2G stage of cell phones when the text message was invented. Suddenly, silent study hall became a giant flirt factory via the SMS.  Oh, and remember how cool that phone in the Matrix was? That was a 2G phone from Nokia, but the real version (how could you do this to us) did not automatically slide open. The spring was added for the movie.

Currently, 3G or third generation cellular technology is what everyone is talking about. 3G seems to be more of a goal or a theory, and whether or not companies have truly achieved what “3G” is expected to be is constantly debated. Several different standards of what 3G is have developed, and several forms of service technology, like GPRS and Edge, have technically delivered some of what was expected to be 3G technology. Third generation technology is what has delivered things like high speed web browsing, streaming television, and all the other incredible things that BlackBerrys and iPhones can do. Other aspects that are now commonly incorporated with cell phones like cameras, video recording capabilities, and Bluetooth are also attributed to the 3G era. 3G and the ability to access the Internet at a high speed have enabled companies like Blackberry and Apple to literally change the world on a daily basis. Did you know that there is an application for the iPhone that uses GPS to lead you to the nearest pizza place in your vicinity? Another will show you the closest public toilets, and it rates their cleanliness and privacy. The possibilities that 3G, and the fabled yet inevitable 4G for that matter, provide are literally endless. Just imagine what Zack would have been able to pull off if he had an iPhone.



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