World’s first mobile phone call happened 40 years ago today

3 Apr 2013

Marty Cooper with the DynaTac 8000x, which he used to make the world's first mobile phone call on 3 April 1973

Forty years ago today, on 3 April 1973, the first call from a handheld mobile phone was made by its inventor Dr Martin Cooper, then-head of Motorola’s communications division.

The original mobile phone handset was the DynaTac 8000x and prior to a press conference at the New York Hilton, Cooper stood out on the street on Sixth Avenue and dialled the number of his chief competitor Dr Joel Engel, who was head of Bell Labs.

He said: “Joel, this is Marty. I’m calling you from a cellphone, a real handheld portable cellphone.”

The phone itself weighed 2.5 pounds and measured 10 inches long. It was dubbed ‘the brick’ or the ‘shoe phone’.

Cooper has always maintained that his vision for a handheld device preceded the Communicator used by Captain Kirk on Star Trek.

Cooper railed against conventional wisdom in the telecommunications equipment industry of the day, insisting steadfastly that a device needed to be created that gave every individual who used it their own personal phone number, rather than ringing a desk or a car.

As well as the development of the mobile phone, Cooper, who went on to become corporate director of R&D at Motorola, also contributed to the creation of trunked mobile radio, quartz crystals, oscillators, liquid crystal displays, piezo-electric components, AM stereo technology and various mobile and two-way radio products.

He also fixed a flaw in quartz crystals that encouraged Motorola to mass produce the first crystals used in wrist watches.

The mobile industry today

At the end of 2012, there were some 3.2bn mobile phone subscribers in the world and this is forecast to grow to close to 4bn by the end of 2017.

The mobile telecommunications industry is forecast to generate revenues of US$5.4trn between 2013 and 2017.

According to the GSM Association (GSMA), mobile operator data revenues are predicted to overtake voice revenues globally by 2018.

The industry is a multi-billion dollar powerhouse and most countries have moved or are in the process of moving to fourth-generation (4G) systems capable of transmitting voice, as well as data, of up to 120Mbps.

The GSMA estimates the industry is expected to spend US$1.1trn on capex in the next five years and will add 1.3m jobs around the world.

The mobile industry’s contribution to global GDP between 2013 and 2017 as a result of its investment is expected to add up to US$10.5trn.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years