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- Telephone History Series
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- Mobile Telephone History
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Mobile Telephone History

Page 7 >>

"In 1958 Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit at Texas Instruments. Comprised of only a transistor and other components on a slice of germanium, Kilby's invention, 7/16-by-1/16-inches in size, revolutionized the electronics industry. The roots of almost every electronic device we take for granted today can be traced back to Dallas more than 40 years ago."

Also in1958 the Bell System petitioned the FCC to grant 75 MHz worth of spectrum to radio-telephones in the 800 MHz band. The FCC had not yet allowed any channels below 500MHz, where there was not enough continuous spectrum to develop an efficient radio system. Despite the Bell System's forward thinking, the FCC sat on this proposal for ten years and only considered it in 1968 when requests for more frequencies became so backlogged that they could not ignore them.

"Because it appeared that sufficient frequencies would not be allocated for mobile radio, the 1950s saw only low level R&D activity related to cellular systems. Nonetheless, this modest activity resulted in additional Technical Memoranda in 1958 and 1959, respectively, 'High Capacity Mobile Telephone System - Preliminary Considerations,' W.D. Lewis, 2/10/58; and 'Multi-Area Mobile Telephone System,' W.A. Cornell & H. J. Schulte, 4/30/59. These two memoranda discussed possible models for cellular systems and again recognized the critical nature of handoff. In the 1959 memo, the authors assert that handoff could be accomplished with the technology of the day, but they do not discuss in detail how it might be implemented." [SRI2]

Car phoneAlthough the two papers cited above were chiefly limited to Bell System employees, it seems they were substantially reprinted in the IRE Transactions on Vehicle Communications the next year in 1960. This marked, I think, the first time the entire cellular system concept was outlined in print to the entire world. The abbreviated cites are: "Coordinated Broadband Mobile Telephone System, W.D. Lewis, Bell Telephone Laboratories, Incorporated, Murray Hill, New Jersey, IRE Transactions May, 1960, p. 43, and "Multi-area Mobile Telephone System, H.J. Schulte, Jr. & W.A. Cornell, Bell Telephone Laboratories, IRE Transactions May, 1960, p. 49.

In 1961 the Ericsson subsidiary Svenska Radio Aktiebolaget, or SRA, reorganized to concentrate on building radio systems, ending involvement with making consumer goods. This forerunner of Ericsson Radio Systems was already selling paging and land mobile radio equipment throughout Europe. Land mobile or business communication systems serviced towing, taxi, and trucking services, where a dispatcher communicated to mobiles from a central base station. These business radio systems were and continue to this day to be simplex, with one party talking at a time. SRA also sold to police and military groups.

In 1964 the Bell System began introducing Improved Mobile Telephone Service or IMTS, a replacement to the badly aging Mobile Telephone System. The IMTS field test was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, from 1962-1964. Improved Telephone Service worked full-duplex so people didn't have to press a button to talk. Talk went back and forth just like a regular telephone. It finally permitted direct dialing, automatic channel selection and reduced bandwidth to 25-30 kHz. [Douglas]

Some operating companies like Pacific Bell took nearly twenty years to replace their old MTS systems, by that time cellular networks were being planned. IMTS was not cut into service in Pacific Bell territory until mid-1982. It lasted until 1995 when the service was discontinued in favor of cellular. I am not aware that any American IMTS system operated after 1995, however, at least one in Canada remains, at least for another few months. Gerald Rose writes:

"As far as I am aware, the last IMTS/MTS mobile system left in North America is run by Bell/Aliant Telecom in Newfoundland, Canada. This system is also slated to be de-commissioned in August of 2002, thereby ending a long history of this technology. In conversation with a past IMTS supplier, Glenayre, a few years ago, they indicated that the only other IMTS system that they were aware of still in operation was in Asia (Cambodia or somewhere). Naturally, I stand to be corrected on this info."

"In Newfoundland, our mobile switch is a Glenayre GL1200 (6 side by side units) and the mobile units used were mostly a combination of Novatel VTR74, VTR84, and VTR2084 radios, Glenayre GL2020, 2040, 2021, and 4040 units. Being a landscape with some remote areas difficult to service with cellular, the old IMTS will be missed by some users."

The Bat Phone and The Shoe Phone

In 1965 miniaturization let mobile telephony accomplish its greatest achievement to date: the fully mobile shoe phone, aptly demonstrated by Don Adams in the hit television show of the day, 'Get Smart.' Some argue that the 1966 mobile Batphone supra, was more remarkable, but as the photograph shows it remained solidly anchored to the Batmobile, limiting Batman and Robin to vehicle based communications.

Bat Phone

Across the ocean the Japanese were operating conventional mobile radio telephones and looking forward to the future as well. Limited frequencies did not permit individuals to own radio-telephones, only government and institutions, and so there was a great demand by the public. It is my understanding that in 1967 the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Company proposed a nationwide cellular system at 800Mhz for Japan. This proposal is supposedly contained in NTTs' Electrical Communications Laboratories Technical Journal Volume 16, No. 5, a 23 page article entitled "Fundamental problems of nation-wide mobile radio telephone system," written by K. Araki. I have not yet seen the English version of the NTT Journal in question, but it does agree with material I will go over later in this article.

What is certain is that every major telecommunications company and manufacturer knew about the cellular idea by the middle 1960s; the key questions then became which company could make the concept work, technically and economically, and who might patent a system first.

In 1967 the Nokia group was formed by consolidating two companies: the Finnish Rubber Works and the Finnish Cable Works. Finnish Cable Works had an electronics division which Nokia expanded to include semi-conductor research. These early 1970s studies readied Nokia to develop digital landline telephone switches. Also helping the Finns was a free market for telecom equipment, an open economic climate which promoted creativity and competitiveness. Unlike most European countries, the state run Post, Telephone and Telegraph Administration was not required to buy equipment from a Finnish company. And other telephone companies existed in the country, any of whom could decide on their own which supplier they would buy from. Nokia's later cellular development was greatly helped by this free market background and their early research.

Back in the United States, the FCC in 1968 took up the Bell System's now ten year old request for more frequencies. They made a tentative decision in 1970 to do so, asked AT&T to comment, and received the system's technical report in December, 1971. The Bell System submitted docket 19262, outlining a cellular radio scheme based on frequency-reuse. Their docket was in turn based on the patent Amos E. Joel, Jr. and Bell Telephone Laboratories filed on December 21, 1970 for a mobile communication system. This patent was approved on May 16, 1972 and given the United States patent number 3,663,762. Six more years would pass before the FCC allowed AT&T to start a trial. This delay deserves some explaining.

Besides bureaucratic sloth, this delay was also caused, rightly enough, by the radio common carriers. These private companies provided conventional wireless telephone service in competition with AT&T. Carriers like the American Radio Telephone Service, and suppliers to them like Motorola, feared the Bell System would dominate cellular radio if private companies weren't allowed to compete equally. They wanted the FCC to design open market rules, and they fought constantly in court and in administrative hearings to make sure they had equal access. And although its rollout was delayed, the Bell System was already working with cellular radio, in a small but ingenious way.

The first commercial cellular radio system

In January, 1969 the Bell System made commercial cellular radio operational by employing frequency reuse for the first time. Aboard a train. Using payphones. Small zone frequency reuse, as I've said many times before, is the principle defining cellular and this system had it. (Some say handoffs or handovers also define cellular, which they do in part, but MTS and IMTS could use handovers as well; only frequency reuse is unique to cellular.) "[D]elighted passengers" on Metroliner trains running between New York City and Washington, D.C. "found they could conveniently make telephone calls while racing along at better than 100 miles an hour."[Paul] Six channels in the 450 MHz band were used again and again in nine zones along the 225 mile route. A computerized control center in Philadelphia managed the system." Thus, the first cell phone was a payphone! As Paul put it in the Laboratories' article, ". . .[T]he system is unique. It is the first practical integrated system to use the radio-zone concept within the Bell System in order to achieve optimum use of a limited number of radio-frequency channels."

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