Mobile Telephone

The cellular telephone and mobile devices have become ubiquitous over the last decades.  This display shows typical units used as mobile telephones since 1947, which have provided the basis for the development of today’s phones that you now can carry in your pocket.

A “Mobile Telephone” is a radio designed to operate in motion and that communicates directly with a base station connected to (and often owned by) a land-line telephone company.

AT&T and the Bell System first offered a Manual Telephone Service (MTS) for vehicles, in 25 US cities in 1946.  However, AT&T realized that the number of channels available would not come close to supporting the large volume of mobile telephone customers that they envisioned.  In 1948, Bell Laboratories, the research arm of AT&T, proposed a method of dividing up a mobile telephone coverage area into hexagonal cells and reusing channels to greatly increase the capacity of the system.

It was not until the 1970s that the technology and number of channels available made a cellular system practical.  In 1978, a test of the Cellular Service (then called HCMTS = High Capacity Mobile Telephone Service, and then AMPS = Advanced Mobile Telephone Service) was carried out by AT&T with 100 mobile units in Chicago, IL.  A mobile unit from this test, with serial # 001 is part of the display.  This unit is the first cellular phone.

Although tested in 1978, it was not until 1982 that the FCC approved the first cellular systems, and commercial cellular service began in Chicago in 1983.