Monday, January 4, 2010

Cellphone revolution

IN the early hours of New Year’s Day 1985, Michael Harrison phoned his father, Sir Ernest, to wish him a happy new year. There may appear nothing remarkable in such a filial affection, but Sir Ernest was chairman of Racal Electronics and his son was making the first-ever mobile (cell) phone call in Britain, using the network built by its newest investment.
Later that morning, comedian Ernie Wise made a very public mobile phone call from St Katharine Docks, east London, to announce the very same network was now open for business. At the time, mobile phones were barely portable, weighing in at almost a kilogram, costing several thousand pounds and, in some cases, with little more than 20 minutes talktime.
The networks themselves were small; Vodafone had a dozen masts covering London and west along the M4 motorway corridor while Cellnet launched with a single mast, stuck on the BT Tower. Neither company had any inkling of the huge potential of wireless communications and the dramatic impact mobile phones would have on society over the next quarter century.

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The first generation of handsets quickly became synon ymous with the yuppie excesses of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain in the mid-1980s. But hardly anyone believed mobile phones would be so popular that there would be more phones in the UK than there are people.
For the first decade the predictions that mobile communications would not be mass market seemed correct. “In 1995, 10 years into the history of mobile phones, penetration in the UK was just seven per cent,” according to Professor Nigel Linge, of the Computer Networking and Telecommunications Research Centre, at the University of Salford, England. “In 1998, it was about 25 per cent, but by 1999, it was 46 per cent, that was the tipping point. In 1999, one mobile phone was sold in the UK every four seconds.” By 2004, mobile phones in Britain reached a penetration level of more than 100 per cent. The boom was a consequence of increased competition which pushed prices lower.
The industry has spent the later part of the past decade trying to persuade people to do more with their phones than just call and text, culminating in the fight between the iPhone and a succession of touchscreen rivals — soon to include Google’s Nexus One. ¦ — The Guardian, London

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