How Have Cell Phones Changed Over Time?

From the first phones that only offered one hour of talk time to the Apple iPhone with Internet access and limitless Apps, cell phones have exponentially evolved over the past decades. Although cell phone history officially turned its first page in the 1940s, cell phones became a "must have" possession by the 1990s. Cell phone technology continues to evolve by leaps and bounds and will likely continue to do so for years to come.

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Cell phone variety from old to new.

The First Mobile Phone

Mobile phone.

In 1946, Swedish police used the first mobile phone. The device was similar to a two-way radio but worked via a connection to the telephone network and the car's battery. The phone was able to make just six phone calls before draining the car battery.

Mobile Technology Advances

People holding mobile phones in the air.

By 1967, mobile phone technology allowed the user to stay within a very limited calling area, since mobile base stations were unable to transfer calls from one area to the other. Call handoff technology as we know it today was invented in 1970 thanks to Bell Labs engineer Amos Edward but was not approved by the FCC until 1982. Cellular phones operated on an analog service from 1982 through 1990 before going to digital service.

First Generation

Old cellular phone with antenna.

In 1983, Motorola unveiled the first truly portable phone: the DynaTAC 8000X. It weighed close to 2 pounds, was nicknamed the "brick" thanks to its length of 13 inches and cost close to $4,000. Its battery allowed for one hour of talk time and could store 30 numbers. These first-generation phones came in a tote back that could charge the battery via your car's cigarette light adapter. Others looked vaguely like briefcases that packed along larger batteries for longer talk time. First-generation phones ran on an analog system, which made call quality questionable. Calls were frequently lost.

Second Generation

GSM phones in a pile.

Cellular phones from the early 1990s on are considered second generation, or 2G. The 1990s models are considered second generation (2G) because they were able to work on TDMA and CDMA systems both in the U.S. and Europe and used digital circuit switched transmission technology, which lowered the number of dropped calls and improved call quality. Second-generation phones also benefited from computer chip technology, which allowed for smaller cell phones and phone batteries. Cell phone use grew exponentially when these advances occurred.

Third Generation

3D image of smartphone with graphic on screen.

Third generation, or 3G phones, came out just a few years after 2G and allowed phones to multitask. This meant the phones can do much more than relay conversation. They can even make and receive e-mails and SMS texts, as well as use the Internet via WiFi.

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