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Mobile phones celebrate 40 years

Meet Martin Cooper, the Motorola engineer who made the first ever mobile phone call on April 3, 1973.

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Four decades ago this week in New York, the world's first mobile phone call was made on a Motorola DynaTAC that was about as tall as an iPad, took 10 hours to recharge and offered just 20 minutes of talking time.

Inspired by Captain Kirk's gold flip-top ''communicator'', Martin Cooper, now 84, couldn't have known his invention would go on to become a constant bleeping, buzzing companion for more than 6 billion people worldwide.

He was just hoping it worked.

The 80s ... bad hairstyles, big phones. Click for more photos

The mobile phone turns 40

The 80s ... bad hairstyles, big phones.

  • The 80s ... bad hairstyles, big phones.
  • The launch event of the first handheld mobiles at the Sydney Opera House in 1987.
  • One of the first handheld mobiles being used outside the Sydney Opera House in the late 80s.
  • The WalkaboutTM - $5200 at the time.
  • The first mobiles in 1981 could only be used in the car.
  • One of the first Telecom ads for the mobile phone.
  • Father of the mobile phone, Martin Cooper, pictured with the first functional mobile phone.
  • Sigue Sigue Sputnik bassist Tony James with the phone and his girlfriend, Janet Street Porter, in 1986.
  • A portable radio-telephone, developed by Pye Telecommunications, being demonstrated at an exhibition in London in April 1972.
  • Franck Piccard of France talks on his mobile phone after the Mens Super G Slalom event at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada.
  • Phones of yesteryear.
  • An old mobile phone in use.

''I'm ringing you just to see if my call sounds good at your end,'' Mr Cooper reportedly said to his arch-rival at Bell Systems in the historic call. The handset only reached the market a decade later in 1983.

Australia's first mobile phone system began in Melbourne in August 1981 with the first call made between Telecom executives. But the system was limited to a $5000 car phone that weighed 14 kilograms, could store just 16 numbers and alerted owners of an incoming call by honking the horn or flashing its headlights.

About 1300 customers in Sydney and Melbourne used the network in its first year but coverage wasn't expanded to all capital cities until 1985. Now there are 30.2 million active mobile services in Australia.

<em> illustration: Cathy Wilcox</em>

Illustration: Cathy Wilcox

Australia's first hand-held mobile call was made at the Sydney Opera House on February 23, 1987, at 10.42am. As parachutists carrying mobile phones swooped in from overhead, then federal communications minister Michael Duffy called Telecom Australia managing director Mel Ward in an event hosted by the ABC's Dr Karl Kruszelnicki.

The first hand-held phones, affectionately known as ''bricks'', were still big and bulky (some had to be carried around in a briefcase), only made voice calls and cost more than $4000.

The $4500 ''TravelllerTM'' Philips FM9000 was the size of a shoebox and weighed 4½ kilograms, while the ''WalkaboutTM'' weighed almost a kilogram and cost about $5200.

Today, we are using our phones to surf the web, send email, watch videos, listen to music, monitor our health, pay for goods, access millions of apps and, occasionally, make calls. Text messages sent by Australians skyrocketed from 642 million in 2000-01 to 10.2 billion in 2005-06 and a whopping 36.3 billion in 2010-11, figures show.

More than half of the Australian adult population owns a smartphone and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association expects this to reach 95 per cent by 2015.

AMTA chief executive Chris Althaus said the marriage of the internet with the mobile phone turned out to be one of the most influential technology combinations the world had seen.

Voice usage now pales into insignificance compared with the amount of data used on mobiles, which has been doubling in volume every year.

''Globally, in 2012, the amount of data moving over mobile networks exceeded data movements over mobile networks in all prior years added together,'' Mr Althaus said.

What's next? Mr Althaus believes the next big thing is machine-to-machine communications, also known as the ''internet of things''.

''Whether that's traffic lights, logistics, smart grids, right down to your own personal fridge or car-servicing regime, machine-to-machine activity over mobile networks using mobile broadband is going to be another phenomenal growth story,'' he said.

Mobile services


Mobile services in Australia
June 2012 — 30.2 million
2007 — 19.76 million  
1992 — 635,000
1981 — 1300 customers
Sources: ACMA, Telstra


Text messages
(Sent across all carriers in Australia)
2010-11 — 36.3 billion
2009-10 — 29.4 billion
2005-06 — 10.2 billion
2000-01 — 642 million
Source: ACMA