CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW

Our reliance on cellphones began 35 years ago today

Martin Cooper, who made the first cell phone call in 1973, holds a Motorola DynaTAC, the first prototype of a cell phone. The first commercial call wasn’t made until 10 years later.
Martin Cooper, who made the first cell phone call in 1973, holds a Motorola DynaTAC, the first prototype of a cell phone. The first commercial call wasn’t made until 10 years later.
Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
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With 95% of Americans owning a cellphone, it can feel like we’ve been calling, texting, and tweeting on the go forever. But the infrastructure supporting our cellphones has actually not been around that long. While we’re now on 4G networks, it was only 35 years ago today that Ameritech (now part of AT&T) launched 1G, or the first commercial cell phone network.

That network, called the Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS), went online on October 13, 1983, allowing people in the Chicago area to make and receive mobile calls for the first time. Ameritech president Bob Barnett, who made the first call, decided to make the historic moment count by ringing Alexander Graham Bell’s grandson. A little more than a year later, UK’s Vodafone hosted its first commercial call on New Year’s Day. Israel’s Pelephone followed suit in 1986, followed by Australia in 1987.

Cellphone technology had been around for quite a while before that. AMPS was in development for around 15 years, and engineers made the first mobile call on a prototype network a decade before the first commercial network call. It took that long to troubleshoot the various hardware, software, and radio frequency issues associated with setting up a fully functional commercial network.

The next several generations of networks brought us the features we now enjoy (and have come to expect) on our phones: 2G, launched in 1991, added the ability to send texts, 3G (1998) allowed phones to send and receive data over the internet, and 4G (2009) gave us additional speed.

Newer technologies like LTE, a type of 4G network, accommodate the large amounts of data we send every day on our smart phones. AT&T announced last month that they made the first 5G call and will launch the network in 19 US cities by early next year. We’ve come a long way since the OG cell network.