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A History of Mobile Technology – From Brick Phones to Breakneck Data Speeds - Part 1
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A History of Mobile Technology – From Brick Phones to Breakneck Data Speeds - Part 1

Mobile history

The pace of change in mobile phone and network technology has been phenomenal over the last twenty-five years. Over the next three weeks, I’m going to look in detail at developments through the history of mobile technology.

Many of us can probably remember the images of brick-like phones that dominated the 1987 movie Wall Street, featuring Michael Douglas.

While we may laugh at their lack of sophistication now, the birth of the ‘brick’ was not only hugely exciting (and expensive), it also set us on a path that has changed the way we live and consume information daily.

The very idea that you could manage your entire life on a phone, from banking and shopping, to staying in touch with friends through video conferencing, was probably unimaginable back then.

As we welcome the introduction of 4G to the Telstra Wholesale portfolio, let’s take a nostalgic look over the years, from 1G through to 4G.

1G – The Birth of the Brick

The very first 1G phone was introduced in Australia by Telecom (as Telstra was known back then) in 1987, retailing at a massive $4,250. The concepts of mobile web browsing or video calling were almost non-existent – the stuff of comic books such as Dick Tracy and futuristic movies like Back to the Future.

brick phone - mobile history

It’s worth noting that even prior to the first 1G AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System) call being made on 23 February 1987 by Communications Minister, Michael Duffy, there was in existence what we might term 0G. The 0G systems were huge by today’s standards, and were available mounted in cars or as heavy briefcase models. They weren’t consumer products as we know them today; however, they were the generation that first cut the telephone wire.

1G offered voice-only communications, and the quality was sketchy early on but rapidly improved. Operated via the 800MHz band using technology called the Advanced Mobile Phone System, it operated in a similar way to a regular radio transmission, with one channel frequency pair allocated per conversation.

What’s more, the system could only manage a certain number of users per cellular tower (roughly 300), limiting the network capacity. Being analog, the 800MHz band was also susceptible to background noise and static from nearby electronic devices. At its peak, 1G had around two million customers and the simplicity of its design meant that coverage was pretty good when compared to 2G at the time.

These were exciting times. As prices came down, the phones became affordable. The 1980s to mid-1990s were the days of these voice-only mobile ‘brick’ phones. The ability to walk and talk started to change our lives, and mobile phones became a status symbol for ordinary people. They weren’t essential to our lives yet – that time was still to come.

Next week, I will be writing about the introduction of the digital network. In the meantime, explore our mobility timeline which includes some interesting facts and great stories about the mobile industry.

Explore the mobility timeline

Steve Bauer
The Author Steve Bauer

Steve Bauer works for Telstra delivering mobile network solutions to some of Telstra's biggest wholesale clients. With 20 years of experience in telecommunications, both in Australia and overseas with companies such as Samsung, Symbian and Nokia he has developed a unique view of the international mobile world. He has an MBA and Bachelor of Engineering in telecommunications. Finally, after meeting the Queen he returned to the colonies to live in Melbourne and rarely writes about himself in the third person.

See all of Steve Bauer's posts

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