1978 video explains how mobile phones work

AT&T footage described cell towers, handoffs, channel configuration


Those of us likely remember the first time we used a mobile phone (for me, it was the late 1980s/early 1990s), but probably don't realize all of the work that went into creating the mobile phone system, or that its origins had occurred many decades before.

The folks over at the AT&T Archives have posted a film from 1978 titled "Advanced Mobile Phone Service", describing the concept of cellular telephones to the general public.

At the time of the film, AT&T was beginning to roll out a commercial cellular system in Chicago, but the basis for mobile phones were developed a few decades earlier, in 1946. In that year, AT&T had introduced commercial mobile phone service in St. Louis, but only a handful of channels were available, making it difficult for the service to grow.

A Bell Labs engineer, D.H. Ring, proposed a "hexagonal grid system composed of multiple low-power transmitters with automatic call handoff from one hexagon to another," AT&T says. At the time of the proposal, 1947, the technology didn't exist yet, and it wasn't until the 1970s that the method could be used. The FCC granted AT&T permission in 1977 to start conducting trials based on the cellular technology, and the Chicago trials happened in 1983.

Interestingly, the equipment used in the 1946 St. Louis service weighed almost 80 pounds, and had to be installed in a customer's car - I do remember the giant "brick" that my dad had to carry around on his phone (the one I used in the 1980s). It's cool to see how much smaller and how quickly mobile phones shrunk from those early large models.

What was your first mobile phone, and when did you first experience it? Let me know in the comments.

Keith Shaw rounds up the best in geek video in his ITworld.tv blog. Follow Keith on Twitter at @shawkeith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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