We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message
80,259 News Articles

Happy birthday, mobile phone!

Motorola DynaTAC 8000X vs Apple iPhone

Amidst today's war of the latest Internet-enabled mobile phones (Apple iPhone vs Android Google phone vs Nokia N96 vs BlackBerry Storm) a milestone has been reached - where it's Motorola we should be thanking, not the touchscreen champs listed above.

The first US commercial cellular call was placed on October 13, 1983 from the president of Ameritech Mobile Communications in Chicago to the grandson of Alexander Graham Bell in Germany - using Motorola's DynaTAC 8000X portable cellular phone.

The 13-inch DynaTAC 8000X was world's first commercially available handheld cellular phone. The 0.8kg (28-ounce) handheld phone was available to consumers a year later in 1984. Apple's iPhone is 4.5 inches long, weighing just 113 grammes (4.7 ounces).

Motorola had some experience in mobile phones, although only devices tethered to cars. In 1946, when radiotelephone service began in the US, it was making "car phones" - which were two-way radios connected to the landline telephone system.

In 1968, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed to allocate frequencies in the 800-900 MHz range for a new technology to solve the problems that made using car phones so frustrating to users - long delays and interference being just two.

As Motorola explains in a special web page celebrating the mobile phone's birthday, in Bell Laboratories' Cellular technology, geographical areas were broken into small adjacent cells so that many more car phones could be used at one time.

"The network of cell sites would be supported by a call-switching infrastructure that tracked users as they moved through the network and automatically switched their calls as their location changed."

Motorola's industrial design director Rudy Krolopp and his team got to work designing the shape of the phone.

"We called it a shoe phone, because it sort of looked a little bit like a boot," recalled Krolopp.

By February of 1973, Motorola had produced a working DynaTAC (DYNamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage) portable phone prototype.


"The Motorola engineering team's concept involved designing a large number of overlapping cells in a geographic area. Low powered transmitters in each cell allowed frequencies to be reused in cells farther away.

"Computerized network equipment tracked the moving caller through the system and automatically switched the call to a new cell and frequency as the caller changed locations (a process known as "hand-off").

"The system automatically adjusted the phone's transmitting power so it would not interfere with neighbouring cell sites and linked the call with the wireline telephone network. Specialized directional antennas focused the radio signal where it was needed. As more people subscribed to cellular services, the system could be expanded by splitting cells and making many smaller cells within the same geographic area."

On September 21, 1983, the FCC approved Motorola's DynaTAC 8000X phone after more than 10 years development and a US$100 million investment.

The battery allowed for a call up to 60 minutes, after which it was necessary to charge the phone up to 10 hours in a trickle charger.


IDG UK Sites

Where to buy iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in the UK: Launch day price, deals and contracts

IDG UK Sites

Is Apple losing confidence in itself?

IDG UK Sites

Professional photo and video techniques for perfect colours

IDG UK Sites

How (and where) to buy an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus in the UK. Plus: What to do if you pre-ordered...