In 1835, American painter Samuel Morse made the first working electric telegraph using an electromagnet. By 1838 he had also developed the system of dots and dashes which enabled complex messages to be sent. By 1844 he had raised support from Congress and the first telegraph line was opened, from Baltimore to Washington. Morse sent the first message: ‘What hath God wrought?’


Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call on March 10, 1876, in Boston, through the Liquid Transmitter he had designed. He uttered the first words to be carried over a wire: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!”


In 1906, a radio engineer named Lee de Forest transmitted a message to an experimental phone in a car idling on a New York street: “How do you like your first wireless ride? The fire department, steamships, and railways ought to adopt the same method of communication.” Later he declared: “Hereafter, we hope it will be possible for businessmen, even while automobiling, to stay in constant touch.”


The first commercial telephone calls in the UK were made in 1912 when the General Post Office controlled the telephone networks.


In 1946 a mobile telephone service (MTS) was introduced by AT&T in the United States. A mobile user who wished to place a call from a radiotelephone had to search manually for an unused 35-megahertz or 150-megahertz band before they could place a call. Only one person could speak at a time and the call direction was controlled by a push-to-talk button on the handset just like a walkie talkie.
When mobiles were first launched, each country was limited to its own national area – they could call overseas landlines or mobiles but they would not work overseas. The first mobile phone weighed 76lbs (34kg).


In the early 1980s the consultants McKinsey & Co were hired by AT&T to forecast the growth in the mobile market until the end of the millennium. They projected a world market of 900,000. Today, 900,000 handsets are sold every three days.


In May 1983 Licences were granted to Cellnet and Vodafone to provide national cellular radio networks in the UK.


1985 saw the emergence of shoulder phones which operated with more than 20kg worth of batteries… which is why they were used mostly in cars.

Vodafone and Cellnet opened for business in January 1985. Cellnet’s charges were as follows:

  • Lease of cellular phone – £164 per quarter (equivalent of approximately £262 at today’s prices)
  • Installation charge – £100 (approximately £160 at today’s prices)
  • Connection to Cellnet system – £60 (approximately £96 at today’s prices)


The first call ever placed on a commercial GSM (Global Standard for Mobile) phone was on 1 July 1991. Harri Holkeri, governor of the Bank of Finland, telephoned the mayor of Helsinki to talk about the price of Baltic herring.


September 1993 saw the launch of One 2 One, the first GSM 1800 all-digital network in the world.


April 1994 Hutchison Microtel announced the launch of its UK network, Orange.

SMS – the Short Message Service – was launched in 1994 enabling short text messages to be exchanged between mobiles.


In December 1998, Oftel Director General, David Edmonds, announced an intention to implement fully the recommendations made by the MMC following an investigation, made at the request of Oftel, into the price of calls made to mobile phones.

In 1998 more mobile phones were sold worldwide than cars and PCs combined.


From 1 January 1999, mobile phone customers were able to keep their old number when switching networks. The UK is the first country in the world to give customers this ability.
April 1999 saw the emergence of the first mobiles able to send an email and use the web.
22 September 1999, House of Commons Science and Technology Committee finds no health risk from mobile phones apart from use while driving, though urges manufacturers to continue research.

Today we have picture phones, multimedia video messaging and 3G handsets. Mobile phones have become a massive part of our lives, so much so that you sometimes wonder how you got by without one!