The first ever mobile phone call was made in the UK 30 years ago today, marking the start of a communications revolution. The carphone weighed 5kg, was worth £4,500 (Kshs. 633,721) and needed 10 hours of charging for 30 minutes of talk time – but who was on the call?
Using the Transportable Vodafone VT1, Michael Harrison telephoned his father – Vodafone’s first chairman – on 1 January, 1985.
Vodafone’s former technical director Mike Pinches remarks, “I never envisaged where it would get to today but I’m very proud to have been involved in kick-starting it in the right direction.”
“The fact it’s gone beyond anything I saw happening – that’s just very satisfying.
“The first phones had relatively high-powered transmitters, something of the order of five watts.
“Today’s phones are fractions of a watt at most, and often less than that depending on where the nearest cell site is. So you needed to be connected to a decent size battery, both for the transmit power but also the silicone processing power that was going on in there.
“You needed something like two amps, never mind the transmitter. So a car battery was really the only viable way forward.”
There was a time when mobiles were for the privileged few, but now 3.6 billion people around the world own a mobile phone (about half the global population).
But there are 7.3 billion active subscriptions and the industry is now worth $1.13tn.
In the UK alone, there are more subscriptions than there are people. By 2012, there were 123.8 subscriptions for every 100 inhabitants.
In the 1980s, the mobile phone became synonymous with the “yuppie” – cash-rich individuals who need not fret about paying 25p a minute to make a call.
Banker Mungo Parks was the first person in the world to buy a carphone.
He said: “The difficulty that we had was that Wall Street would close at 4 or 4.30 in the evening New York time which was 9 o’clock in the evening UK time.
“So we had this time when we were going home that we couldn’t contact the office or the trading desk. That was a minefield.
“So when these telephones came in it meant you could leave whenever you wanted and still be in constant contact with the trading desk and complete a transaction and make money.
“If you weren’t in touch you might not have made money so it became a genuine economic necessity.”