Martin Cooper and the History of Cell Phone

Young lady walking around city on phone
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April 3, 2003, marked the 30th anniversary of the first public telephone call placed on a portable cellular phone. Martin Cooper, chairman, CEO, and co-founder of ArrayComm Inc, placed that call on April 3, 1973, while general manager of Motorola's Communications Systems Division. It was the long-anticipated incarnation of his vision for personal wireless communications that was distinct from cellular car phones.

That first call, placed to Cooper's rival at AT&T's Bell Labs from the streets of New York City, caused a fundamental technology and communications market shift toward the person and away from the place.

"People want to talk to other people - not a house, or an office, or a car. Given a choice, people will demand the freedom to communicate wherever they are, unfettered by the infamous copper wire. It is that freedom we sought to vividly demonstrate in 1973," Cooper said.

"As I walked down the street while talking on the phone, sophisticated New Yorkers gaped at the sight of someone actually moving around while making a phone call. Remember that in 1973, there weren't cordless telephones, let alone cellular phones. I made numerous calls, including one where I crossed the street while talking to a New York radio reporter - probably one of the more dangerous things I have ever done in my life," he added.

Following the April 3, 1973, public demonstration of a "brick"-like 30-ounce phone, Cooper started the 10-year process of bringing the portable cell phone to market. Motorola introduced the 16-ounce "DynaTAC" phone into commercial service in 1983. At the time, each phone cost the consumer $3,500. It took an additional seven years before there were a million subscribers in the United States.

Today, there are more cellular subscribers than wireline phone subscribers in the world. And thankfully, mobile phones are much lighter and portable.

Martin Cooper Today

Martin Cooper's role in conceiving and developing the first portable cellular phone directly impacted his choice to start and lead ArrayComm, a wireless technology and systems company founded in 1992. ArrayComm's core adaptive antenna technology increases the capacity and coverage of any cellular system and significantly lowers costs while making cellular calls more reliable. The technology addresses what Cooper calls "the unfulfilled promise" of cellular, which should be, but still isn't as reliable or affordable as wired telephone services.

ArrayComm has also used its adaptive antenna technology to make the Internet more "personal" by creating the i-BURST Personal Broadband System, which delivers high-speed, mobile Internet access that consumers can afford.

"It's very exciting to be part of a movement toward making broadband available to people with the same freedom to be anywhere that they have for voice communications today," Cooper said. "People rely heavily on the Internet for their work, entertainment, and communication, but they need to be unleashed.

We will look back at 2003 as the beginning of the era when the Internet became truly untethered."