A History of Mobile Phones: Part Two

Gabriela D'Souza | February 27th 2019

Assorted mobile phones

We continue to explore the history of mobile devices, all the way to the rise of smart phones!

In the last part, we explored the many-faceted history of mobile phone development, from publicly-funded origins to early private networks championed by emerging multinationals like Motorola and Ameritech.

In this part, we will begin to see the emergence of the modern cellular network, going all the way to the rise of the smartphones in the first decade of the new millenium.

2G: The Second Generation

The patchwork configuration of analog networks that comprised 1G worked through the 1980s, but digital cellular technology was widely heralded to be the future of mobile phones. Europe developed the first digital network standard, the GSM, and the US developed the CDMA standard. These two standards would compete for the global market as 2G's dominance began in the 1990s.

The first GSM network in the world was Finland's 900 MHz Radiolinja network, which was followed in the US by the AMPS-variant IS-54, which operated in the high-800 MHz range, in contrast to the slightly higher European offerings.

GSM networks tended to be ahead of the curve on the innovation front, including the development and implementation of text messaging (or SMS). This practice was first introduced to GSM networks in the early 1990s but had spread to AMPS networks by the decade's end.

With the wider availability of 2G phones in the 1990s, another new development was prepaid cellular plans, which especially took off in Europe.

2G functioned through a digital circuit switching domain. As the new millenium approached, 2G was joined by 2.5G and 2.75G which implement a concurrent packet-switching domain.

3G: The Broadband Revolution

In the early 2000s, more and more phones utilized media plans that were increasingly data-heavy. The "always on" culture of business became increasingly pervasive, and people wanted access to e-mail and other internet features on their mobile devices at all times. 2G, and even 2.5G and 2.75G, were increasingly strained by the compounding data usage. Something had to change, and a broadband-based digital cellular network seemed to be the solution.

Yet again, a number of competing global standards emerged. The first 3G network to emerge was Japan's NTT DoCoMo in 2001. South Korea launched the first rival network, CDMA2000 1xEV-DO, the next year. Existing CDMA networks became 3G compliant early on in 3G's run, and we also saw the emergence of low-latency, low-bit rate services like VoIP.

3G was continually updated and enhanced as greater amounts of data needed to be transfered. The most notable of these updates was the HSDPA, which used enhanced 3G technology and High Speed Packet Access to facilitate larger data transfer. This led to the development of 3.5 G (or Turbo 3G), near the end of the millennium's first decade. Just in time for the widespread proliferation of the smartphone, which we will explore in Part Three!

A History of Mobile Phones: Part 1

Image of an old style mobile phone

In 1908, the Oakland Transcontinental Aerial Telephone and Power Company announced they were developing a wireless telephone.

Nokia's Indestructable Icon

Nokia 3310

The 3310 were famed for their extreme durability and longevity, and that's no lie. I dropped mine on concrete, from my third story apartment balcony, and it fell off my bedside table countless times.