This page is an archive from our previous website. Please check out our new website where you can read new COMMENTARY eNewsletters, TELL IT LIKE IT IS blog posts or Press Releases.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the birth of cellular commercial networks. The Wireless History Foundation has planned a cocktail reception and dinner to commemorate the first commercial cellular system in the United States, which was turned on by Ameritech in Chicago 25 years ago.

Anniversaries and Happenings

Monday, September 01, 2008

On July 5, 2005, Qualcomm held a party marking its 20th year in business. In a short 20 years, it had grown from a consulting firm with 7 people to a huge company that literally changed the wireless world. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the birth of cellular commercial networks in the United States.The Wireless History Foundation has planned a cocktail reception and dinner to commemorate the first commercial cellular system in the United States, which was turned on by Ameritech in Chicago 25 years ago.


A lot of work preceded that historic event in 1983, starting as far back as 1947 when the concept of cellular was first broached by AT&T. Finally in 1968, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to take a look at the concept and the technology. It took from 1968 until 1983 to commercialize cellular wireless in the United States and it took until 1987 for the market to attract its first million customers. This system and subsequent systems were launched using large, bulky 3-Watt phones mounted in automobiles. Then at Motorola, Dr. Martin Cooper and his team built the first handheld cell phone in 1973. It was big and bulky with a short battery life when compared to the phones of today, but it was a major accomplishment that helped push the industry forward.


The gala reception and dinner is being held in Chicago on Monday, October 13, at the Drake hotel in conjunction with a CTIA event. Many of the founders of the Wireless History Foundation are pioneers who have been involved in the industry since the beginning and are well known in their own right, including Arlene Harris, founder, chairman of the board and chief strategy officer, GreatCall (Jitterbug), Liz Maxfield,Attorney, former CTIA VP and ex-FCC Attorney and Founder of CIBERNET, and Judith (Lockwood) Purcell, managing director, Coracle Group, LLC, Founding Editor of RCR Wireless News, and Wireless Week, who are putting together this event and what is to follow.


The list of supporters reads like a who's who of the industry-Martin Cooper and Arlene Harris, Mal Gurian, Craig McCaw, Morgan O'Brien, John Stanton, and Dennis Strigl are among the many notables. Sponsorships are still available, and additional supporters are welcome to join in.


This will be a wonderful event. I know many of the people who will be there, but unfortunately, I will not be one of them. I will be holding my Andrew Seybold Wireless University at the Mobility World Congress in Bangkok, but I will be at the dinner in sprit and one or two of my business partners will be there.


I am not sure if my co-author will be attending, but Mel Samples and I wrote a book published by Howard Sams in December 1985 called Cellular Mobile Telephone Guide. In reviewing a copy of it for this blog, I had to laugh at how primitive our phone offerings were and how bad the coverage was. But I have also seen how quickly the industry has become such a vital part of almost every person's life in the United States and around the world. The phones we carry today and their capabilities boggle the mind when you look back only a little way into their history.


I have also been reading my newsletters. Some of you might know that from 1981 until 2003, with only a few breaks, I published monthly newsletters (really more like magazines without the ads since they ran 28-36 pages every month). I wrote about the happenings in the cellular world and also in the worlds of two-way radios, mobile computers, paging and the earliest attempts at providing license-free Wi-Fi-like service in the 900-MHz band. At some point, I hope to have them digitized and made available because they document a lot of what is now history and many of my predictions and comments-some of which are pretty funny looking back on them.


There are many of us still around who lived this entire era, though most people in wireless today came into the industry later, after technology advances, after many changes and after wireless had become less magic and more of a must-have for most of us. The Wireless History Foundation is not simply about putting on a dinner, it is also about capturing this history and making it available to those who have joined us along the way who may not be aware of the false starts, slow acceptance and tough decisions made along the way.


Some who are driving wireless forward today have done so since the beginning, but many are "new blood" and may not be aware of the past and what can be learned from it. I often meet new, young companies or talk to executives at one of the larger companies who are telling me about something new that, in reality, was new in the 1980s or early 1990s and did not make it in the marketplace. Some of these ideas can be and are being dusted off and put forward again now that times are different. Network coverage is far better than it was in those days, devices cost less, service costs far less and we have two things we really didn't have back then: wireless broadband and the Internet.


Preserving the history of the wireless industry will not only honor those who came before us or grew up with the industry, it will also, perhaps, trigger an idea in someone's head or strike a chord with someone new who might think: The time for this has finally come and I can make it happen. At least this is my hope.


In the meantime, happy 25th anniversary to our industry and to all of the great people who have contributed to it for the past 25 years. We want to honor those who are no longer with us and well as those who are because without these people we would not be reaping the rewards of wireless and we would not be looking forward to the next 25 years and even more significant changes than we have seen in the first 25.


Andrew M. Seybold


Andrew Seybold Wireless University

Your Wireless World Starts Here on September 9, 2008

Moscone West, San Francisco, Calif.
at CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment 2008
Learn virtually everything you need to know about
the global wireless market in one day


COMMENTS: This is an archived post. Commenting is no longer available.

Scott Goldman - 09/02/2008 08:59:47

This is one industry that never seems to lose its excitement or drive. I dropped out of it for a while after too many years of globe-trotting flights and sleeping in hotels. I think I regretted it from the first day and have been looking for the right place to jump back in since then. This event promises to be a true gathering of eagles - so many of the people who were responsible for propelling the technology and the business forward will be there. I'm looking forward to it and am disappointed you won't be there but understand that conflicts happen.

You reminded me that I wrote a book on behalf of Marty Cooper long ago, called "The Cooper Report," which was the first look inside the usage habits of cellular phone subscribers. Marty, as you may recall, had started and was running a company (along with Arlene), Cellular Business Systems (subsequently bought out by Cincinnati Bell Information Systems) that had reams of that data. Looking back on it now gives me the same chuckles about where we thought the industry would be today.

Who would have ever guessed that pre-teens and executives alike would be carrying phones, texting, accessing the Internet (which hadn't even been commercialized at the time of that writing) and so much more. Free phones, femtocells, spectrum auctions and an entire industry based upon games for cell phones - who woulda thunk it??

This industry has been very good to me in a lot of ways - many lifelong friends and some of my best memories started here. Who knows what the next 25 years will bring? Personally, I can't wait!

John Gleichweit - 09/02/2008 11:09:05

I remember the debut of Cellular Phones at the CES show. Motorola and (IIRC) AT&T had a shiny car with a big phone handset up front and huge transceiver unit in the trunk with a little antenna on the trunk lid. The first thing that came to mind was "It looks cool, but is it just going to be another really expensive IMTS-like system?"

Now here we are 25 years later, and that huge car phone has been through so many generations that it's now a gum-pack-sized ubiquitous fact of life. What was once a device that would just make and take phone calls is now a mobile communications device that lets us do so much more, especially in the case of the Treos and Blackberries that help to organize our lives.

Let me echo what Scott asks: "What will the next 25 years bring?" Here's my gaze into the crystal ball: smaller and faster. An entire cellular phone in what today is a Bluetooth headset with voice recognition and response. Power cell (you won't call them batteries anymore) life that's measured in weeks or months, not just hours. Wireless data that's almost instantaneous. Unlimited plans that are the same price as today's basic plans.

Some things won't change, though. Your 12 year old daughter will still beg you for a phone, and will be on it non-stop yacking with her friends.

Paul Zawada - 09/02/2008 20:51:23

Just a minor nit to pick... The first cellular system in the U.S. was turned on by Illinois Bell, not Ameritech. Divestiture was still two months away so IBT was still part of the Bell System. Ameritech, which may have existed on paper by that time, didn't own anything until Jan 1, 1984...

I'm sure the parking lot at Soldier Field where they staged the race to make the first call on the first commercial network is long gone. That area's been completely rearranged. Too bad, they could have staged an anniversary call...