Final Project: The Cell Phone

April 25, 2010

Three Who Made a Difference

When researching the history of the cell phone it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify one person or one event or one day when it all began. The cell phone, after all,  “represents a largely incremental step in a technology development that had been underway since the 1920s”.  We can look back to the 1960s and ‘70s and find important developments that led to supporting technologies that allowed the cell phone to become a reality…but there was no single technological breakthrough. “Cellular radio is not so much a new technology as a new idea for organizing existing technology on a larger scale”  (Ring 2010).

Still, cell phones would not exist today if not for the dedicated efforts of a long list of individuals. For the purposes of this essay, we will take for granted that electricity was invented; that technology had learned to master the airwaves; that the telegraph was invented and the telephone came along to improve on that. We will take for granted that the walkie talkie was invented and had been in use since World War II making wireless communications possible between two parties. We will even ignore, for a moment, the fact that car phones had been in existence years before the unit we now call the cell phone. We will look back  to 1947 when the cellular concept was first identified and pursued by researchers at Bell Labs and subsequently Motorola. And we visit 1973 with the first recognized cellular phone call. But we must keep in mind that a full 36 years passed between the cellular concept in 1947 and the first commercial cellular systems in 1983.

Martin Cooper is the man most recognize as the “inventor” of the cell phone (Author unknown 1).

When looking for that seminal moment in the history of the cell phone, it is impossible not to point out the fact that Dr Cooper made the first cell phone call while walking on the streets on Manhattan on the way to a meeting on April 3rd, 1973. He was surrounded by the media and took the opportunity to call his archrival with that first call. “The phone came alive, connecting Mr. Cooper with the base station on the roof of the Burlington Consolidated Tower (now the Alliance Capital Building) and into the land-line system. To the bewilderment of some passers-by, he dialed the number and held the phone to his ear” (Author unknown 2).  Martin Cooper was a key player on the staff of Motorola at the time and they were in a race with the engineers at Bell Labs to be the first to successfully create “the cell phone”. And he should receive a great deal of credit. It was his vision for “personal wireless communications”, distinct from the phones currently in use in so many automobiles at the time, that drove his staff for years. “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,” said Martin Cooper (Author unknown 1). Hardened New Yorkers gaped as they witnessed Dr Cooper speaking on his cellular device while walking the sidewalks of Manhattan. To put it in perspective, we did not even have cordless phones in our homes in 1973! (Author unknown 1). The moment was an important one, but it was just the beginning for Cooper and his staff as it then took 10 years before they successfully brought the cell phone to the commercial market. It was the Dynatec, which was made famous by Michael Douglas in the movie “Wall Street”. It was a huge, clumsy brick-like thing…but it worked. It cost $3,500 and the service was extremely limited, so it is safe to say that, at first, this new product was a new toy only for the well to do.

I am reminded of Alexander Graham Bell’s race to patent his telephone technology just moments ahead of other serious competitors. That is what it was like for the researchers and engineers at Motorola and Bell Labs in the late 1960’s to early ‘70s. They were both working feverishly to bring cellular technology to reality So imagine the despair for the Bell staff when they received that first cell phone call from Dr Cooper…as well as the elation of the Motorola staff. But while Cooper and his staff receive the bulk of the credit, they were doing things at Bell Labs that today’s cell phone marketplace could not exist without.

For that reason, I nominate Joel Engel as the second most important individual in the creation of the cell phone. Whereas most people remember Dr Cooper, few know who Mr. Engel is. Heck, how many people know who Elisha Gray is? Well, Mr. Gray applied for a patent on his new telephone just hours after Alexander Graham Bell successfully did so. And Joel Engel? Well, he was in charge of the team at Bell Labs that was racing to create the first cell phone at the same time Dr Cooper and his staff at Motorola was. In fact, Mr. Engel was the man on the other end of the phone when Dr Cooper made that most important first phone call. But Mr. Engel was not a punch line. In fact, he and his staff at Bell Labs were creating technologies that would make today’s cell phone “system” possible. Most don’t realize that Dr Cooper’s chief rival at Bell labs was the first to develop the electronic components necessary for cellular technology (Fiset 2010).

Most do not realize that since only a few hundred people in a typical city had car phones, there were not enough free radio channels to allow for more than a few conversations to occur at any one time. Or that it was Engel and his team that developed a concept that multiplied the capacity of each channel by 1,000. Their system created small coverage areas called “cells”. A land-based network tracked cars (or future cell phones) within these cells and switched calls from cell to cell as they moved around (Author unknown 3).  So it was Engel’s system that solved major problems such as how cellular systems locate vehicles and hand off calls from cell to cell as vehicles move. The system consisted of multiple low-power transmitters that covered a city in a hexagonal grid, with automatic call handoff from one hexagon to another. It also allowed for the reuse of frequencies within the city. The technology to implement all of this simply did not exist and the frequencies needed were simply not available. Not until the late ‘60s when Engel and his team came along and made it all a reality (Author unknown 4).

In addition, Engel is credited with “having provided the research required to focus the optimization of system parameters and characterize cellular capacity sufficiently to arrive at federal rules and regulations for standardization and use” (Author unknown 3).  It is safe to say that, among the long list of individuals who helped create today’s cellular system, Joel Engel was a major contributor.

Enough said about the 1973 battle to be first. For my third individual, I would like to turn the clock back to 1947 and introduce a man named Douglas Ring. As we have mentioned several times, no one person can be given the credit for the “invention’ of the cell phone. But it is safe to say that one of the visionaries behind it was Douglas Ring. It was December 11th, 1947…a full 26 years before Dr Cooper’s famous first cell phone call, that Douglas Ring, an engineer at Bell Labs, wrote a memo outlining his vision for a cellular telephone system. “In 1947 the cellular concept “materialized from nowhere” and was embodied in an internal Bell Labs memorandum authored by D. H. Ring with major input from Bell Labs colleague W.R. Young. This paper summed up the thinking of Bell scientists, and suggested that it might be possible to build a high capacity land mobile radio telephone system that could provide wide area coverage with a modest allocation of frequencies”  (Ring 2010).  It outlines many of the concepts so critical to today’s modern cellular systems. It discusses the idea of installing low power transmitters for small areas (the “cells” that Engel would later perfect 20 years later) permitting significant frequency reuse within the service area. It identified the hexagonal layout currently in use; the concept of sub-dividing cells into even smaller ones (cell splitting) in order to increase capacity as demand increased; and it identified the need for “handoff” techniques. Finally, he noted that interference could be reduced by the installation of base stations that could control the power of the mobile transmitters (Ring 2010).

Ring took little credit for the memo, deciding instead to call it merely a putting into words the consensus of his fellow engineer’s thoughts at the time. I think he’s too modest. Douglas Ring possessed no less than 12 U.S. patents ranging from “volume control circuits” in 1934 to “microwave coupling systems” in 1942 and “high speed switching networks” in 1960. He was a visionary and, perhaps more importantly, one who was capable of making his vision a reality.

The following link will bring you to Mr. Ring’s 20 page “memo”. It’s a fascinating read when one considers when it was written. It reads like the blueprint that would guide fellow Bell lab engineers for decades, including Joel Engel (Ring 2010).


The Emergence of The Cell Phone

How did we get here? How has the cell phone become the most indispensable piece of technology in most of our lives? How has it grown faster than any technology other than perhaps the PC or Internet. “Nothing, with the exception of maybe the Internet or television, has had such a profound impact on our culture in so few years” (Keith, Wireless, 2004). Let us begin with a brief history lesson.

In 1843, a chemist by the name of Michael Faraday began researching the possibility that space can conduct electricity. He was considered a  “crackpot”.  In 1865, a Virginia Dentist named Dr. Mahlon Loomis, developed a method of communicating through the earth’s atmosphere by using an electrical conductor.  In 1866 the first trans-Atlantic telegraph was built.  In 1921 The Detroit Police installed mobile radios in their squad cars. 1934 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was created. They decided who got to use certain radio frequencies. Most channels were reserved for emergency use and for the government.

In the 1940’s mobile radios became much more common in police departments and the wealthy as well as certain private companies begin using these radios for personal gain. In 1945 the first mobile-radio-telephone service was established in St. Louis. It was composed of six channels and totaled 150 MHz. The project was approved by the FCC, but constant interference led to its failure. In 1947 AT&T introduced the first radio-car-phones for use on the highways between New York and Boston. AT&T declares the project a failure due to massive interference. In 1949 the FCC authorizes the widespread use of many separate radio channels. They are the first link between mobile phones and the telephone, rather than just radio to radio. These “radio common carriers” or RCC’s are the first step towards the creation of the cellular phone industry that we are familiar with today.

1956 The first real car phones, (not car radios like in the police cars), come into play. They work but are big and bulky, and require a radio operator to switch the calls. In 1964 a new operating system is developed that operates on a single channel at 150 MHz. This eliminates the need for operator assisted calls and allows customers to dial direct calls right from their automobiles. In 1969 this self-dialing capability is now upgraded to 450 MHz and becomes the U.S. standard. It is known as (IMTS) Improved mobile telephone service. In 1971 AT&T became the first phone company to propose a modern-day mobile-phone system to the FCC. It involved dividing cities into “cells”.

1973 Dr. Martin Cooper and his staff invented the first personal handset while working for Motorola. He named it the Dynatec and is credited with being the first person to make a call on a portable mobile phone. He called his chief competitor at Bell Labs. The FCC ruled against Western Electric in 1974 in an effort to prevent them from becoming a monopoly. Progress came to a crashing halt. In 1975 AT&T adapted its own cellular plan for the city of Chicago. The FCC does not allow it to happen until 1977 (Keith, History, 2004). In 1984, cell phones were first commercially sold to the public. They were very large and very expensive, so we typically found only in the hands of the government or the wealthy (Smale & Smale, 2004). 1988 saw the creation of the Cellular Technology Industry Association, which helps to turn the industry into an empire. It helps the most evolved cell phone technology to date called TDMA, which becomes available to the public 1991 (Keith, History, 2004).

This technology has come so far…so fast…that one wonders how much faster it could have progressed if not for the FCC’s interference. Back then, these researchers thought that they could develop a more ‘mobile’ phone by the use of small cells but The Federal Communications Commission would not free the airwaves – yet. AT&T wanted to develop the technology but FCC limited the frequencies. The development of cell phones had to be shelved. It was not until 1968 that the FCC reconsidered everything” (Fiset 2010).

It’s safe to say that there was no one seminal moment in the creation of the cell phone. It’s also safe to say that once man developed the means by which to send communications through the airwaves, that bright, entrepreneurial minds have been developing better and better ways of taking advantage of that ability. On March 10th 1886, Alexander Graham Bell made that first phone call to Mr. Watson and said, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” Since then, the world fell in love with and grew dependent on the telephone…that the thought of disconnecting us from that copper phone line and enabling us to communicate wherever and whenever we desired was the dream of many. It was Marin Cooper himself who said it best: “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.”  (Author unknown 1)

But the cell phone wasn’t always the slick, little piece of technology that fits in a breast pocket; nor were we assured of uninterrupted phone calls; nor was the hardware or service so inexpensive; nor did it include such unlikely “extras” as text messaging, digital cameras, data downloads, video streaming or internet connectivity….all that developed over time. The first cell phone as an example, named the Dynatec by Mr. Cooper and his Motorola staff was big and bulky and expensive ($3500). It was made famous by Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street and it seemed like everyone who was anyone wanted to be just like Gekko. But the movies are not reality and the cost of these units would have to come down greatly in order to make them affordable to the masses. And it’s not likely that Mr. Gekko was able to find a “cell” from his beachfront property in the Hamptons. Cells were limited to large cities and dropped calls were extremely common. These issues would need to be addressed.

Mr. Cooper’s first cell phone call was tied into a base station on the roof of the Burlington Consolidated Tower in Manhattan. Motorola had no plan as to how to provide cell service to the masses and especially didn’t know how to allow users to travel out of range without dropping a call. Mr. Cooper’s primary competitor at the time was Joel Engel of Bell Labs. And although he’s not as famous as Mr. Cooper, today’s cell phones would not be possible without his efforts. Heck, they wouldn’t even be called cell phones! He was the first to develop the electronic components necessary for cellular technology which helped lead to cheaper manufacturing costs (Fiset 2010). He developed the first system that multiplied the capacity of each channel by 1,000. His system created small coverage areas called “cells”. A land-based network tracked cell phones within these cells and switched calls from cell to cell as they moved around (Author unknown 3).  So it was Engel’s system that solved major problems such as how cellular systems locate vehicles and hand off calls from cell to cell as vehicles move. The system consisted of multiple low-power transmitters that covered a city in a hexagonal grid, with automatic call handoff from one hexagon to another. It also allowed for the reuse of frequencies within the city. The technology to implement all of this simply did not exist and the frequencies needed were simply not available. Not until the late ‘60s when Engel and his team came along and made it all a reality (Author unknown 4). With Cooper/Motorola’s hardware and Engel/Bell lab’s technological advances the stage was set for mass marketing. And like most technology, advancements in technology allowed cell phones to get smaller and smaller. There was the 1989 Motorola MicroTAC, the first truly portable cell (flip) phone. Motorola engineers placed part of the phone’s hardware in a hinged section that could fold inward or outward as needed, thus reducing the phone’s size when it wasn’t in use (Benj, 2009). The first hand-held digital cell phone, the Motorola 3200 introduced in 1992. There’s the first PDA/phone combo introduced by Bell South/IBM in 1993. The Nokia 9000 were the first “smart phones” to include computer CPU’s. As always, once a market, or a potential market is identifies, you could count on the innovative nature  of the entrepreneur to develop the means by which to make the technology smaller, cheaper, with more bells and whistles, and sleek.

The majority of the additional improvements developed within the cell phone technology would have to do with the resources allocated by the FCC as well improvements in each “generation” of cell phones. Phones made in the 90’s, or second generation (2G) cell phones included advancements such as digital circuit switched transmissions. This allowed quicker network signaling, less dropped calls and improved call quality. 2G digital online networks replaced analog network frequencies, making them obsolete. Phones based on 2G technology were much smaller than the brick telephones of the mid to late 80’s. Advances in battery technology, as well as computer chip technology helped make 2G cell phones much smaller than their predecessors. With these innovations, cell phone usage soared.

Third Generation  (3G) cellular phones is the technology that is currently available today.  3G phones have 2 megabits of maximum data rate indoors and 384 kbs for outdoor use. 3G mobile phones usually include innovations to receive much more than phone calls. SMS text is available as well as email and Internet access. 3G is also introducing technological innovations such as streaming radio and TV, and Wifi. The latest iphone is the best example of 3G technology (Author Unknown 6.

There is still no standard 4G technology that all providers can agree on. But certain providers, such as Sprint, are already offering it.  The goals of 4G include faster data transfer speeds; enhanced security measures; and reducing transmission “blips” (Lister, 2010). And you’ve probably seen the commercials already boasting its ability to speak on the phone AND surf the web at the same time.

The cell phone has been received most favorably by a worldwide market. There are currently more cell phones in the world than there are landlines. NYC had to add telephone exchanges in the 1980’s in order to keep up with the demand for new cell phone numbers. Consumer demand quickly outstripped the 1982 system standards. By 1987, cellular telephone subscribers exceeded one million and the airways were crowded (Bellis, 2010).People of every age and socio-economic bracket demanded their own cell phone. 45 percent of American 12 to 17 year olds already say they have cell phones. And while some believe the cell phone keeps them from the more important face-to-face, Scott Campbell, assistant professor at the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, finds differently. “I think what it is doing is keeping them perpetually connected betweenface-to-face communications,” he says (Schorn, 2006).The cell phone has become apart of our lives much the same way that radio, television, and the desktop computer did. We speak a great deal in this class about convergence. It would seem that the cell phone has made more strides along those lines than any other technology. While we debate whether or not it will be a PC-based television or a television based PC to lead the convergence race…the little cell phone already allows us to communicate verbally and via text messages and emails with anyone in the world; allows us to download music, data and video; streams video and is currently close to streaming live television broadcasts; and offers us the internet at our fingertips. If I have one problem at all with it, it’s the name! We’ve got to come up with something better for a technology that’s so much more than a phone.

How’s a Cell Phone Work?

Almost everyone owns one. But have you ever wondered how your cell phone works? In this essay, we will attempt to simply the answer to that question to the best of our ability.

To do so, I visited a site that teaches you how everything under the sun works, ” howstuffworks.com”. I counted on them heavily to help me understand the inner workings of the cell phone. It would be helpful to separate the hardware of the actual cell phone, from the issues revolving around sending data through the airwaves, to the cell towers that make it possible.

The Air Waves

The cell phone “system” divides a city into small cells. By doing so, frequencies can be “re-used” over and over again within a cell, thus enabling millions of people to use cell phones simultaneously.

A good way to understand the workings of the cell phone is to compare it to a CB radio or a walkie-talkie. Unlike a CB radio or a walkie-talkie, where only one person at a time can speak, the cell phone system is a full duplex system whereby both parties can speak at the same time. This is accomplished by assigning one frequency for speaking and a second frequency for listening.  While a walkie-talkie typically has one channel, and a CB radio has 40, the cell phone can communicate on 1,664 channels! A walkie-talkie can transmit about one mile. A CB radio can transmit about five miles. Cell phones operate within cells, and they can switch cells as they move around. Since cell phones operate within cells and can switch from one cell to another while moving around, their range is limited only by the cell towers in the area…dead zones, so to speak.  Typically, you can drive hundreds of miles while on one cell phone call and not drop the call thanks to the design of our cellular system.

In half-duplex radio, both transmitters use the same frequency. Only one party can talk at a time.
In full-duplex radio, the two transmitters use different frequencies, so both parties can talk at the same time.
Cell phones are full-duplex.

In a typical analog cell-phone system, the cell-phone carrier receives around 800 frequencies to use within a city. The carrier separates the city into cells that are typically 10 square miles. Cells are like hexagons on a big hexagonal grid. Since your cell phone is never far away from a grid tower, it does not require a high transmission, thus enabling the same frequencies to be used by neighboring cells. Each cell has a base station that consists of a tower and a small building containing the radio equipment. We’ll discuss that later.

In an analog cell, there are 56 voice channels available. In other words, in any cell, 56 people can be talking on their cell phone at one time. But with newer digital technology, (second generation technology and later) each cell can carry three times as many calls or about 168 channels. ­

The cellular approach requires a large number of base stations in a city of any size. A typical large city can have hundreds of towers. Each carrier in each city also must operate a n MTSO (Mobile Telephone Switching Office). Here, all the connections to landlines are made. As you move toward the edge of your cell, your cell’s base station notes that your signal strength is diminishing. Meanwhile, the base station in the cell you are heading towards realizes your signal strength is growing. The MTSO coordinates a hand-off, of sorts, from the cell you are leaving to the cell you are entering. This is done without your knowledge and is the key reason why you do not drop the call your on. And this process exists among different carriers as well. This is what is referred to as roaming, where you leave your provider’s cell and “roam” into another provider’s cell. It is a pretty amazing technology but not without its problems (enormously high roaming rates in some cases). Digital phones convert your voice into binary data (1s and 0s) and then compress it. This compression allows between three and 10 digital cell-phone calls to occupy the space of a single analog call.

As most all cell phones in the market today are digital phones, we will concentrate on the inner workings of the digital phone only.

The Hardware

As simple as our cell phones are to operate, they’re really quite intricate pieces of technology. Today’s digital cell phones can process millions of calculations per second in to keep up with the necessary compressions and decompressions of the typical voice stream.

The parts of a cell phone

You have probably never taken a cell phone apart, but if you did you would find the following: there is a compact speaker, a microphone, a keyboard, a display screen, and a powerful circuit board with microprocessors that make each phone a miniature computer. When connected to a wireless network, this allows you to make phone calls or exchange data with other phones and computers around the world. And all this is powered by a very lightweight battery that can last for days (Author unknown 6).

The circuit board is the heart of the system. Here is a typical digital phone circuit board from Nokia:
The front
The back

On each circuit board are a number of computer chips. Some of what they do involve the following: The analog to digital and digital to analog conversion chips translate the outgoing audio signal from analog to digital and the incoming signal from digital back to analog. The digital signal processor (DSP) is a processor designed to perform signal-manipulation calculations at high speed. ­

The microprocessor handles all of the busy work including managing command and control signaling with the base station and coordinating the remaining functions on the board.

The microprocessor

The ROM and flash memory chips provide storage for the operating system and customizable features, such as the phone directory. The radio frequency and power section handles power management and recharging. And the RF amplifiers handle signals traveling to and from the antenna.

The display and keypad contacts

The phone’s display has grown in size as the number of features has increased, such as phone directories, calculators and games. And many of the phones incorporate some type of PDA or Web browser.

The Flash memory card on the circuit board
The cell-phone speaker, microphone and battery backup

The technology that allows all this to work in an appliance that fits in the palm of your hand is incredible, considering that the same technology only 30 years ago would have filled an entire floor of an office building!

A word on 3G technology, the standard in mobile communications. 3G stands for “third generation” and is intended to provide true multimedia in today’s cell phone. These are typically named “smart phones” and feature increased bandwidth and transfer rates to accommodate Web-based applications and phone-based audio and video files.  3G networks have potential transfer speeds of up to three Mbps. These speeds allow for downloading data from the Internet and sending and receiving large, multimedia files. 3G makes today’s cell phone working computers that can accommodate video conferencing, receiving streaming video from the Web, sending and receiving faxes and instantly downloading e-mail messages with attachments.

Cell Phone Towers

None of the technology mentioned above would be possible without the many cell phone towers found throughout our cities. Each tower is typically a steel pole that rises hundreds of feet into the air. This cell-phone tower along I-85 near Greenville, S.C., is typical in the United States: This tower is shared by three different cell-phone providers. At the base of the tower you can see that each provider has its own equipment.

The typical equipment that each provider requires at each tower includes radio transmitters and receivers that let the tower communicate with the phones. The radios connect with the antennae on the tower through a set of thick cables. If you ever wondered why you do not find many of these towers as you drive by them, they come in many shapes and sizes and are often fairly well disguised. This one in Morrisville, North Carolina, is designed to look like a tree!

The creation of today’s cell phone system is a marvel of scientific and engineering design. We are not required to understand how it works, but I do hope that this essay allows you to appreciate this wonderful little appliance and all that goes on behind the scenes in order to make your cell phone experience a good one.

Political & Legal Factors Surround the Cell Phone

Any essay pertaining to the political and legal factors surrounding the cell phone industry must focus on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “an independent United States government agency. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable” (Author unknown 7, 2010). And any conversation relating to the FCC’s governing of this industry will find both supporters and critics.

It is difficult to argue against the need for an agency like the FCC back in 1934. Radio was a huge success and our airwaves were being filled with broadcasts, both professional and amateur, that continually interfered with one another. Agencies such as the FCC are very necessary to allocate frequencies and monitor our airwaves. But one could argue that the a slow moving government bureaucracy is not always the most appropriate means by which to “keep up with” technologies that have taken us from radio to TV, car phones to cellular technology, the internet and satellite communications all in the span of 75 years. Such may be the case when it comes to the FCC’s dealing with cell phone technology.

The concept for the first cell phone system dates back to 1947. That year, AT&T asked the FCC for  a large number of  frequencies for the purposes of developing their plans for mobile telephone service. Without such a ruling by the FCC, AT&T would not have the necessary incentive to research this new technology. But the FCC did not see it that way. They believed that “if the technology to build a better mobile phone service works, we will increase the cellular phone frequencies allocation, freeing the airwaves for more mobile phones”. Thus placing the burden squarely back on AT&T’s shoulders (Author unknown 9, 2009). “We can partially blame the FCC for the gap between the initial concept of cellular service and its availability to the public.”  The FCC chose to limit the number of frequencies available in 1947 to the point where only twenty-three phone conversations could possibly be held at any one time in any given market. Is that what the FCC called an incentive? (Belis, 2010). Needless to say, the concept of the first cell phone system was placed on hold thanks in large part to the short-sightedness of the FCC.

We discussed in the “History of the Cell Phone”, how Mr. Engel and his team at Bell Labs were working on the design that would become today’s cell phone system in the late 1960’s. In fact, they turned their work into a proposal to the Federal Communications Commission in December 1971. The FCC did not know what to make of this. They were concerned about the airwaves, they were concerned about the design and convinced it would never work, and they basically did nothing for 7 years!  That is how long it took before the FCC finally approved the overall concept. One website, outlining the timeline for the history of the cell phone, cites that in 1970 the FCC finally realized the potential of the industry and “can not ignore it any longer” (Keith, History, 2004). Which begs the question, why were they ignoring it in the first place? And then, after seven years, the FCC chose not to license the system’s creators, ATT & Bell Labs, choosing instead to license two competing systems in each city so as to avoid any type of monopoly.

Still, after seven years of waiting for approval, AT&T conducted FCC-authorized field trials in Chicago and Newark, N.J. And it took another four years before the FCC would grant commercial licenses to an AT&T subsidiary, Advanced Mobile Phone Service Inc. In fact, in an effort to control any form of monopoly, the FCC played a key role in delaying the first commercial cellular system in until October 1983, a full 12 years after AT&T submitted their original request. (Author unknown 4, 2010).

It took only four years before consumer demand outstripped the cellular phone system’s 1983 standards. By 1987, cell phone subscribers surpassed one million, and the airways were very, very crowded. One way to improve the service was for the FCC to issue more bandwidth…they refused. Instead, they approved a plan that would allow cellular phone licensees to pursue new technologies that could be used in the 800 MHz band. Once again, the burden was placed on the entrepreneurs (Author unknown 9, 2009).

It would seem clear that the FCC did not make the formation of our cell phone industry an easy one. But such problems continue today. We discussed in the “How It Works” essay the wonderful benefits derived by today’s standard 3G technology. But in 2001, the FCC fought its creation as well. “The FCC ruling is the industry’s second setback this month in a four-year quest to roll out “third-generation,” or 3G, wireless phones” was the highlight of a 2001 article in the L.A. Times. This prompted a Verizon spokesperson to repeat once more,  “The FCC and the government still need to identify and bring into the marketplace . . . airwaves specifically for 3G wireless” (Jube, 2001).

The FCC has done some good in regards to our cell phone system. When Congress said in 1996 that people must be allowed to keep their phone numbers when they change phone companies, the FCC said that wireless carriers would have to comply as well and offer “number portability.” And that’s a good thing (Author unknown 8, 2002). Since 2004, they have been re-considering the ban on cell phone use in planes (Bloomberg, 2004). In 2005, they sought to “clarify confusing and misleading charges on cell phone bills” (Dunbar, 2008). Yet, the FCC still “interferes” when the word monopoly is brought up in any fashion. In 2009, they decided to “launch a review of cellular phone exclusivity deals – like the lucrative and longstanding arrangement between Apple and AT&T” (Shaer, 2009).  For centuries the government has fought to prevent large companies from getting “too big”. There is good reason for that, particularly from a competition point of view. But I really do not see the harm in a consumer who chooses to purchase a cell phone and a bundled service so long as the consumer fully understands the deal. What’s the harm?

As with any multi-billion dollar industries, legal issues abound in the cell phone world. While most companies do everything in their power to patent their creations, there seems to be a great deal of gray area in the hardware and software that the many cell phone manufacturer’s provide. Lawsuits involving patent infringement abound. For brevity’s sake, I will mention only a few: Apple is suing the Finnish company Nokia for violating one of its patents, ironic, as a result of  Nokia recent suit against Apple on the same grounds(Monfort, 2010) . Recently, Samsung submitted a complaint against Kodak over mobile phone camera technology (Sood, 2009).  Apple has filed suit against cell phone manufacturer HTC for patent infringement involving Android handsets (Schonfeld, 2010). Taiwanese Elan Microelectronics, filed a lawsuit against Apple dealing with their multitouch products such as iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, MacBook and Magic Mouse (Newman, 2010).  In fact, there are countless lawsuits between cell phone technology firms (see chart). A pretty safe bet where there’s billions of dollars at stake.

Another legal issue that I feel most offended by has to do with the huge amount of piracy and copyright infringement that exists in today’s digital world. And although I fully understand that the cell phone is not the culprit when it comes to this topic (the internet has made it all possible) I do not want to give the cell phone a complete pass in this regard. The cell phone has now become a conduit to the Internet. And this conduit has opened the floodgates to downloaded music, video, data, books, artwork and photos much of which does not belong to the person doing the downloading. Heck, students are downloading term papers done by others with some websites charging for the “privilege”. I am at a loss as to where we believe we gained that right. Is it that the down-loader does not really know that he or she is doing something illegal? Or is it that they do not care? I cannot excuse the ignorance of the first no more than I can excuse the flagrant disregard for the law displayed by he second. The internet, and now it is associated technologies such as the cell phone, have made it all too simple to download a song, as an example, that an artist deserves to be compensated for. It is made it far to easy to download a movie that studios have the right to be paid for. Perhaps we feel that the big bad movie companies and record labels deserve such treatment. They are multi-billion dollar industries and can “afford” to lose a couple of dollars in profit. And the way the music labels treat their artists..they deserve it as well. But does the downloader not realize that they are hurting the starving artist more than the label?

In class the topic of music companies-artist relationships came up as it pertains to this subject. Firstly, the record label-artist relationship has been a poor one for the artist since records were first made and I do not like it. It is not fair to the artist and I would favor anything that would address it in a more equitable way. I also admire those artists who have taken advantage of today’s technologies in regards to creating music and distributing it on the Internet. Artists such as Phish allow their fans to download their music for free in an effort to promote their concert tours, which generates real profits. But if you download/pirate their music for free, you may be putting a little kink in the record label’s profits but you are most certainly hurting the artist even more. What little pittance they would get from the record label is now gone and what they may have earned on their own via legitimate music download sites is gone as well. So when you think you are hurting the big corporation and not the artist…think again.

I have another question for those who believe it is OK to pirate from big companies…when does a starving artist become big enough to steal from? When your favorite, but struggling artist sells his music on the Internet and you purchase it…what happens when he becomes a big star and multi-millionaire? Is it OK to steal from him then? I am not so naive as to believe that piracy can ever be eliminated…but the Internet, and now the cell phone, has made it so prevalent, so accessible, so easy and so shameless that something must be done.

So it should be clear that the cell phone industry, like so many multi-billion dollar industries, is not without its legal and political issues. It should also be clear that as the industry grows and new features are added to our cell phones, and new firms enter the marketplace, that the questions of who created what first and what makes one product substantially different from another (in the eyes of the law) will be further complicated. And it should also be clear that the FCC, in its own way, will continue to play a key role in the industry’s future.

Cell Phone Economic and Business Factors

The economic and business factors surrounding the cell phone industry are complicated and fluid. We have already discussed the political and legal issues that cell phone providers and manufacturers must deal with. In this essay we will touch on the only two things a cell phone customer really cares about: the cell phone itself and the service. There are countless cell phone providers around the world and even more cell phone manufacturers. For the purposes of this essay, we will focus on the four largest providers in the United States.

First, let’s discuss the marketplace. As popular as the cell phone is in the United States, the country represents only 6.75% of the cell phones in the world. That is 276 million cell phones out of a total of 4.1 billion! (Author unknown 10, 2010). In fact, we are not even the largest users of cell phones in the world. Both China and India rank well ahead of us.  But the number of cell phones in the U.S. equates to 90% of the total population! And that, by far, is the greatest density of any country. It is important to understand and differentiate the worldwide marketplace as it relates to cell phone manufacturers versus providers. Whereas providers are typically limited to a country, cell phone manufacturers have the entire world as their marketplace. It is equally important to recognize the fact that no provider can succeed without a quality product to sell, nor can any manufacturer succeed without successful, aggressive providers. These two segments of the industry are forever intertwined, and both need the other for its survival. Complicated and often times strained partnerships abound as providers are only as successful as the latest and greatest phone technology and manufacturers fight diligently to get their product to every possible user without alienating existing relationships.

In the world of U.S. cell phone providers there is the big four: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile. There are many others, but these four companies combine for a whopping 84% of the U.S. marketplace (Gruener, 2008).

The four companies break down thusly:

  1. AT&T: 70.1 million subscribers
  2. Verizon Wireless: 65.7 million subscribers
  3. Sprint Nextel: 48.5 million subscribers
  4. T-Mobile: 28.7 million subscribers

Of the nine million new subscribers added last year, AT&T added the most new subscribers with 14.9%, T-Mobile showed great progress adding 14.6% of the new customer base, Verizon added 11.2%, and Sprint Nextel’s growth lagged as they picked up only 7% of the new market. As with most businesses there are a limited numbers of ways that these companies can grow their bottom lines: add new customers, raise rates (hopefully by adding new services), cut expenses and “steal” customers away from the competition. The cell phone provider war you see advertised on TV all day long between Verizon and AT&T is targeted to do just that.

Regarding cell phone manufacturers, there exists a big four as well: Nokia, Samsung, Motorola and LG and all four work with the worlds largest wireless carriers, such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint, ATT, Vodafone, China Mobile, and Deutsche Telecom. The history of the Cell phone market has traditionally played hand-in-hand with the wireless carriers (Cappe, 2010).

While it used to be more common to find exclusive deals between providers and manufacturers, that has diminished a great deal over the past decade. The Apple iphone/AT&T exclusive provider service deal is clearly the most famous of those partnerships that still do exist. But customers have shown a great deal of resistance to the partnership and Apple is already contemplating offering their product to other providers. The key issue is over AT&T’s “coverage” of the U.S. “AT&T has acknowledged they are having a few issues in a few cities and they are making plans to address these. We have reviewed these plans and we’re confident they’ll make significant progress towards fixing them” claimed Apple COO, Tim Cook (McLean, 2001). Personally, I believe that the U.S. cell phone user is now sophisticated enough to know what cell phone they want and which provider they would prefer…and do not take kindly to being told otherwise. I think you will find Apple opening up their service to other providers and witness fewer and fewer exclusive deals in the future, as they simply do not seem advantageous anymore, particularly to the manufacturer. In fact, a brief stroll through each providers website proves that they are selling phones from every imaginable manufacturer with the exception of T-Mobile who does not advertise any phones manufactured by LG. Curious. Another interesting point, T-Mobile seems to be the only major provider manufacturing their own phones: The T-Mobile Dash, Tap and Web Connect to name a few.

So how do these companies make money? Well, providers need customers and will spend a great many advertising dollars to get them. They will offer new customers free phones…and why not? A phone cost the provider next to nothing and a cell phone customers paying their monthly bill of $39-$199 “for life” is worth its weight in gold. But don’t feel badly for the manufacturer. With over  four billion existing customers and many millions more, their future is looking good as well. But aside from billions in advertising dollars, the cell phone providers have many additional expenses to be concerned about:

  • The cost of buying recent 3rd generation licenses and future 4th generation
  • The product life cycle – existing phones are at the ‘saturation’ stage
  • The huge cost of developing the networks in the first instance
  • The degree of competition in the market

(Author unknown 11, 2010)

And as demonstrated in the marketplace numbers we first outlined, the cell phone market is not growing as fast as it used to. AT&T has seen their landline business shrink 10% per year and can no longer count on wireless to pick up the slack. Analysts expect AT&T sales to drop by $1 billion this year. Now, that still leaves them $123 billion in sales but this decrease, combined with the potential loss of their exclusive deal with Apple has many at AT&T losing sleep (Crockett, 2009).

And all those towers and switches and couplers cost money. Ivan Seiferberg, Chairman and CEO of Verizon claims, “Here in the U.S., wireless companies invested well over $20 billion last year to make it a reality – more than was invested in semiconductors, airlines, or railroads.  Our partners and suppliers invested billions more to develop the handsets, applications, network components, chips, batteries, operating systems and software to deliver it to customers” (Seidenberg, 2009).

But he is extremely positive about the future of the industry. The expense of developing the network, though costly, was all very necessary for the future of the industry. The result is a “vibrant, $800-billion-dollar global industry — full of new products, new applications and new entrants.  Customer satisfaction is on the rise.  Innovation and competition are thriving.  And a new business model is emerging that will make the next 25 years of wireless growth every bit as dynamic as the first 25 years – an outcome that will be hugely important for our country as well as our industry” (Seidenberg, 2009).

So what is it all really man? Are these providers and manufacturer’s making money? AT&T posted a 25.6 percent increase in fourth-quarter 2009 earnings as its wireless continued to grow. It earned $3.09 billion while the same period a year ago; the company earned $2.4 billion. So the company earns over $12 billion per year. Not too shabby (Reardon ,2009).

Verizon Wireless earned $2.88 billion in the 3rd quarter of 2009, almost as much as AT&T. But both firms are facing large declines in their landline business and hoping that their wireless divisions will bail them out (Reardon ,2009). Sprint Nextel proves that not all providers are profitable as they continue to lose customer share and posted a 3rd quarter 2009 loss of $980 million (AP, 2010). T-Mobile, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom in Germany, made a 3rd quarter profit of $5.57 billion. A distant 4th among the big four, but nothing to sneeze at (Smith, 2009).

In regards to the big four manufacturers: Nokia rebounded from a terrible 2008 with the introduction of their new smart phone, shipping an incredible 127 million units out in the 4th quarter 2009 alone and increasing their profits for that quarter by 65% to 948 million euros! (Wauters, 2010). Proving that you’re only as good as your most recent innovation.

Motorola gets mixed reviews. They only lost $51 million last year but that’s compared to a loss of over $4 billion in 2008! “Despite healthy smartphone shipments, Motorola’s Mobile Devices segment saw its overall sales drop 22 percent to $1.8 billion” (Whitney, 2010). Samsung is a multi-billion dollar firm involved in many more things than cell phones. But that portion of their business is still the world’s second largest (after Nokia) and reported an operating profit margin of 8.3%, up from 7.7% in the third quarter and 2% in the year-ago period. Samsung said it shipped 68.8 million units in the quarter, up from 60.2 million in the third quarter and 53 million a year ago (Ramstad, 2010). It is difficult to separate LG’s cell phone business from it is large parent company, but their LG Mobile Communications Company posted a $48 million profit in the 4th quarter 2009 on a record 118 million units shipped (Brambley, 2010).

Most obvious in these figures is that both manufacturers and providers must give the cell phone customer what they want. They must also understand that what they want changes from year to year, even month to month. They must continue to at least manufacture cell phones with 3G technology with all the bells and whistles from texting to downloading to streaming to surfing. In a perfect world, they will be the first to market with the next, great innovation. Providers must continue to learn what is most important to their target market, develop plans and services that people want. They must continue to invest in equipment in order to provide the highest level of service possible. Ask Nextel what happens when you start dropping calls or AT&T what happens when you do not service enough of America. It is a challenge, but it is an $800 billion industry. The stakes are high, but for these providers and manufacturers, the rewards can be great.

Cell Phone Content

It is difficult to discuss cell phone technology without discussing the content that passes through them, both from a positive and negative perspective. When Mr. Cooper made that first call back in 1973, he was making the first “private” cell phone call. It was designed to be a technology that would allow us to break the “cord” so to speak, and make these private conversations anywhere, anytime. To that end, the cell phone has succeeded beyond anyone is expectations. But we speak a great deal in this class of convergence. In my opinion, the cell phone has done more in a shorter period of time regarding the issue of convergence than any other technology. This wonderful little technology now allows us to download music, video and data. It offers us the ability to text message one another, join networking sites and take photos. Perhaps most importantly, it enables us to visit the World Wide Web. Each of these is an amazing piece of technology in and of itself. But with this convergence comes content issues that Mr. Cooper could have never imagined. He could not have envisioned the need for new language like sexting and cyber-bulling or text bullying. He surely could not have envisioned streaming “pay” radiobroadcasts that never targeted our children as their audience. He could not possibly have considered our school-aged children taking explicit photos of each other and themselves and transmitting them to friends and adversaries alike. The issue of privacy when it comes to emails, network sites and personal information must have been far removed from his thoughts. And the Internet…that creation that scares so many parents and law enforcement agencies when it comes to its use and its content was a dream of others, not Mr. Cooper. But now all these things have been rolled into one tidy little technology that we can take with us and utilize anytime and anywhere. So although I am very pleased with the converging technologies that have become a part of today’s cell phone, I must also recognize the inherent risks, dangers and added responsibilities that come with them.

The Internet is probably the most innovative and society-altering creation that has come along in the past 100 years. The information that is now available to us at the click of a button is breathtaking. For years now, parents have been particularly concerned at the ease in which their children can access sites that are clearly not designed for children. By simply clicking a button that claims the user to be 18 years of age, pornographic sites have been at our children’s fingertips for years. Parents try to take certain precautions: limiting their children’s PC use; filters and blockers designed to make it impossible or at least more difficult for their children to access certain sites; educating their children regarding avoiding such sites; software that allows a parent to view the sites their children are visiting; even placing the PC in the “family” room so that their activities can be more closely monitored (Author unknown 12, 2006). But I can understand a parent’s feeling of helplessness when every one of these sites is accessible via their children’s cell phone. Each parent must now make the decision about when their child is ready for a cell phone (one that can simply make phone calls) versus when they should be allowed to own a cell phone that offers them Internet access. The responsibility for both the parent and the child is an enormous one…one that no parent was forced to face a few short years ago.

Not only does the cell phone, via the internet, allow access to the pornographic sites previously mentioned, they allow for streaming audio of radio broadcasts as well as email updates from most companies that host web sites, such as news organizations and bloggers. This new development places an amazing amount of information at the fingertips of the cell phone user and again, our children. If a child is streaming an AM or FM radio broadcast, a parent has the peace of mind that the FCC continues to diligently monitor these broadcasts in an effort to assure us that the broadcast meets certain regulations particularly in regards to language. Pay radio became the “In” thing only a few years ago, when firms such as Sirius and XM radio (now merged) came onto the scene. By paying for radio service, the listener was guaranteed commercial free radio as well as broadcasts that were NOT monitored or under the control of the FCC. This gave personalities such as Howard Stern free reign and freedom to broadcast programming that is clearly designed for an adult audience. I am not here to denigrate Howard Stern. I think he has every right to broadcast such a show to those fans who are willing to pay for the service. But I do not think you should be able to stream his show over a cell phone where, again, children of all ages can have access to it. At first, I did not even think it was possible. But it is! Just go to click here and start streaming! (Author unknown 13, 2009) It is not live but you can stream any previous show with no censuring. I cannot tell if this is legal or not, but it is possible! But I find it just as concerning that our cell phones allow us to receive instant messages from countless websites. These instant messages have become many cell phone user’s way of staying current with the news. Newspaper circulation is dying; magazine subscriptions are lagging; and the broadcast news networks are suffering their lowest ratings in decades. Blame cable TV…but the access to our news from the Internet and now our cell phones is a major reason as well. So what’s wrong with that? Why would anyone be offended by a cell phone user receiving news over his cell phone? Well, normally I would not be. But a visit to any number of websites that people receive their news from offers “news” so biased, so prejudiced, so hurtful, and at times, so downright false, that the issue of where we get our news from, particularly when it comes off the internet, becomes a serious issue indeed. Moveon.org is an extremely liberal website that posts vial untruths about their conservative counterparts. And the conservative party responds with sites such as anncoulter.com. I am a strong proponent of free speech and never want to see our politicians take steps to limit it. But for a public that counts on such websites for their news, I encourage them to seek a more fair and balanced approach.

The Internet has also given rise to social networking sites such as myspace and facebook. These are great sites for those who wish to have one place to go to chat with their friends as well as share thoughts and pictures. Cell phone users may now access their social networking sites via their cell phones. Again, a wonderful little creation, but not without its problems, particularly regarding the issue of privacy. Privacy issues on the web should be viewed from three different perspectives. There is the issue of personal information falling into the wrong hands (such as social security numbers, birth dates, access codes, financial data, etc.) that can then be used against you. There is the issue of sex offenders who use the Internet for their own nefarious gains. And there is the issue of when is a “private” communication not private. Regarding the latter, the Supreme Court is actually ready to respond to the issue of whether or not an employer has the right to view employee’s “private” emails including texts over their cell phones. Nationwide, most employers have adopted policies telling workers they have no right to privacy when they use computers and cell phones supplied by an employer, said Deputy Solicitor Gen. Neal Katyal (Savage, 2010). It will be interesting to see how they rule, but employees beware: If you thought your emails and text messages were truly private, you may be in for a rude awakening. I have discussed sexual predators on the net at length in a previous blog, but suffice to say, the same predators that were going after our children on the net have now been given a much broader network…children’s cell phones. In fact, “the same cell phones that parents buy as safety devices for their children are the gadgets that pedophiles and predators use to prep kids for sexual encounters”, experts and police say (Oglesby, 2008). And the issue of  personal, particularly financial information over the web continues to be a major problem. “Cell phones and PDAs can hold tons of information, from your calendar to your phone numbers, to even bank information and Social Security numbers” (Author unknown 14, 2007). So lost, stole, even discarded cell phones now pose a great risk to all.

As with most new technologies, there are those who figure out ways to misuse them and exploit them. In the case of the cell phone, it is even created a new vernacular: cyber/text bullying and sexting. In fact, the Supreme Court case mentioned earlier was brought to their attention by the case of a Southern California police officer who sent sexually explicit messages to his girlfriend, thus raising the issue of whether or not the Constitution’s privacy protection extended to workplace e-mails and cell phone calls (Savage, 2010).

And perhaps the passing of such intimate material should be protected. But what about our kids? They are doing it too! And while it may start out as a boyfriend-girlfriend sharing intimate photos…it often ends up being ”shared”. It may be a young man showing off his latest “conquest”; or a young woman scorned embarrassing her ex. This “dangerous combination of teenagers behaving provocatively and impulsively is not new, but the accessibility to the technology is. With cell phone cameras, they have been handed a tool so easy to use for some it’s impossible to pass up”  (Stone, 2009). And for those who think this is “child’s play”…18-year-old Jorge Canal, of Iowa,  is now a registered sex offender for distributing obscene materials (of himself) to his 14-year-old  friend (a minor).  And 18 year old Phillip Alpert was charged with distributing child pornography for sending a photograph of his nude 16-year-old girlfriend by e-mail to dozens of people, including her parents (Lewin, 2010).

With a parent’s help, these “kids” must understand the risks they take when taking part in today’s latest fad: sexting. And while sexting can cause a great deal of embarrassment, humiliation and yes, legal problems, cyber bullying can be lethal. Just ask Phoebe Prince, the young, 15-year-old, Irish immigrant who was relentlessly bullied by her peers. So unrelenting were nine teens toward Phoebe, that she hung herself and they now stand charged in her death (Goldman, 2010).  But the saddest case, for me, has to do with the death of Megan Meier. I have been preaching about the need for parents to play a key role in helping their children understand the power of the Internet and their cell phones and the proper use of them. In the case of Megan Meier, it was a mother, 49-year-old Lori Drew, who used her myspace account to bully young Megan to the point she committed suicide. “Any adult who uses the Internet or a social gathering website to bully or harass another person, particularly a young teenage girl, needs to realize that their actions can have serious consequences,” said U.S. attorney Thomas O’Brien (Welch, 2008).

New technologies like the cell phone equal new challenges caused by those misusing and abusing the technology as well the issues inherent in the new technology itself. Laws, good parents, responsible users and good old common sense are a few of the methods in which these issues may be tackled. Only then may the cell phone, complete with all its magical abilities, be enjoyed by all.

Technological Examination

Now seems to be as good a time as any to discuss several things we have yet to touch on: what, if any, are the limitations of the cell phone; what are its unique qualities; what are the tradeoffs; what remedial technologies have been created as a result of the cell phone; what have the unintended consequences been: how has the technology evolved; what are the competing technologies and how does the cell phone compare to technologies that offer the same result. Let us take them one at a time.

At first glance, one might conclude that the cell phone has no limitations. It does it all, after all. But no technology is without its limitations if you dig a little. For one thing, cell phones are designed to work within each carrier’s network. If you have a cell phone that is designed to work with AT&T’s network, as an example, you may not be able to switch to Verizon’s network without buying a new phone (Author Unknown 15, 2010). Carrier’s combat this deficiency in two ways: giving you a free phone to join them and offering phone number portability (thanks to federal laws) so that you do not have to change your phone number. Another limitation that most carriers pass onto their customers has to do with long-term contracts and early termination fees. Though not technically a limitation of the technology (more of a business decision to help defer costs) it is a topic that drives cell phone users batty. In fact, many cell phone manufacturers have the ability to “unlock” their phones, making them accessible to different carriers and giving the customer the ability to use their cell phone over seas. This usually costs several hundred dollars, however (Author Unknown 15).

Roaming is a limitation of the cell phone. When a user travels from one cell to another they may incur roaming charges if they enter into another carrier’s cell. It is a necessary evil of the system although carriers should be able to get together and agree on a fee structure that does not bilk the consumer. But the biggest limitation of the cell phone today has to do with dead zones, those areas where you cannot receive service. Each carrier has towers and cells all over the country and they are trying desperately to cover every user. But they are not there yet. Verizon has made a fortune cashing in on AT&T’s lack of coverage, as an example. Yet AT&T claims they “cover” 97% of all Americans with their service. As fast as this technology has advanced, I feel fairly confident that even this biggest limitation will be conquered in the not too distant future.

The unique qualities of the cell phone are many: The size of the unit is incredibly small and getting smaller. There is simply no reason why size would get in he way of anyone seeking to purchase a cell phone. The number of things one can do on a cell phone is simply amazing: streaming audio, video and data; listening to music and watching movies; surfing the net; texting; emailing; social networking; and oh yes…speaking on the phone. It is probably the one technology that has succeeded the most in the convergence race. The switch to digital technology not only allowed us to make the phones smaller, it allowed us to add many, many more phone lines and gave us the ability for many, many people to speak on their cell phones simultaneously within the same zone. Quite a remarkable accomplishment that most people don’t even think about anymore. The ability to provide our children with a cell phone, stay in constant communication with them, even track them via GPS built into the unit, is perhaps the most remarkable quality of all. And this feature applies not only to children, but those in danger, involved in a car accident, lost…the ability to make a simple phone call from anywhere in the world anytime is the most remarkable thing of all.

Unintended consequences and trade offs are inherent in every new technology. Some would say that the cell phone has weakened our ability to communicate face to face with others. Whereas the town center used to be where we met people and communicated…the cell phone has displaced that. We seem to be creating a generation that can not write a coherent sentence (but can text); can not present their thoughts in a clear, articulate manner; have difficulty communicating one on one whether in a job interview, with a teacher, boss, or subordinate; are glued to their cell phones and other electronic devices at the expense of enjoying the outdoors and all it offers; created an unfair social structure rewarding those who can afford the latest and greatest hardware and software; have a short attention span; can not remember what it is like to be alone and all the wonderful things you can do with your alone time; have a need for immediate satisfaction;  are spoiled by the ease in which information can be gathered; can cheat and plagiarise with little consequence; can defame, ridicule and slander others with little or no consequence; and can utilize the technology for their own nefarious means, from electronic theft to praying on our children.

As with most new technologies, particularly the profitable ones, ancillary industries arise as a result. Most develop as a result of a deficiency that needed to be addressed while others come from the minds of the free-wheeling entrepreneur looking to cash in. Take the hands free device, as an example. Once it was determined that talking on the cell phone while driving was dangerous…this device was created and it saves lives. And over time, they have become pretty sleek-from corded headsets, to ear pieces, to hands free devices that hook onto your window visor to car radios that now allow you to speak hands free on your cell phone. This is ingenuity at its best. Other businesses and products fit more into the bells and whistles category. Leather carrying cases, battery chargers, media memory cards, data cables, even cute little pocket thingies to hold your ipod while working out at the gym. But let us not forget all those towers and switches and cables and converters and relays and pc boards that need to be created and maintained….that is a lot of jobs. And speaking of jobs, there are literally hundreds of thousands of workers currently employed in the cell phone industry from store clerks at the local malls to operators and customer service agents to engineers.

What alternatives are there to the cell phone? Well, if you just want to speak to another party, there is a landline telephone, pay phone, snail mail, email, and I guess you can still send a Telegram. But other than the landline telephone, none offer the immediacy of the cell phone and surely the landline does not let you cut the cord. If you want to text someone or twitter or email or social network…you can use your PC’s email account with the same success. Some actually prefer doing such things on their PC as they can actually use a full-sized keyboard. But it seems the younger you are, the more likely you have tossed your PC for your cell phone when it comes to texting, emailing, twittering and social networking. If you want to surf the web, you need a desktop PC or a laptop. Size, cost and availability sometimes get in the way of that. And I enjoy opening up several windows on my PC at the same time, which I cannot do on my cell phone. But I hear that is coming to a cell phone near you as well. I still need my desktop setup to do printing. If you want to print something from your cell phone you have to attach it to an email account, then find a desktop with printer (or school library) to complete the task. Downloading music, video and data is fairly simple on either a laptop, desktop or cell phone. Some prefer the PC when it comes to speed, connectivity, and memory capacity and audio/video capabilities over the cell phone…but in a pinch…the cell phone does the job.

How has the technology evolved. Simply put…by leaps and bounds. Other than the PC, I can name no other technology that has evolved as quickly and with such success as the cell phone. As we continue to discuss convergence, this technology has come further than any other in that respect.  What started out as the desire to cut the fiber optics cord and make the average phone conversation available to anyone, anywhere….has turned into a device that can do almost everything the media marketplace has to offer. Download music, video and data; speak to anyone, anywhere, anytime; surf the net; listen to your favorite music; play video games; watch a movie; text a friend; join a social networking group; in fact, about the only thing I can think of that you can not do on your cell phone is watch streaming, live TV…AND THAT’S COMING! So I would have to say the cell phone has evolved pretty darn fast and pretty darn well. While the TV continues to figure out ways to provide you with a better picture and better programming…it is, after all, still a TV. The cell phone is clearly NOT just a phone. It is so much more and I wait with eager anticipation what it will do for us next.


The cell phone has transformed our world! Pretty broad statement, but it is true to me as it is true to over four billion people all over the world. There are currently over four billion cell phones in the world and over 90 million in the U.S. alone. You simply can not walk down a street, visit a shop, even pass a moving vehicle without seeing a cell phone attached to someone’s ear. The world has become a very small place as a result. The Internet and cell phone have made what used to be smaller, nationalized companies into global ones. Businesses, particularly in the digital world, are “shipping” their products all over the world with the click of a button and saving the manufacturing, inventory and shipping costs associated with most businesses. Small business owners, once tied down to their land lines in an effort to make sure they do not miss that next call, can take their show on the road without fear of missing that next sale. Families, friends, and business associates once separated by thousands of miles of ocean are now available to us anytime, anywhere, and anyplace. What was once a toy for only the rich can now be found in the hands of people from every socio-economic class. The empowerment it provides is boundless. And cell phones save lives! Whether it is “tracking” our children, or calling for help when in danger or in an accident, or the medical profession and first responders acting quickly to emergencies, to governments reacting to catastrophes like earthquakes and tsunamis…cell phones play a major role. Law enforcement agencies are able to track and arrest criminals thanks to cell phones. “Cell phones have changed the world by becoming a mandatory component for living and thriving in modern society. Cell phones have enriched our lives on a variety of levels, and rapidly increasing technology assures us that they will continue to add new possibilities in the years to come” (Jackson, 2010).

The cell phone has introduced the world to the term multitasking. Never before could you do the grocery shopping while discussing an agenda with a coworker on your cell phone. Never before could you hold a three-way conversation with co-workers in different parts of the world while driving to your son’s soccer game. And never before could you call you friend on the other side of the world during you five-minute break at your business convention. The amount of time that we are able to create with the use of our cell phones is immeasurable. Likewise the accompanying productivity.

What does the future hold for this technology?  Considering where it has come in a short 37 years…I shudder to think. But let us try. “Wired” magazine discussed a cell-phone modification that could bring “on-the-spot disease detection and monitoring to even the most remote corners of the world” (Whittemore, 2008). By removing the camera lens and modifying it, its able to recognize particular properties of the blood when lit. The camera sensor can then image the blood, creating a diagnostic lab all in a cell phone.  PC World outlines some of the changes we can expect to see in the near future: cell phone networks will move data at several megabits per second, and will coexist with WiMax, Wi-Fi, and, for TV, DVB-H or MediaFLO; expect better battery life (a necessity for the amount of gaming and video watching we hope to do with our cell phones), e-payment support, and better graphics for true console-style video gaming. And cell phone cameras will improve to the quality of many current still and video digital cameras (Arar, 2006).

“The wireless revolution cannot take place until reception and coverage areas increase” and that will occur in the next several years.  Broadband will be possible through the cell phone.  Cell phones will interact with appliances. You could already set your DVR over your cell phone (with certain providers), but you will soon be able to turn on the oven, microwave, lights, heat, etc. The cell phone will begin to take over more of your PC’s responsibilities regarding storing data and files. In fact, “look for DSL to become ‘unbundled’ from a landline connection. When this happens, why would you need a local phone company?” (Author unknown 16, 2008).  4G is already in use by some providers, will become the norm. It will allow users to be connected to several different wireless technologies and move between them seamlessly. Simply put, you will be able to more things faster. And 5G cannot be far away!  (Digital Trends Staff, 2005).

I mentioned earlier that about the only thing my cell phone can not do is allow me to watch live TV. But that is changing as well. FloTV is a service already available to cell phone users. Pay a monthly fee on certain providers (Verizon and AT&T included) and stream from a long list of television shows and watch full episodes! (Author unknown 17, 2010) And broadcasters announced last year that they were not more than a year or so away from offering FREE TV over cell phones (Reardon, 2009).

Cell Phone designs will look nothing like they do today in the not too distant future. “A new no-buttons handset by Pilotfish and Synaptics signals that mobiles as we know them may soon be a thing of the past” (Kharif, 2006).

The “window phone” will reflect current weather conditions on the screen. To input text, you just blow on the screen to switch modes, then write with your finger as a stylus (Artist unknown 6).

And if you are into the environment and hate the idea of those millions of old cell phones tying up our landfills, try the Natural Year Phone. It assumes you only keep your cell phone for no more than two years so it naturally biodegrades after the two years are up! (Artist unknown 4)

It should be clear, as long as there is a need, someone in the cell phone industry will satisfy it. As long as there are creative people among us, the cell phone will continue to evolve into an even more indispensable technology. As long as governments don’t stand in the way of its progress, the cell phone will continue to thrive and grow. As long as free markets exist, its cost will continue to come down making it accessible to even more millions. And as long as there are visionaries like Dr. Cooper, the cell phone will continue to grow into something much, much more than a phone.


AP. Sprint Nextel Narrows Subscriber Loss in 4th Quarter, Revenues Still Declines.

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Array Comm. Martin Copper. Photograph.


Artist unknown 1. Michael Douglas. Photograph.


Artist unknown 2. The Evolution of Cell Phone Design Between 1983-2009.

Photography. May 22. http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/05/the-evolution-of-cell-phone-design-between-1983-2009/.

Artist unknown 3. A Phones Best Friend. Photograph.


Artist unknown 4. Natural Year Phone. Photograph

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/05/future-phones-the-coolest_n_450678.html?slidenumber=11TW8PeX0TE%3D&&&&&&&&&slideshow – slide_image

Artist unknown 5. Who’s Got The Button. Photograph.


Artist unknown 6. Window Phone. Photograph.


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