THE DEVELOPMENT OF CELLULAR MOBILE
By: Yusuf Kurniawan
Nowadays, to get in touch with someone who is mobile is not a problem any
more. If we could not call him at home we can contact him while he is on the
move. Whether he is in a remote place out of reach of the telephone line or just on
his way to work, we can still give him a ring. The condition at present differs
greatly compared to the 1940s, when the basic cellular concept was developed. 1
The cellular mobile communication system enables the beginning of the wireless
Cellular phones or mobile phones are now widely used by a lot of people in
all over the world. From year to year the number of mobile phones subscribers
increases. For example in the United Kingdom in the end of 1992 there were 1.4
million subscribers, 2 then in 1993 the number became 1.8 million. 3 It is a
tremendous figure in the growing number of cellular phones subscribers. Based on
the data in the International Institute of Communications (IIC), World Bank,
Britain sat in the second position of having the largest cellular phones subscribers
after the United States in 1989. 4 According to the poll conducted during 30 March
– 2 April 2000 half of all Americans own a cellular phone. 5
Central Office of Information, Aspects of Britain. (London:1994).p. 7.
Central Office of Information in Lax, S. Beyond the Horizon.(Luton:1997).p.20.
Central Office of Information, Aspects of Britain. (London:1994).p.8
The development of the cellular mobile communication system recently is
very fast. The network providers of cellular phones are now ubiquitous in every
country in all over the world. The rapid development and diffusion of the cellular
mobile communication system virtually can not be separated from the previous
development of the telecommunication systems, namely electronic telegraphy,
radio and telephone. Even though the result of technological development were
not planned before, it is important to consider the previous communication
devices. Started from the infancy of the telegraph until the maturity of cellular
mobile communication, it is a span of inseparable history. This essay tries to
reveal the historical and technological development of the cellular mobile
communication system since its infancy up to the present time.
The development of cellular mobile communication system can be interpreted
very broadly. This essay is not going to look at the development in a certain
country but in general, since there are several countries take the lead of
developing cellular mobile communication system such as the United States and
Let us have a look at a glance to the development of the electric telegraph
network. The nature of sending a message through a span of wire electronically
inspired Alexander Graham Bell to set up a new telecommunication system called
telephone. There are two versions actually who invented the telephone, Alexander
Graham Bell or Elisha Gray. Because on the same day, 14 February 1876 they
both patented their inventions in Washington. 6 Telephone uses spoken message
instead of written as it is used in the telegraph system. Most of all, the invention
of the telephone has brought the telecommunication advancement one more step
ahead after the telegraphy. The phenomenon of there will be an advanced new
technology in communication has actually been started in 1851 when the Thomas
Crampton’s Submarine Telegraph Company successfully laid a cable across the
sea, from Dover to Calais. 7 The submarine cables which formerly functioned as
the electronic telegraph network then were improved to convey telephone signals.
And the quality of the cables did gradually improved from copper to coaxial
cables and then to optical fibres. Then, by combining the mobile radio system and
a certain band, the cellular mobile communication system could be actualised for
One of the key elements which cause the rapid development of the cellular
mobile communication system is the invention of optical fibres. Optical fibres
which were invented in 1964 are ‘tiny strands of ultra-pure glass which can carry
voice, data, text and images in digital format’. Moreover ‘they also can carry a
large amounts of digital information including thousands of telephone calls on
pulses of light’. 8 Compared to the predecessor, copper and coaxial cables, optical
fibres obviously exceed in all aspects. Optical fibres have many excellence in the
voice clearness, amounts of calls they can carry, very low level of interference,
speed of pulses and many others that copper and coaxial cables do not have like
data and image transfer. The only thing that might be still a consideration for
Flichy, P. Dinamics of Modern Communications. (London:1995).p. 82.
some cellular phones network providers is probably the cost which is much more
expensive compared with coaxial cables.
Cellular mobile communication is also called wireless communication since
it does not need wire to call. The term ‘wireless’ was actually inspired by
Gulielmo Marconi when in 1894 he succeeded to tap out a message in Morse
Code. And as a response to the signal, a bell rang at the other end of the room. It
was because the signal travelled through the air. Then he called it ‘Wireless’. 9
Thus because Bell’s telephone wires could carry the human voice, then scientists
began to search for ways Marconi’s invention could broadcast speech too. And
then in 1906, Reginald Fessenden managed to do it by changing sound waves into
signals through a process called amplitude modulation (AM). In 1935 Edwin
Armstrong, from the United States, introduced FM (frequency modulation) radio
waves. Since FM used less power, and smaller, lighter receivers, wireless was on
the move. 10
II.1. Cellular Background
a. Period of the 1920s – 1950s
The development of cellular mobile communication system had actually been
commenced in the early of the 1920s (exactly in 1921) when mobile radio
communication was used in a vehicle by Detroit Michigan Police Dept. 11
However the channels got overcrowded very quickly since it was operated at a
Headrick, D.R. The Invisible Weapon. (New York:1991).p. 15.
Central Office of Information, Aspects of Britain. (London:1994).p. 33.
frequency of 2 MHz. Then the next event of important development also occurred
in the United States was the inauguration of the first public mobile telephone
system in the US. It had three channels at 150 MHz. 12 But the interference still
happened and the equipment still could not solve the problem because the
technology at that time did not yet exist to overcome the problems that appeared.
Until the 1920s most of the mobile radio communications used Morse-coded on-
off keying. 13 In the early development, mobile telephone handsets were still very
heavy, bulky and noisy. Because they were operated in the lower frequency part
of the VHF band and the range was about ten miles. 14
b. Period of the 1950s – 1960s
During this period there was a large increase in bandwidth and switching
technology used by the workstations and. For instance in 1956 ’12 wire line
channels were added near 450 MHz.’ And the automatic capability was extended
to the 450 MHz band in the late of the 1960s. It was called “Improved Mobile
Telephone System”, and became the standard for mobile telephone service in the
c. Period of the 1970s – 1980s
This was the period of the more advanced cellular mobile communication system.
It was in 1970 when FCC announced a tentative allocation of 75 MHz in the 800
MHz region. 16 And FCC asked some industries to submit their proposals to obtain
Steele, Raymond. Mobile Radio Communications. (London:1992).p. 1
Steele, Raymond. Mobile Radio Communications. (London:1992).p. 1
communication goals and as well as to demonstrate feasibility. One monumental
event occurred when The Illinois Bell Telephone company was awarded a licence
to operate a developmental cellular system in 1977. And between 1974 and 1981
AT&T Bell Labs collaborated with other cellular terminal vendors to develop
their cellular phones so that consumers would be able to use their mobile phone
on the cellular network. 17 And on October 13, 1983 the first call on a commercial
cellular system was built in Chicago. 18
Based on the development of the cellular mobile communication system in
the first three periods, the most fundamental problem that still existed was
bandwidth –the measure of a communication channel.
d. Period of the 1980s – present
During this period the development of cellular mobile communication system has
been diffusing very rapidly. The big mobile phones manufacturers like Ericsson,
Nokia, Siemens, Motorola and NEC began to adopt and applied new technologies
in their products and to maximaze the quality of sending and reception in their
mobile phones. The development achieved by cellular mobile phone companies
during this period showed a great achievement. Especially during the last ten
years the development of cellular mobile communication system has been very
sophisticated. A cell phone now can be combined with internet. We could be E-
mailing from our purses and downloading from our pockets. With WAP (Wireless
Application Protocol) phones a mobile phone subscriber can access information in
the internet from his mobile phone. More than that, with WAP technology even
one can do shopping just from his fingertip.
Also in this period, mobile phones subscribers are excited by the emergence
of SMS (short message service) that makes them able to send and receive
messages to and from other cellular phones. In addition, nowadays there are many
ASP (Application Service Protocol) that provide service to send sms, one can
send short message to other mobile phones in one country or to all over the world
such as www.lycos.co.uk and www.mtnsms.com. Lycos could deliver message to
mobile phones in the whole UK with 130 maximum characters long. While using
mtnsms one could deliver messages to cellular phones to all over the world with
140 characters long. Even, with mtnsms the subscriber who receives a message
could reply it. And the sender would be able to find out the reply message in his
mtnsms account. And all of these services are mostly delivered within under ten
seconds. These advancements in the technology of cellular mobile communication
has enticed more new subscribers to subscribe to cellular phones.
Along with the technological development of the cellular mobile phones
basically they can be divided into two main categories namely analogue and
digital cellular technologies. Each category has its own types. For example in
analogue we have like AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System). It was
developed by Bell Labs in the 1970s and first used commercially in the United
States in 1983. It operates in the 800 MHz band and became the world’s largest
cellular standard. 19 However, after the 1980s there are more and more cellular
mobile providers began to shift to digital system. And GSM (Global System for
Mobile) is considered the first digital cellular system. 20 GSM is a digital
communication technology used by some carriers to provide PCS service. And the
other technologies besides GSM and AMPS are CDMA (Code Division Multiple
Access) and TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access).
II.2 The Basic Principles of Cellular Mobile Phone System
The principle used in cellular is called ‘frequency reuse’. 21 It is aimed to increase
the service to mobile phone’s subscribers. What is meant by frequently reuse is
using low powered mobiles and radio equipment in each site of cells, so that it
enables the same radio frequency to be reused in different cells. And it can
multiply the calling capacity without causing interference. It is greatly different
from the earlier mobile systems which used a high powered, centrally located
transmitter. And the frequency used by the mobile phones were not reused over a
wide area. 22
All analogue and digital mobiles use a network of base stations and
antennas to cover a large area. If it is seen on a diagram the small place which is
covered by each base station appears like a cell in a honeycomb. That’s why it is
called cellular. The size of the cell varies from sixth tenths of a mile to thirty
miles in radius for cellular (1km to 50km). 23 In each cell was built radio base
station to handle the incoming signals from other cells.
The Ericsson diagram below shows the macrocells, microcells and piccocells
work. Slow-moving subscribers such as those who are walking are handled within
microcells. While fast-moving subscribers for instance those who are driving or
on the public transports are handled within the macrocells. Piccocells are to
maintain subsribers of cellular phones who are in a building or in a closed place.
The advancement in dividing cells into several kinds has developed the quality of
receiving and sending voice.
Figure 1: Ericksson Diagram of macrocells, microcells and piccocells
Figure 2: Cells
The cells, geographical area where mobile radio communications in cellular radio
happen between a fixed base station (BS) and a number of roaming mobile
The picture above shows how wireless technology work. Cell phones use low-
energy FM radio waves to transmit voice to the nearest antenna (in a cell) with the
local phone network. Then the call will go through either a regular phone line or
by radio signal to another cell phone, depending on whom we are calling. This
technology uses individual radio frequencies by dividing service areas into
different geographic zones. And these zones are called cells. Cells here can be as
small as Leeds University library or as large as London City. Usually there are
more cells in cities than in rural areas, because there are more people in cities than
in rural areas. So, more people, more cells. And each has its own computer,
transmitter, receiver and directional antenna which are linked to MTSO or Mobile
Telephone Switching Offices. 24 The power of the radio equipment in the base
station is fixed so that it covers only the particular cell. When a cellular phone is
switched on, the computer at the nearest base station senses its presence within the
cell and then the phone can transmit and receive messages from that position. 25
When a cell phone’ subscriber moves from one place to another, his/her call is
handed off by MTSO to the next cell site.
II.3 Analogue vs Digital Cellular Phones
Cellular telephone systems can be ‘analogue’ or ‘digital’. Older systems like
AMPS, TACS, NMT are quot;analoguequot; and newer systems such as GSM and PCS
are quot;digitalquot;. 26 The major difference is in how the audio signals, e.g. our voice, is
transmitted between the phone and base station. quot;Analoguequot; and quot;digitalquot; refer to
this transmission mechanism. Probably just as audio cassettes versus CDs - audio
cassettes are analogue and CDs are digital. 27
In either system, the audio at the microphone always starts out as a voltage
level that varies continuously over time. High frequencies (high pitch) cause rapid
changes and low frequencies cause slow changes. With analogue systems, the
audio is modulated directly onto a carrier. It has many similarities with FM radio
where the audio signal is translated to the RF signal. With digital systems, the
audio is converted to digitised samples at about 8000 samples per second or so.
Central Office of Information, Aspects of Britain. (London:1994).p. 49-50.
The digital samples are numbers that represent the time-varying voltage level at
specific points in time. These samples (numbers) are now transmitted as 1s and
0s. 28 At the other end, the samples are converted back to voltage levels and
quot;smoothed outquot; so that you get about the same audio signal. Some maybe lost, but
it may be unnoticeable - depending on how it is done. With analogue
transmissions, interference (RF noise or some other anomaly that affects the
transmitted signal) gets translated directly into the recovered signal - there is no
quot;checkquot; that the signal makes sense. The neat thing about digital is that the 1s and
0s can not be easily confused or distorted during transmission, plus extra data is
typically included in the transmission to help detect and correct any errors. 29
Digital technology offers better quality of sound, service and more security
for the customers and the capability to support services of the next generation. 30
Moreover, digital is more efficient in terms of its achievement in the network. An
operator could fit more information into each transmission. So, no wonder if there
are many cellular phones’ providers are converting their systems to digital now.
II.4 Cellular Equipment
There are three types of cellular handset or cellular phone, namely the car-phone
or mobile, the transportable and hand-portable. 31
The car-phone or mobile is fitted into a vehicle and receives its power supply
directly from the vehicle’s battery. It is hands-free since it is voice-activated. This
Communication and Technology lecture, December 2000.
Technology and Communication lecture, December 2000.
Central Office of Information, Aspects of Britain. (London:1994).p. 53.
enables a caller to use it without holding the handset. However, this device can
only be used in the vehicle.
The transportable phone is the same with the car-phone but it is designed as
an integral unit. It is equipped with detachable battery so that it can be used
outside the vehicle. However, it has a lower output if it is used outside the vehicle.
Hand-portables are the lightest cellular phones because they are equipped
with battery that is integrated with the handset. And the battery is rechargeable.
Therefore, the hand-portables cellular phones can be used inside or outside a
vehicle. Their power output is lower than the car-phones or transportable, so that
they can work best where network coverage is good, like in cities or other built-up
Based on the analysis, it can be concluded that:
- The problem of the previous technology of cellular mobile communication
system was the limited bandwidth. Because bandwidth allows information to
move effortlessly and transparently to where it is needed. The greater the
bandwidth, the richer the information we can move.
- Wireless technology has come along way. And it will go further. With
increased competition, lower rates, smaller phones and larger coverage areas,
wireless service will challenge traditional phone service for our business.
Central Office of Information, Aspects of Britain. (London:1994).p.53
- The invention of cellular mobile communications system has boosted the
development of the ‘wireless technology’. People can get connected any time
and any where.
- The combination of cellular phone and internet enable the cellular mobile
communication system maximaze its function as a wireless communication
device. Moreover with the more advanced technological development, the cost
of communication through cellular phones can be reduced and the size of the
hand set gets smaller, lighter and rich in features. What’s more the coverage
area becomes wider.
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Headrick, Daniel R. (1991) The Invisible Weapon: Telecommunications and
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Lax, Stephen (1997), Beyond the Horizon, Luton: University of Luton Press.
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