Counterclockwise: Motorola, Nokia and others invent the modern telephone

New smartphone makers seem to spring up every day, but some companies have been making communication equipment before phones were even invented. Think telegraph! Yep, before the Google Keyboard and swipe input, there was Morse code.

Siemens & Halske was founded in 1847 to improve on that – instead of dots and dashes, the new machine used needles to point at letters. A primitive screen but still an improvement. The companys entry to the world of telephony came 150 years later – the Siemens Mobiltelefon C1 from 1985 was a car phone that worked over VHF.

Siemens Mobiltelefon C1
Siemens Mobiltelefon C1

Siemens Mobiltelefon C1

Many companies got their start making phones for cars – given the weights and sizes involved, those were certainly not pocketable devices. Motorola made radios for motor cars and that radio expertise eventually led to the first commercially available cellular telephone.

You may hear cellular phone or cell phone and think nothing of it. But cell refers to cell towers, before that voice communication was device to device, basically like a walkie talkie. The Motorola DynaTAC 8000x used the AMPS network – aka 1G – which transmitted analog audio to cell towers. That greatly improved the range since your call can hop between multiple cell towers until it found its destination.

Motorola DynaTAC 8000X: (photo by Redrum0486)
Motorola DynaTAC 8000X: (photo by Rico Shen)

Motorola DynaTAC 8000X (photos by Redrum0486 and Rico Shen)

Nokia got its start in 1865 as a paper mill (most people back then communicated with letters written on paper, not touchscreens). Eventually, the company went into making cables for telephones and then wireless networking equipment. Along the way, it also made phones to use those networks.

The first-ever GSM call – aka 2G – was made in 1991 on a network built by Telenokia and Siemens (now just Nokia Networks). GSM was a digital network, offering better audio quality and text messaging. So the next year, the first SMS was sent.

That new, cutting-edge network needed a phone. The first mass-produced GSM phone was the Nokia 1011. It could store 99 phone numbers and send and receive texts. Note that the 1011 was introduced in 1992, the first GSM call was made with test equipment instead.

GSM had provisions to connect computers to the Internet on the go, but phones themselves had no knowledge of the world wide web. Yet. Things started to change in 1998 when Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson and Unwired Planet founded the WAP Forum.

A poor facsimile of the true WWW, WAP nevertheless gave people untethered access to their favorite sites. The first people to experience this are the ones that bought a Nokia 7110.

Nokia 1011 (photo by Jkbw)
Nokia 7110

Nokia 1011 (photo by Jkbw) Nokia 7110

Ericsson, by the way, also has a long history in telephony and networking equipment. The company is so old, that it was the first to combine the earpiece and mouthpiece into a single handle – they used to be held separately! Ericsson brought that innovation to the public in 1892 with The Dachshund. But it was the Ericsson DBH 1001 – the first phone made of Bakelite – that defines what many of us think a phone looks like. Of course, now its mostly in iconography rather than a physical device.

Ericsson's The Dachshund (photo by Birmingham Museums Trust)
The Bakelite Phone (Ericsson DBH 1001) (photo by Holger.Ellgaard)

Ericsson’s The Dachshund (photo by Birmingham Museums Trust) The Bakelite Phone (Ericsson DBH 1001) (photo by Holger.Ellgaard)

Anyway, 2G networks around the world are riding off into the sunset now. And with talk of 5G, the 3G networks are probably looking forward to retirement as well.