Tuesday, August 30, 2011

11 The Mobile Phone and You – Part One – The Past

You know you’re old when you tell people you remember in your not-too-distant past when cell phones weren’t a part of our lives. I tell my kids this and they just give me this look like, ‘you’re a relic, dude’.

Then I go into a diatribe about my world as a kid – no videos, no video games, no personal computers, no voice mail, not even a touch tone phone. Yes, maybe I am a relic, but I’m holding it together through a regular diet of healthy eating, exercise and progressive house music – but I digress.

The truth is, cell phone technology as only been available to consumers since the mid-1980s. To some that might seem like another era, but to those of us who can recollect days of mullets, bad fashion and hair metal, it doesn’t seem like that long ago. I remember an acquaintance who was the first person I knew personally who owned a cell phone. The thing was a brick on a stick, and we never really knew what this guy did for a living but something tells me it wasn’t legal.

Cell phones were for the top executives, the superstars, and for the suppliers to those target audiences vices – they were for a few whose livelihood depended on an always-on channel through which they could communicate. For the rest of us there were phone booths and the cutting-edge tech known as answering machines.

Little did we know back then, how much things would change and how fast.

In the 1990s, the 'second generation' or 2G mobile phone systems emerged, primarily using the GSM standard. These were different from the previous generation in that they used digital instead of analog transmission. The rise in mobile phone use with 2G was explosive. With the introduction of 2G systems was a trend away from the larger "brick" phones toward tiny hand-held devices. This change was possible not only through technological improvements such as more advanced batteries and more energy-efficient electronics, but also because of the higher density of cell sites to accommodate more usage. The latter meant that the average distance transmission from phone to base station shortened, leading to increased battery life while mobile.

2G phones also enabled SMS or text messaging, which eventually spread across all digital networks. The first machine-generated SMS message was sent in the UK on 3 December 1992 followed in 1993 by the first person-to-person SMS sent in Finland. With prepaid services being introduced in the late 1990s SMS soon became the communication method of choice with younger demographics, a trend which quickly spread across most age groups.

Well, that takes us into the 90s. Next week we’ll talk about the advent of 3G, 4G and Smart phones and where we are today…then we’ll discuss where we could go tomorrow.

Guy Borgford

VP Strategy, FGI Seattle



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