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Wireless wonks celebrate 35th anniversary of first cell call

When Motorola abused Bell Labs

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CTIA Wireless April 3 marks the 35th anniversary of the world’s first cellular phone call, and to celebrate, former NFL hero Steve Largent has presented a priapic monolith to the man who made that call back in the spring of 1973.

Largent is now the president and CEO of the CTIA wireless association, and this morning, at the association's annual trade show in Las Vegas, he took industry insiders on a trip down mobile memory lane.

"As many of you know, this October, we will celebrate the first commercial wireless phone call - quarter century of commercial wireless service in America," Largent told the gathered crowd. "But this morning, we want to focus your attention on another wireless phone call - one that occurred 35 years ago. On April 3, 1973, a team of engineers at Motorola realized their professional dreams: the completion of the first ever portable cellular call."

Then Largent introduced Martin Cooper, the Motorola team member who actually dialed the phone. He was strolling down the streets of New York City at the time, and the person on the other end was Joel Engel, then head of research at Bell Labs.

"While many of us would probably have used that historical call to get in touch with our mom or dad or spouse, Marty took a different route," Largent explained. "Marty chose to use his portable cellular phone call to make a call to his chief competitor at Bell Laboratories to tell him he had beaten him to the punch.

"With that call, 35 years go, the fierce competition that exists in the wireless industry was born," Largent added. But more on that later.

Martin Cooper used the anniversary of his historic call to spout a cliche. "It has really been 35 years, but our industry really is in its infancy. We have only in the past few years learned how to make a reliable wireless phone call and we're just learning how to deliver data."

He also congratulated the major American wireless carriers for finally announcing open access to their networks. But he did not comment on whether any of these carriers will play fast and loose with the word open.

Cooper then presented Steve Largent with an exact replica of the first portable cell phone, while plugging two companies he now runs. And Largent gave Cooper a large piece of clear plastic.

Seven months after that first cell call, Cooper and his Motorola team filed for a patent on their "Radio Telephone System," and two years later, it was granted. ®

Bootnote

For all the news on the CTIA Wireless trade show see our CTIA roundup.

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