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Happy 35 Years Since the First Ever UK 1G Mobile Phone Call

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020 (8:15 am) - Score 2,744
vodafone-Transportable-VT1

It’s sometimes hard to believe that the UK’s first ever mobile phone call (1G network) was made by Michael Harrison, Vodafone’s founder and first Chairman, just after midnight on 1st January 1985 in London (Parliament Square). Mobile phones have certainly come a long way since the huge Vodafone Transportable VT1 device.

Strictly speaking the first mobile phone actually emerged in 1973 from Motorola (we’re obviously excluding earlier hand held radio technologies here), although it took several years longer before the analogue 1st Generation (1G) standard was agreed and built (earlier platform tests were sometimes known as 0G). The first fully commercial cellular 1G networks then didn’t emerge until the very early 1980s.

Initially the early 1G networks, at least in the United Kingdom, made use of the 900MHz band and tended to be quite expensive (c.£2,000), as well as big and heavy. For example, the Vodafone Transportable VT1 weighed 5KG due to a sizeable battery pack (nearly the size of a car battery) and supported roughly 30 minutes of talk time. Little wonder that initially these were primary embedded into cars for executive use.

Sadly 1G networks were far from perfect and suffered from all sorts of problems, such as poor sound quality, poor coverage, inefficient use of spectrum, low capacity, incompatibility between different 1G networks (international roaming was somewhat of an afterthought) and poor security (no encryption).

However the fast pace of mobile development soon began to show and by the early 1990s digital 2G technology had emerged, which is still in use today alongside 3G, 4G and now 5G. The 2G standard remains popular thanks to its strong coverage, low power profile, affordability and active adoption (a lot of 2G-only kit, such as Smart Meters and older Mobiles, continue to be used).

As for Vodafone’s first mobile call. Sir Ernest Harrison spoke the following: “Happy New Year dad, it’s Mike here. This is the first call ever made on a UK cellular network.” Today modern mobiles are as powerful as some laptop computers, albeit squeezed into wafer thin smartphones and are starting to deliver Gigabit levels of mobile broadband speed.

Leave a Comment
7 Responses
  1. Avatar Mike

    A lot of this early cellular stuff can seen working on the Computer Chronicles channel on Youtube (old TV tech show in USA) for those that are interested.

  2. Avatar Michael V

    Hey Mike… Thank you for the YouTube channel suggestion.

  3. Avatar 125us

    when the UK TACS (1G) network launched the government had to ban UHF CB radio which unlike the standard 27Mhz HF network used 934Mz and some of the channels coincided with the cellular RAN – it was possible to break through and speak in one direction to people using cellphones and hear their conversations.

    • Avatar dave

      You could do all that and more with e.g an NEC P3 with custom ROM or a Motorola (e.g 8500x or 8800x) jumpered into test mode.

  4. Avatar dave

    Funny that the article says the first gen networks suffered from poor sound quality. That’s nonsense. Until the fairly recent introduction of HD voice, 2G/3G networks were IMO inferior.

    When I used to call people off my Motorola 8800x, they couldn’t tell the difference from a landline.

    This is of course signal permitting but the same thing applies to modern networks.

  5. Avatar Brian

    It also says first gen suffered from poor coverage, so not much changed in 35 years

  6. Avatar SimonR

    Kudos to Vodafone for that video

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