AT&T Archives: Testing the First Public Cell Network


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Made one year into the first true cell phone trials, this film profiles customer reactions and the technology that made mobile phones possible. The Chicago test cellular network was built in 1977 by the Bell System and had tests during 1978; this film was made in 1979 after a year with 1,300 customers using the system.

The system involved building a group of towers that transmitted telephone calls within their own hexagonal "cell." A call switched from tower to tower as the car went through the cells. The film includes an animated explanation of this. This system is basically still used today, only the network has expanded greatly.

The FCC approved commercial cell phones on a regular basis in 1982. By 1984 there were 25,000 cell phone users, by 2000 that number had ballooned to 100 million.

Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ

Date Added: 2019-03-12

Category: Testing

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