Mobile phones - timeline

1946 - The first genuine mobile phone service

A T & T launched the world's first mobile car radio telephone service in Missouri, USA in 1946. It covered a tiny area and supported few customers. The cellular technology that would make mass mobile communication possible had not been invented.

1973 - First cell phone call

Dr Martin Cooper of Motorola made the world's first cell phone call in New York using a prototype Dyna TAC phone. Cellular systems divided the airspace into cells. Each caller only needed a unique channel in the cell, this meant the system had the potential for many more customers. A commercial version of the handset would not be available for another ten years.

1979 - First cell phone service

The world's first cellular telephone service started in Japan. This was a carphone only service.

1981 - NMT network launched

On 1 October 1981, the Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) system was launched in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. The system was exported to Saudi Arabia and surprisingly launched there a month earlier or 1 September 1981.

NMT was a cellular system. Sweden had already had a non-cellular radio phone network run by the state owned telephone company, Televerket, in 1955.

Motorola Dynatac 8000x, the first handportable mobile phone (authur:Redrum0486, distributed under Creative Commons Attribution 
ShareAlike 3.0)

1983 - First hand portable mobile phone

America's first cellular phone service started in 1983 and Motorola launched the DynaTAC 8000X, the world's first hand portable mobile phone.

In those days, ownership of one of these handsets was a huge status symbol. People stopped to stare at such an unusual sight as someone making phone call in the street, in a restaurant or on a train.  Today the Motorola 8000X has a place in history, as well as being a desirable collectors' piece.

1985 - UK ETACS system launched

Cellnet and Vodafone, two rival operators launched Britain's first cellular telephone service in 1985.

1985 - French Radiocom 2000 system launched

France had its first mobile telephone service, Radiocom 2000 which was initially available only in Paris. Prices were high and subscription rates low.

1986 - Germany's Netz-C system launched

Germany's state owned telecoms services Deutshe Bundespost combined with Siemens to start the ambitious Netz-C system in May 1986. Although Netz-C provided a telecoms network to East Germany after the fall of the Berlin wall, it was not a great success. Experiences in France and Germany provided the spur to develop something better, GSM.

Orbitel TPU 900, the World's first GSM phone

1991 - First GSM phone

GSM started in Europe in 1991 and there was a race to have the first mobile handset registered for the new digital system. In a familiar story, a British company rose to the challenge, but failed to capitalise on the advantage.

The first GSM phone was the Orbitel TPU 900. It was a down-market transportable style phone, the type preferred by the building trade, rather than a glamorous hand portable. Motorola, Nokia and Ericsson all brought out their own handsets a few months later and Orbitel was quickly forgotten.

Motorola Personal Phone, 1992

1992 - First UK consumer phones

Consumers rather than business users were slow to take to mobile phones. Motorola designers thought simplicity and an emphasis on emergency use was a way to win over consumers. The Motorola Personal Phone, based on the style of a contemporary cordless phone, had no screen and very few functions. The Personal Phone worked on the old analogue system though. In the end digital would be the key to the consumer market.

1992 - First text message

Orbitel achieved another first: on 3 December 1992, Neil Papworth, sent the world's first text "Merry Christmas" to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis, who received it on an Orbitel TPU 901.

Mercury M200, first One2One phone

1993 - First One2One phones

Before GSM officially launched, the UK Government offered two new licences for mobile service providers on a new digital frequency of 1800MHz called PCN. The two new providers were Orange and One2One. Both slanted their offering towards consumers rather than business users. The first to announce a new service was Mercury One2One.

Mercury offered two new phones, the M200, made by Siemens and the M300 made by Motorola. Both sported Mercury logo and a unique colour scheme.

1994 - First phone with the Nokia tune

The Nokia 2110 was Nokia's second GSM phone. At the time it was the most desirable business handset in Europe. The groundbreaking design by Frank Nuovo gave people one of the smallest and lightest GSM phones, as well as a new menu system which was easy to use. The menu system offered a choice of ringtones, one of which was the Grande Valse, now known as the ubiquitous Nokia tune.

Nokia 2140, the first Orange handset

1994 - First Orange phone

Mercury's phones were a little on the cheap and cheerful side. Orange gave customers the chance to own one of the top mobiles of the time, the Orange branded Nokia 2140, a variation of the Nokia 2110.  The mobile phone press called it the Nokia Orange.

1996 - First prepaid phone service

Vodafone introduced the UK's first non-contract phone service. Vodafone Prepaid was aimed at people with poor credit history.

Ericsson GA628, 1997, the first customisable phone

1997 - First phone without an external aerial

The Hagenuk GlobalHandy was the first phone not to have an external aerial.

1997 - First customisable phone

Pressure from aftermarket accessory manufacturers led mainstream handset makers to offer customisation. The Ericsson GA628 was the first phone you could officially customise to your own taste. It was aimed at a younger market than traditional mobile phone buyers and started a trend. However, only the panel around the keyboard was interchangeable.

1997 - First digital PAYG service

Mercury One2One Mercury realised the potential of phones without a contract and announced the first digital pay-as-you-go service 'Up 2 You' in October 1997.

The Nortel m900 was the UK's first GSM phone available on a PAYG deal.

1997 - First phone with a colour screen

The Siemens S10 was the first phone to offer a colour screen. However, it only had four colours and only the text was in colour. It did not catch on.

Nokia 5110, the first phone with interchangeable fascias

1998 - First phone with interchangeable fascias

Ericsson might have shown the way, but Nokia did it better. The Nokia 5110 was the first phone with interchangeable fascias or XpressOn covers as Nokia called them. It was an instant success and started a trend that meant nearly all mobiles had to be customisable.

Nokia 7110, 1999

1999 - First WAP phone

In February 1999 Nokia announced the world's first phone with a WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) browser, the Nokia 7110. It was the first phone capable of browsing the internet. Not only that, it had the ultra cool Matrix inspired sliding case, making it instantly the most desirable handset.

However, WAP was a limited sanitised version of the internet which did not please users.

Motorola Timeport L7089, 1999, the first tri-band GSM phone

1999 - First tri-band GSM phone

Travelling to Europe, the Middle-East, Asia, Africa and the USA? Don't worry about your mobile, the Motorola Timeport, the world's first tri-band GSM phone, worked around the globe. It was the prefect phone for the high flying exec.

1999 - Supermarket price war

Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda competed to sell Pay and Go phones at discounted prices. Prices dropped to £39.99 for a basic phone on one of the four networks.

Sharp J-SH04, 2000, the first camera phone (author: Morio, modified by Retrowow and distriubuted under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0)

2000 - First camera phone

The Sharp J-SH04, launched in November 2000, was the world's first commercially available camera phone. The only snag: you could only use it in Japan.

2001 - First phone with a full colour display

The Mitsubishi Trium Eclipse was the first phone to offer a full colour display in the UK. It just pipped the much more exciting Ericsson T68i. Read more about the first phones with colour screens.

2002 - UK's first picture messaging service

T-Mobile announced the UK's first picture messaging service in 2002, using the Sony Ericsson T68i. It was not a camera phone; you needed to attach a separate camera module. For £20 extra per month users could send pictures on their mobile phones.

Nokia 7650, Europe's first camera phone

2002 - Europe's first camera phone

NEC e606, the UK's first 3G phone

The Nokia 7650 was something really special. It was Europe's first phone with a Symbian operating system and Europe's first phone with a built-in camera. Expensive at the time at £200 and only available on contract, it was a huge success with young mobile users eager to adopt the latest trend from Japan. Read more about the first camera phones.

2003 - UK's first 3G handsets

On 2 March 2003 Hutchinson launched the UK's first 3G service, '3'. Patricia Hewitt MP,  the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, made the first phone call on '3'.

3G brought in a huge amount of revenue to the UK Treasury, however, network providers were slow to put it in place. The first UK's 3G offering was a new network '3' which launched on 3/3/2003.

'3' offered a choice of three handsets: the Motorola A830, the NEC e606 and NEC e808.

Read more about the first 3G phones.

2007 - iPhone

Steve Jobs announced the Apple iPhone to the World.

Add your comments

"very nice timeline" lol 06/14/2013
"There's a significant gap between 2003 and 2007. The first touch screen / smartphone was not the iPhone.. what about the XDA range for example? And why stop at the iPhone? There's an awful lot of overtaking milestones of importance since, like 4G, 3D, operating systems and screen technology to name a few." Jon-Cameron 11/26/2013
"hi this is hae ji kang from korea. i would like to buy benefon esc which produced around 1997-8. if you have it, please let me know" hae ji kang 12/18/2013
"Gotta say, brilliant timeline on mobile history you see. I have a hobby in this field of mobiliear phonage. the 1992 iphone was amazing, used it for getting all the latest 90's apps like angrie byrds.#Haveniceday" Don Carlton 07/09/2014
"very usefull" a boy at school 09/18/2014
"Very useful timeline for my BTEC IT course.

Hi Jack!" Josh Lane 01/26/2015
"Very useful for my IT Homework that I have had trouble with!

Thanks!" yr9 girl student 04/13/2015
"Thanks, helped an awful lot with IT work at school :)xox" yr 9 Girl Student 04/30/2015
"very cool very swag, I like it" StuartiamosS 09/04/2015
"This is perfect for some DT homework that I'm doing at the moment!" EthPunch Hedgehog 11/14/2015
"Very usefull, I thank you. Good good! -DAN YR10" Dan 07/20/2016
"Very useful for my chronolgy homework" Ollie 11/21/2017
"this timeline is really, really cool and epic! YOLO GUYS" Totally rad dude 11/15/2018
"i need help im in school and we need to make a phone time line plz help" Aaron 01/16/2019
"There is a lot of information you have missed out. There is 12 years of development and innovation you haven't put in. Better screens? Slimmer phones? Biometrics? Also, you have given way to much power to the users here...." Guy studying Engineering 01/21/2019
"very epic" potato 05/16/2019
"No mention of RIM/Blackberry? Lots of gaps." Freddie 05/16/2019
"Very interesting and helpful" Miss Ventham 02/24/2020
"thx this helped alot with work i needed to catch up on
your an absolute ledgend
cheers" soggy_potatoe 04/06/2020
"i like this long piece of work but it is just too detailed" kiara parry 06/03/2020
"You forgot the Sony Ericsson P800 also a camera phone from 2002 but had a whole feast of features that pre date the iPhone, but was similar to the iPhone in operation." Ron bird 11/20/2020
"When were calls from abroad using a UK mobile first introduced? What were the costs back then?" BrixtonSaint 11/28/2020
"Calls to Europe came in with GSM. They were not cheap. One of the first was Vodafone's Euro-Digital plan. It was a premium tariff for business users." Steven 12/01/2020
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Mobile phone history