Oribitel TPU 900 and TPU 901

Orbital TPU 900

The world's first GSM phone and the first phone to receive a text message

The Orbitel TPU 900 (left) was the world's first GSM phone. As you can see it was hardly tiny. Digital technology was more bulky than analogue. This world's first went to a British company, Orbitel, a joint venture between Racal and Plessey, beating Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson to make the first phone to be approved for the new GSM standard in 1991.

As you can imagine these phones were not great sellers, however, Orbitel succeeded in exporting them to Germany and there was a revised model, the TPU 901. The Orbitel was the first phone that the UK's first GSM provider, Vodaphone, offered.

This phone also has the accolade of being the first phone to receive a text message. Neil Papworth, sent the world's first text "Merry Christmas" on 3 December 1992 to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis, who received it on an Orbitel TPU 901.[1]

As GSM spread to Africa, these phones became something of a status symbol, because of their large size.


[1]Wikipedia - SMS

Add your comments

"Orbital was a JV between Racal Vodafone and Ericsson

Please spell VODAFONE correctly.

Although, having said that, Gerry Whent sacked our then PR officer for displaying 'don't forget your f in Vodafone' on a DM display at the TMA Conference in Brighton in the late '80s." David Pearce 10/09/2013
"I have one of these that still works" Wakko Warner 06/15/2014
"Orbitel started as a Plessey / Racal joint venture.

Racal became Racal Telecom and bought out Plesseys share.

Vodafone bought Racal Telecom.

Vodafone sold Orbitel to Ericsson

Ericsson closed the basestation part of the company. Kept the mobile phone part.

Why do I know this. I Worked terecascan RF Engineer. Designing the TPU 900 then the 901

1988 to 1993" NIgel Tout 08/16/2014
"I wonder how about the sim card, coz you know nowadays we use sim card which are more than 64 kbyte capacity. In the past sim cards about only 8 kbyte when the orbital new hardware. I'm really interested in that devices, they are big okay but they have 8 watt RF power so they can be useable such as out of the city or terrain areas." Mert 01/12/2015
"This was a really important phone. The first on the market, but also important for having a test interface. If you had the right cable and a connected laptop it would tell you in great detail what was happening to it on the network. This made it indispensable for engineers charged with network rollout, launch and optimisation.
The SIM was a pain in the rump though. It was a full-sized credit card that slotted into the handset just under where your fingers fell when making a call. It was so easy to accidentally knock and cause an IMSI Detatch..." Nick Cooper 06/19/2015
"I have an Orbital TPU900. Do any one know where I can get a New Battery. It works on the Mains Charger & the Car Charger lead
I have the Carry case as well its like new" Terry 07/01/2015
"Dear Sirs,

I hav an old "Orbitel MTU/TPU 900", the Siemens Clone, and I'd like to ask if you have the Pinout for the Charger and Power Port.

Thank you in advance.

Wolf" Wolfgang Waldthaler 10/09/2016
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Mobile phone history