30 Years of UK Mobile Phone Innovation and Beyond

By Spencer Hart on at

On New Year's Eve thirty years ago the first mobile phone call was made in the UK. From the car-battery-powered bricks, to the first flip-phone and introduction of the iPhone, it's amazing how this technology has developed over our life time.

To celebrate the monumental achievement, we've taken a look at the biggest mobile developments of the last three decades, and what we have to look forward to in the coming years.

1984/5 - First call on a UK network

On New Years Eve 1984, Michael Harrison (Son of Sir Ernest Harrison, Chairman of Vodafone) snuck out of his family's New Year's Eve party, and called his father from a Transportable Vodafone VT1 in Parliament Square. This was the UK's first mobile phone call, in which Michael said, "Hi Dad. It's Mike. This is the first-ever call made on a UK commercial mobile network". [Image Credit: Vodafone]

1985 - VT1 and Motorola 8000X

The Transportable Vodafone VT1 that Michael used was a 4.7kg, briefcase sized monster. At the time it cost £1650 which is equivalent to around £4600 today, and before you begin complaining about your iPhone's battery life again, spare a thought for VT1 users, who got 30 minutes talk time from a ten hour charge.

Later that year the Motorola 8000X arrived from the US, it was the first actual handheld portable device weighing in at 0.749kg. The 8000X was affectionately know as 'The Brick', and cost £2995 (equivalent to an eye watering £8400 today). [Image Credit: Vodafone & RetroWow]

1989 - Flipping hell, the Motorola MicroTAC

The Motorola MicroTAC introduced the a new, innovative 'flip' design to the mobile world. Unlike later 'flip phones' the fold-out section is where the mouthpiece was located (and covered the number pad when closed). [Image Credit: Wikipedia]

1991 - GSM Introduced

GSM saw mobiles switch from 1st generation analogue signals to 2nd generation digital signals. GSM meant that networks could cover a larger areas and improve compatibility internationally. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]

1992 - Phones are targeted at consumers

Before 1992, mobile phones were expensive devices aimed at business users. Motorola designers thought simplicity was the key to commercial success -- this led to the Motorola Personal Phone, a device with no screen and very few functions. [Image Credit: SSPL Prints]

1992 - First text message sent (didn't include txt spk or :-])

On the 3rd of December 1992, Neil Papworth, a software developer from Wokingham, sent the world's first text message. The message simply read, 'Merry Christmas' and was sent to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis. [Image Credit: Creepy Pasta]

1994 - First phone with the Nokia tune

Nokia's second GSM phone was the Nokia 2110, it was one of the most desirable handsets in Europe thanks to its groundbreaking design and simple menu system. This new system offered a choice of ringtones, one of which was the Grande Valse (the Nokia tune). [Image Credit: HamariWeb]

1997 - First customisable(ish) phone

It's hard to imagine a phone which you can't customise in some way, but up until 1997, users had to endure bland, generic designs. This changed with the Ericsson GA628, which allowed users to swap the panel around the keyboard. [Image Credit: Mobile Phone History]

1997 - First phone with a colour screen

The first phone to offer a colour screen was the Siemens S10, however it only had four colours and only the text could be changed. Needless to say, it didn't catch on. [Image Credit: Free List Hub]

1998 - First phone with interchangeable fascias (which led to tacky Spongebob cases)

A year after Ericsson let you change the panel surrounding the keyboard, Nokia upped their game with the 5110. The Nokia 5110 featured 'XpressOn' covers, (interchangeable fascias) and they were an instant success. [Image Credit: GSM Arena]

1999 - First WAP enabled phone lets users browse a rubbish version of the internet

In 1999 Nokia announced the 7110, the world's first phone with a WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) browser. It was the first phone ever capable of browsing the internet, but unfortunately WAP was a dumbed down version of the net which didn't really take off. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]

2002 - Europe's first camera phone is released and the first picture message is sent

The Nokia 7650 was Europe's first phone running the infamous Symbian OS, and also the first to include a built-in camera. It cost £200 and was touted as the saviour of the mobile business -- it provided consumers a reason to upgrade from their cheap, basic phones.

In a completely unrelated event, the first picture message was also sent in 2002. T-Mobile announced the service in conjunction with the Sony Ericsson T68i (not a camera phone, but compatible with a separate camera module). The service cost an extra £20 (!) per month. [Image Credit: Know Your Mobile]

2003 - The UK's first 3G handset

The first company to offer the UK 3G was a new network called '3', which launched on 03/03/2003. The new mobile technology opened up the possibility of useful mobile internet, with original download speeds of 2 Mbps. [Image Credit: Logo Wikia]

2004 - We reach the peak of mobile design with the Motorola Razr V3

In 2004 mobile phones had come a long way from the bulky, brick-like phones of the 1980s. We'd say 'dumb' phone design reached its peak with the Motorola V3, a stunningly slim flip-phone which featured a camera, dual screen and other exciting features. [Image Credit: Mobile Prices]

2005 - Nokia 1100 is the world's best selling phone

In 2005 Nokia released the 1100, it was (and remains) the best selling mobile phone in the world with around 250 million units sold to date. It was cheap, easy to use, and reliable -- what more do you need? [Image Credit: Mobile Phones At]

2007 - Steve Jobs announces the iPhone

On the 9th of January 2007, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone at Macworld -- the planet was changed forever.

Development of the phone began in 2004, and the media reaction to the device was, well... passionate to say the least, with some calling it the 'Jesus Phone'. [Image Credit: Wikimedia]

2008 - The T-Mobile G1 introduces Android to the UK

Hot on the heels of Apple, Google unveiled the G1 in 2008, it was their first Android powered smartphone.

Google's first phone was originally going to resemble a BlackBerry, with no touchscreen and a small QWERTY keyboard. However, after Jobs unveiled the iPhone the G1's design was quickly re-worked. The T-Mobile G1 (or Dream) was developed into a touchscreen device with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. [Image Credit: GSM Arena]

2013 - Mobile internet reaches new speeds with 4G

4G rolled out in 2013, offering mobile internet speeds of (up to) 80 Mbps. It's difficult to imagine how we lived without it... [Image Credit: Beginners Tech]

2013 - Manufacturers start trying to innovate (and fail with curved screens)

2013 saw mobile manufacturers struggle to innovate with mobile hardware. Samsung's stand out feature? A curved screen. Necessary? No. Slightly useful? No. [Image Credit: Tech Hive]

2014 - Wearable mobile technology makes an appearance on the wrist

One exciting development in mobile technology is the rise of wearables in 2014. What used to be low-powered, briefcase-sized bricks, are now wrist-mounted powerhouses. The Samsung Gear S packs a touchscreen, 3G, wifi, GPS and health monitoring kit into a small(ish) smartwatch. [Image Credit: Samsung]

2015 and Beyond - 5G and... slimmer phones?

Phones will inevitably get slimmer with faster processors and better cameras, but their's a limit to how slim a phone can get so it seems manufacturers are struggling to really innovate with handsets.

EE are planning to roll out their 5G network by 2022, with 5G we'll start talking about Gigabit per second download speeds instead of Megabits and the ability to download films in seconds.

Wearables will continue to be a big area of development in mobile technology -- the first generation of smartwatches were a good effort, but we're really looking forward to the second generation.

However, the development we're most looking forward to in 2015 is the iPhone 6S, as it should be another exciting entry in mobile history (sarcasm). [Image Credit: NDTV]

[Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock]