Don’t ask me why, but today I’ve stumbled across a few historical items about mobile networks and their development here in the UK. There were a number of successes and failures along the way, with this BBC news item looking at Mercury Communications. You may remember “Mercury” from the blue buttons installed on home phones or the “pre-dialers” that were added onto phone-lines to get you off the BT network and onto the Mercury network. Mercury launched the first GSM network here in the UK called “Mercury One-2-One” and, back in 1993, it was cutting edge – other networks still used analogue signals. It brought mobile phones out of the business world and into the consumer market. The main reason was that One-2-One offered free evening calls to local numbers. The network quickly became overwhelmed as more and more people merely sat at home making free calls.
One-2-One (or “121”) was then sold and became T-Mobile, which has now merged to become “Everything Everywhere” with Orange. You may still see “Mercury Communications” or “One-2-One” on or around base-stations around the UK. Other networks included BT Cellnet, which later became o2, but who remembers Rabbit Communications ?
The people behind “Rabbit” were called Hutchison Whampoa – a name you may be familiar with. Their mobile phones only worked within 100 metres of the base stations so were pretty much the same as the home cordless phone is now. To make or receive a call you had to park outside a shop or building which housed one of the 12,000 transmitters. You literally had to go looking for the Rabbit logo (on the right here) as there wasn’t really an “internet” to speak of. You guys are no doubt laughing at the thought of it, but in 1992 this was pretty radical. Unfortunately analogue networks like BT Cellnet and Vodafone started dropping their costs and, when networks like Mercury started to roll out GSM, Hutchison stopped the service, losing $183 million in the process. They went on to form Orange and are now behind “Three”.
Anyone else have any fond memories of the “early days” ?
Links – Wikipedia (Rabbit) – BBC News (Mercury)