The mobile phones of the 1970’s

The year is 1976 and, on BBC Kids TV show “Blue Peter”, they’re about to show something amazing. A phone with no cable that you could even take outside.

There are absolutely no trailing cables of any kind; it’s not connected to anything at all because it’s got its own built-in transmitter and receiver.

Something a little similar, and slightly better looking, was actually on display a full six years before this though, when Raymond Baxter showed off this portable phone on Tomorrow’s World. This one was designed to operate in an expo in Japan, connecting via short-wave radio. You could call anyone, including your girlfriend or, for a “more intelligent conversation”, you could talk to a computer that would do calculations for you.

This clip appears to be from the Electronic Communications Pavilion at Expo 1970 in Osaka and, although the stand was popular, many instead chose to look at a piece of moon rock that had been brought back by the Apollo mission in 1969. The phones were available to try on the the NTT stand, with the new “Dream Telephone” able to make calls to anywhere in Japan. The images alone were enough to spark a move towards the carphones and early mobile phones we know of today.

Prior to 1973, when the cellular system and “handover” technology had only just been invented, mobile phones were nearly always installed in cars. Motorola was the first company to produce a “handheld” phone, although the prototype used was 1.1 KG, with a 30 minute talk-time and a 10 hours to recharge time.

However, things go even further back as it did take time for all the pieces of the mobile story to come together. As an example, the Duke of Edinburgh had a radio telephone in 1953, made by Pye Telecommunications, fitted to his car. Before than, way back in the early 1920’s, both Marconi and Bell Laboratories were testing car-based telephone systems. According to Bell Labs, they had the first two-way, voice-based radio telephone.