In 1973, Martin Cooper made the first cell phone call in history from a street in New York

Few recent inventions have changed our world as much as the mobile or cellular phone, particularly that of the owners of the 4,780,000,000 that exist on the planet today.

A respectable amount for a contraption that was used for the first time in history less than half a century ago.

The first phone call was made in 1973 in NY, by the engineer Martin Cooper, known as the father of the mobile phone.

“To the public, it sounded like science fiction: We had been tied to the house or desk with a cable for 100 years,” Cooper recalls in conversation with the BBC.

“However, we thought that people were fundamentally mobile, that they wanted to be connected wherever they were. So we had to create a device, never done before … and we had to do it in a deadline 3 months“He relates.

A profound change

It is said that it was the small portable device called “the communicator” used by the characters in “Star Trek”, the science fiction television show of the 1960s, that inspired Cooper.

But actually what made him think for the first time about the possibility that something like this existed was the wrist radio that detective Dick Tracy used in the American comic strip, related the engineer.

The protagonist of the hit comic strip created in 1931, Dick Tracy, was a police inspector who used forensic science, advanced artifacts, and ingenuity to catch the bad guys.

“Before the cell phone, when you were making a phone call, you were calling somewhere; now you call a person, and that is a profound change ”, he highlights.

The prototype of the first portable phone Cooper and his team unveiled at the Hilton hotel in New York in April 1973 was very different from the slim foldable Star Trek device, the futuristic Dick Tracy watch, or the cell phone you’re probably reading this on. history.

“It was about 25 x 5 x 10 centimeters and weighed over a kilo, and you could only speak for 20 minutes before the battery ran out. People laugh at him, but it was the best thing that could be done at that time ”.

The first time

Marty Cooper worked for the Motorola company, which at the time was a small operator in the American telecommunications market.

“We were saying‘ the day will come when someone will be assigned a phone number that they will have until they die. ” We knew that in the future everyone would have a phone“Says the engineer.

“What we never anticipated is that it was going to have a supercomputer, a digital camera, an internet connection … none of those things existed in 1973.”

.Creating the phone was a race against time, Cooper recalls.

It was on April 3 of that year, on 6th Avenue in New York, that Cooper made the first call.

“We were talking to a reporter from a radio station while we were walking down the street and I really I had not planned who I was going to callSo I decided to bookmark my AT&T counterpart, Joel Engel, ”he says.

AT&T was the telecommunications giant in the US and the world; Motorola’s budgets were very low by comparison… what did Cooper say to Engel on that first call?

“Well, I dialed his phone and it was a miracle that he answered me, so I greeted him and said ‘I’m Marty Cooper and I’m calling you from a cell phone: a handheld, portable and personal phone.’

Similar but not the same

The giant AT&T had also been thinking about the future of phones.

They had pioneered a new technology, the cellular technology, which passes calls through a network of cells, using radio frequencies.

Until then, your phone had to be connected by a cable to your home or office. But that cellular technology had allowed phones to be more mobile.

But the idea of AT&T was to put more phones in cars, because he believed that this was the correct bet for the future; I hadn’t considered handheld notebooks.

. Car phones were the future AT&T envisioned.

It was those young upstarts from Motorola who proved to the AT&T greats that they were wrong.

“His vision was to extend the cables to the cars but for us the idea that the telephone companies were going to tie us to our cars it did not make senseCooper says.

David and Goliat

Cooper and his team knew that AT&T was pressuring the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates airwaves in the US, to grant it exclusive rights the radio spectrum it would take to put phones in millions of cars using this cellular technology.

Motorola knew that if AT&T gained that monopoly, they would lose all possibilities of using the network for a new cellular phone.

“AT&T was the largest company in the world. They had two lobbyists in Washington for every federal communications commissioner lobbying for them, ”he says.

In 2009, Cooper (left) received the Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research from Prince Felipe (right) of Spain.

It was a fight between David against Goliath.

Cooper realized that for Motorola to have any chance of persuading the communications commissioners, they needed something spectacular. They had to show them the future: they had to make a mobile phone.

“There were 20 people creating the phone itself, who worked day and night. But keep in mind that we also had to build the radio stations and the cells, so another 20 to 30 people were in charge of that, while others were preparing the demonstration in New York. “

They just had three months to achieve it. Motorola’s management backed them with a lot of money, but the challenge was enormous.

Rich toy

When Cooper went to make the big reveal to the press, he brought two prototypes with him, in case one were to break.

But not many journalists came, in case about 15 or 20.

.The first cell phones were “toys for the rich.”

“They certainly didn’t pay much attention to us. But once we did the demo, stories started to come out about a phone that you could talk to from anywhere in the world, ”recalls the engineer.

“There was an Australian journalist who asked us if she could call her mother in Australia, and we answered: ‘Of course!’, While we crossed our fingers. The call worked and she was delighted, ”she says.

However, it took several more years – and the intervention of President Ronald Reagan – for federal regulators to guarantee Motorola access to the radio frequencies it needed. And it was only in 1983 that Motorola was able to launch its first commercially available cell phone.

“Most people thought that they could never afford to have a phone like that. It cost more than US $ 4,000 and the service was extraordinarily expensive. So, at first, it really was a toy for the wealthy, “Cooper recalls.

A dreamer who keeps dreaming

Whoever got the nickname de shoe phone ’became an icon.

“I called him DynaTAC, short for DYNamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage, ”Cooper explains.

Years later, Motorola Inc. President and CEO Ed Zander jokingly presented the Motorola DynaTAC 8000 during the 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“What DynaTAC represented was my dream of what the best phone would be: one that you could use no matter where you were, that adapted to the environment and that allowed you to speak to another person as if the distance that separated you did not exist,” he says. .

“We have not yet achieved all that, but we are very close to doing it. So being a dreamer has some advantages

Cooper only realized the dimension of the change that his creation had generated after a few years: “when other competing models came onto the market; when there were lines of people buying them; when I realized that in Third World countries there were more mobile phones than landlines ”.

“It was then that we learned that we had been right“Values.

When asking Cooper how much he earned with his invention, he responds that “in terms of satisfaction, very much”; in terms of money, not so much.

“When I started working at Motorola, I signed a document saying that all my creations were owned by the firm, and for them they paid me $ 1Cooper says.

“It was the best deal I ever did: Motorola treated me very well and the world has been very kind to me,” he told the BBC program Click.

A better world

All these years later, when the phones seem capable of doing it all, some fundamental aspects have been left in the pipeline.

“The emphasis of the industry has been to sell the novelty, but we don’t have solid coverage yet. When you cannot make a call, when you cannot connect, it is because the capacity of the system has been exhausted, ”laments the father of mobile telephony.

“There is the technology to increase that capacity, to solve that problem, and incidentally, that technology even saves money, but the emphasis remains on novelty,” he complains.

BBCCooper continues dreaming.

Now over 90 years old, Marty Cooper lives in California and keep working and inventing.

He dreams of creating a phone small enough to hook on the ear, and another that examines the health of the user, “to be able to understand what irregularities are beginning to form in the body, before they turn into diseases.”

“I give you an example: one of the main causes of death in the West is heart failure. And we know how to anticipate it, because it implies that you are accumulating fluids in your lungs, ”he explains.

“There is already a patch that you put on your chest that monitors the level of fluids in your lungs and communicates with your phone, so you receive an alert 6 hours before having a heart attack so that you take a pill and avoid it.

“Extrapolate that to many other diseases!” Says Cooper, inviting us to imagine a better world.

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