The first call from a cell phone was made 46 years ago today

In the past four decades, the world has gone from monster handsets to pocket-sized portable computers.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
3 min read

Editors' Note: This piece was first published on April 3, 2013 on the 40th anniversary of the first cell phone call. What follows is the original piece.

Martin Cooper changed the world when he made the first cell phone call 40 years ago.

The former Motorola vice president and division manager made the call on the company's DynaTAC phone while standing in front of the New York Hilton on Sixth Avenue. His first call: to the head of research at Bell Labs, a company that also was attempting to build the first cell phone.

Cooper's call did more than untether people from their fixed phone lines; it opened the door to true mobility and continues to affect virtually every aspect of our lives.

Long gone are the clunky phones, such as the DynaTAC, or the large cell phone famously used by Zack Morris on the television sitcom "Saved by the Bell." In their places are sleek smartphones and tablets with massive brains and access to a super-fast wireless connection. People don't just use their mobile devices to make phone calls. In fact, they do a lot less of that now. They use their phones to browse the Internet, order delivery food, play word games with each other, and keep up with the ever-increasing tsunami of e-mails and text messages.

Cooper remains a revered figure in cell phone history. He had another moment to shine at Motorola's Razr event last fall. When current Motorola executives introduced him, the throngs of jaded bloggers and reporters stopped their typing to pay their respects for his accomplishments.


Martin Cooper and his Motorola DynaTAC.

Kent German/CNET

A lot has changed since Cooper worked at Motorola and the company was a world-beating giant in the telecom industry. Now, what's left of the Motorola cell phone division largely has been swallowed up by Google, which now dominates the industry with its Android mobile operating system. What hasn't been gobbled up by Google and its partners (primarily Samsung Electronics) is left to Apple, the other major player in the field.

As part of the 40th anniversary, Cisco put together an infographic (above) that highlights some of the milestones that got us from Cooper's first call to today's Google Glass and beyond. In 1992, the first commercial text message is sent ("LOL"). Two years later, Tetris makes its debut as the first cell phone game. In 2004, the first Wi-Fi-certified cell phone is introduced and is now a commonplace feature as the wireless carriers look to unload as much traffic as possible on Wi-Fi.

From brick phones to pocket computers in 40 years (pictures)

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The graphic also highlights the introduction of Apple's App Store in 2008, marking the first of a new generation of application stores and inspiring legions of developers.

Looking ahead, the advent of cellular technology has enabled wholly new connected devices, as evidenced by an image of Google Glass making its way to the infographic. The carriers, meanwhile, are looking to connect everything from cars to dog collars and medicine pill bottles. Cisco projects by 2017 there will be more than 10 billion mobile devices around the world, with video accounting for 66 percent of all traffic.

But it all goes back to that first phone call.