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History of Mobile Telephone
and Cellular Telephone

The early days of mobile telephone systems.


In 1947 AT&T commercialized mobile telephone service. From its start in St. Louis in 1946, AT&T then introduced Mobile Telephone Service to one hundred towns and highway corridors by 1948. Mobile Telephone Service was a rarity with only 5,000 customers placing about 30 000 calls each week. Calls were set up manually by an operator and the user had to depress a button on the handset to talk and release the button to listen. The call subscriber equipment weighed about 36 kg.
Subscriber growth and revenue generation were hampered by the constraints of the technology. Because only three radio channels were available, only three customers in any given city could make mobile telephone calls at one time. Mobile Telephone Service was expensive, costing 15 USD per month, plus 0.30 to 0.40 USD per local call, equivalent to about 176 USD per month and 3.50 to 4.75 per call in 2012 USD


AT&T introduced the first major improvement to mobile telephony in 1965, giving the improved service the obvious name of Improved Mobile Telephone Service. IMTS used additional radio channels, allowing more simultaneous calls in a given geographic area, introduced customer dialing, eliminating manual call set by an operator, and reduced the size and weight of the subscriber equipment.
Despite the capacity improvement offered by IMTS, demand outstripped capacity. In agreement with state regulatory agencies, AT&T limited the service to just 40,000 customers system wide. In New York City, for example, 2,000 customers shared just 12 radio channels and typically had to wait 30 minutes to place a call.


Radio Common Carrier or RCC was a service introduced in the 1960s by independent telephone companies to compete against AT&T's IMTS. RCC systems used paired UHF 454/459 MHz and VHF 152/158 MHz frequencies near those used by IMTS. RCC based services were provided until the 1980s when cellular AMPS systems made RCC equipment obsolete.
Some RCC systems were designed to allow customers of adjacent carriers to use their facilities, but equipment used by RCCs did not allow the equivalent of modern "roaming" because technical standards were not uniform. For example, the phone of an Omaha, Nebraska–based RCC service would not be likely to work in Phoenix, Arizona. Roaming was not encouraged, in part, because there was no centralized industry billing database for RCCs. Signaling formats were not standardized. For example, some systems used two-tone sequential paging to alert a mobile of an incoming call. Other systems used DTMF. Some used Secode 2805, which transmitted an interrupted 2805 Hz tone (similar to IMTS signaling) to alert mobiles of an offered call. Some radio equipment used with RCC systems was half-duplex, push-to-talk LOMO equipment such as Motorola hand-helds or RCA 700-series conventional two-way radios. Other vehicular equipment had telephone handsets, rotary or pushbutton dials, and operated full duplex like a conventional wired telephone. A few users had full-duplex briefcase telephones (radically advanced for their day)
At the end of RCC's existence, industry associations were working on a technical standard that would have allowed roaming, and some mobile users had multiple decoders to enable operation with more than one of the common signaling formats (600/1500, 2805, and Reach). Manual operation was often a fallback for RCC roamers.

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