The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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30 years on, father of cell still sells dreams

Chicago, April 7 (Reuters): Thirty years after the first cellular phone call, inventor Martin Cooper still dreams about the day when futuristic telephone technology is a reality.

Cooper’s dream telephone is so small that it fits behind his ear, automatically dials out when he thinks about calling someone and it notifies him of incoming calls with a tickle instead of a ring.

The 74-year-old Cooper has yet to see that vision become a reality, but in the three decades since he invented cell phones, more than half of Americans have come to own them. Their size has shrunk so much that they fit into users’ palms. At about four ounces, a cell phone weighs little more than a lemon.

That’s a far cry from the 30 ounce phone Cooper used when he made the first portable phone call on April 3, 1973 — 30 years ago. The phone was 10 inches in height, three inches deep and an inch-and-a-half wide.

“Our basic dream was that people didn’t want to talk to cars. They didn’t want to talk to a desk or a wall (where phones were generally placed). They want to talk to other people,” said Cooper, who was general manager for the systems division at Motorola at the time.

Cooper’s invention would be considered a clunker by today’s standards, but back then it was revolutionary.

The closest “portable” phone was a car phone that weighed more than 13.5 kg and cost thousands of dollars. An owner had to drill a hole in his car to instal the antenna and most of the phone sat in the boot. A control unit with a handset was placed inside the car.

Robert Galvin, chairman emeritus and then-chief executive of Motorola, remembers his father and Motorola founder Paul Galvin driving around with a car phone in his late years.

“As of the 1950s, I certainly was of the mind that some day, something about telephones in cars or elsewhere ought to be a big business,” Galvin said in a telephone interview.

Under Galvin’s support, Motorola invested $15 million a year for 10 years in research and development — but the first cell phone was designed in just three days and built in six to eight weeks.

Dubbed the “shoe phone” for its design, it was rushed to dissuade regulatory authorities from giving telecommunications giant AT&T complete control over cellular communications in the US. AT&T was betting its future on car telephones as opposed to Motorola’s vision of portable telephones.

Rudy Krolopp, who was Motorola’s chief designer, recalls the meeting when the engineers were informed of the deadline.

“I ripped the cloth off the top of the model and everybody’s jaw dropped down,” he said. “Then Marty said ‘anybody who doesn’t believe that this project can be done in time, leave the room’.”

“With the kind of egos we had, nobody left the room.”

Raised in Chicago, Cooper received a degree in electrical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology. “I’d been taking things apart and inventing things since I was a little kid... I still have memories as a child trying to really understand how things work,” he said.

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