Evolution of the mobile phone
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Evolution of the mobile phone

Who are the drivers of progress? Individuals who, through observation, questioning the status quo, and thinking outside the box, come up with discoveries and solutions that shift the world's paradigm. We have interviewed one of them – Martin Cooper, the inventor of the cell phone.

Credit Suisse: Martin Cooper, you invented the cellular phone. Do you remember the very first phone call you made on it?

Martin Cooper: That was April 3, 1973. I stood on Sixth Avenue in New York holding the Motorola cellular phone, which weighed nearly a kilo at that time, dialed a number, and the call went through. The call went via a mobile radio station to a landline in a skyscraper in New York. Nobody pays attention to anybody else in New York, but people were standing and gawking at us because they had never seen anybody on the street with a telephone before.

Who did you call?

Joel Engel, the head of the research department at AT&T, my rival. I said: "Hi Joel, it's Marty, Marty Cooper. I'm calling you from a cellular phone, on a real cellular phone, a personal, handheld, portable cellular phone." There was silence on the other end of the line. I think he was gritting his teeth. But we finished the phone call, and he was polite. To this day, Joel does not remember the phone call.

Battery life expectancy

Battery life expectancy

Source: Credit Suisse

What was your eureka moment when you came up with the idea for a cellular phone?

I don't believe in the concept of the eureka moment. Innovation is the result of processes that slowly take form through observations. I was running the mobile radio business at Motorola, and especially the police and airport personnel were using the two-way radios at the time. That's when I observed that once people were connected, they could not give that up, and I realized how important personal connection is. Our competitors from the AT&T Bell Laboratories were also working on cellular telephones at that time, and in 1969 they announced a new car phone. I knew right away – Bell was wrong.

In what way?

Because for a hundred years, we had been trapped in our homes and our offices by wires. The future was handheld phones. 

Changes in mobile phone weight

Changes in mobile phone weight

Source: Credit Suisse

In the meantime, the cellular phone became the smartphone, and more than two-thirds of the 7.6 billion people in the world have a mobile device of some kind.

The invention has had the greatest impact not in the West, but rather in the poorest countries in the world. The United Nations did a study and, more than one billion people moved out of severe poverty over a 25-year period. And the biggest influence was the cell phone. Because they were now economically networked. But the cell phone has also substantially contributed to education and medical care. So these are the things that make my invention actually important.

New York

Today in New York there are more phones than inhabitants

How many hours a day do you use a smartphone?

Less than an hour. I really only need the device to be reachable in emergencies. And when I'm having an argument over dinner it's easy to use the phone to settle things and prove that I'm right.

How satisfied are you with the ongoing technical development of your invention?

Honestly? I'm frustrated. Cell phones today are not optimal. Just think how impractical it is to put this plastic part up against your ear so that you can communicate. It's high time for the next innovation. The next invention is a phone that is there to be your servant, not the other way around. And it should make your life better. In the future, the phone will be replaced by a computer implant behind your ear.