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A press release about the first cell phone from 1973


Spaceman Spiff

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Handheld and less than 3 pounds. Amazing.

Phones got smaller, and are now getting bigger. because people need more and more junk to worry about.

Those old phones back in say...1987 or 1988 were huge and silly looking, but worked pretty well in the DC area. (Not talking about the Motorola "brick" although those were awesome).

Motorola was short sighted with their phones...they would be the most dominant in the business if they were forward thinking about that product.

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I recall once reading an item by a historian, talking about revolutinary technology, and how difficult it is to predict.

He claims that when Al Bell demonstrated the telephone at the (whatever year) World/s Fair, that . . . .

a) It received almost no notice, at the fair or in the media.

B) That, the media which did cover it, almost universally denigrated it. All it was, was a slightly fancier telegraph. A curious gimmick, with really no practical use.

c) That even the one contemporary account he was able to find, that was actually positive about the invention wasn't exactly prescient. The one reporter who actually praised the invention, who predicted that it would be revolutionary, who gushed about the device, said something along the lines of "I can even imagine the day, not next year, maybe not even in my lifetime, but some day, when every town will have one"

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Cell phone call coverage and quality has not improved much over the years. I think it is one of the most disappointing technologies.

My Dad retired from decades with the FCC. His best friend stayed on there, after Dad retired, and still works in that field. (Although for a private telecom, now.)

He was visiting my Dad, one day, and was explaining something to Dad about a problem the FCC was fighting with, concerning cell phone quality and coverage.

He says that, the way the cell phone system was designed, the theory was that there would be these cells. A base unit would be located in the center of the cell. So, think of a map, with circles, in a hexagonal grid. Each circle is spread around a central dot, with a radius of R.

The tower in the center of a cell will have a frequency. (Actually hundreds of them.) None of the adjacent cells are allowed to use that frequency. (If they do, if two adjacent cells use the same frequency, then they would interfere with each other. Neither cell would have a reliable signal.)

(This is why, for example, if DC has a TV channel 5, then there can't be a channel 5 in Baltimore, or Richmond. They'd interfere with each other. Every allocation of spectrum has two radii associated with it: The radius where it's useful, and then a much larger radius where nobody else can use that frequency, because they'd interfere.)

The idea is that if cell X uses channel 1, then none of the six cells that touch cell X can use channel 1. But, the cells adjacent to those cells can.

By using the "can't be used in adjacent cells, but it can be used 2 cells away" rule, it means that the furthest any user will ever be from the tower is distance R. And the closest interference will be, at minimum, at distance 3R away. (And, since EM radiation decays according to the square of the distance, the interfering signal will have 1/9 the strength of the desired signal.)

But, the cell phone companies discovered, really quickly, that cell phone towers cost money.

So they came up with this nifty idea.

Instead of putting the tower in the center of the cell, they put the tower at the point where three cells touch. And they put directional antennas on the tower, pointing at the three cells. This allows them to build 1/3 as many towers. (Although each tower costs more.)

Unfortunately, what this means is that now, the user isn;t guaranteed to be within distance R from the tower. Now, he might be as far away as 2R. And, the interfering signal, from the "two cells away" tower, might only be at distance 2R (although, in that case, it would have a directional antenna, that's pointed away.) But the interfering signal is guaranteed to be within distance 4R.

The user is now twice as far from the tower as the system was designed to handle.

The cell phone companies have decided that the way to solve this problem is, they're lobbying the FCC to give them permission to double the power of the transmitters.

Problem is, when you do that, you double the interference, too.

The FCC is (was) saying "no". Cell phone company's response is to continue the practice that's causing the problem, and to lobby Congress to allow them to use bad engineering to compensate for bad engineering.

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Cell phone call coverage and quality has not improved much over the years. I think it is one of the most disappointing technologies.

I hear you. However there's also the fact that I was able to pull off the highway and run an emergency preparedness exercise on the side of the road a few weeks ago...with my phone. No it's not perfect but it generally is good enough to get the job done.

That said, Larry's post highlights the issue with large corporations nowadays. They'd much rather make an inferior product as long as it benefits the bottom line. Competition? Nah, they're all doing the same thing. Besides, if some little whippa snappa Johnny come lately company tries to mess with the status quo, we either buy him out and bury the technology or crush him.

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