Celebrating 30 years of mobile phone calls

30 years ago today the first-ever phone call was made on Australia’s public mobile network, using a car phone system weighing 14 kilograms with a 45 cm handset costing $17,000 in today’s terms.

The call was made over the Telstra network, then called Telecom, when phone coverage was limited to the greater Melbourne area.

The phone used in 1981 for this inaugural call could store just 16 numbers, was installed in a car and alerted owners to an incoming call with a honking horn or flashing headlights.

Mobiles have come a long way in 30 years, and are more intelligent than the largest, most expensive computer made a generation ago, weighing an average of 200 grams

Telstra Networks and Access Technologies Executive Director Mike Wright was a graduate engineer in 1981 and oversaw installation of the first mobile network exchange in Brisbane.

“Back in 1981 I never imagined there would be more mobile devices in Australia than people, and that they could be used to watch live TV, someday feature 3D content and become a critical way to how we connect.”

“We called the first Telstra network the 007 Network because that was the number range it used and while in today’s terms it was more like a ’Zero-G‘ network, it was the foundation of Australia’s modern mobile phone industry. In just 30 years we’re now building a 4G network, that’s five generations of mobile evolution so far in my career.”

Some interesting mobile statistics include:

  • Coverage – in August 1981 the mobile network was limited to greater Melbourne (the service launched in Sydney in December 1981, Brisbane in 1983 and reached all Australian capital cities by 1985) – and today the Telstra mobile network covers 2.1 million square kilometers and reaches more than 99 per cent of the population.
  • Customers – approximately 1300 customers in Sydney and Melbourne used the mobile network in its first year, compared to today where there are an estimated 22 million mobile phone services in Australia.
  • Texts – in 1981 no one had heard of ’texting’ whereas in 2009/10 Telstra customers sent 9.4 billion text messages.
  • Mobile internet – in 1981 using a mobile network for internet access wasn’t even imagined, now Telstra’s mobile broadband network supports over 10 million internet capable phones, tablets and data cards.
  • Base stations – in 1981 there were three base stations in Melbourne and five base stations in Sydney, today there are more than 7,400 base stations across Australia.
  • Costs – in 1981 it cost $4995 plus a $350 installation fee to purchase a mobile phone compared to today where a customer can buy a phone from Telstra for less than $35 outright.

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