2006-11-03 Gaby Katz
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The mobile phone turns 50!

The first "mobile phones" were not exactly the thing, you'd expect todayThe first "mobile phones" were not exactly the thing, you'd expect today
Anywhere, anytime. Mobile phone technology has revolutionized how we live our lives. Swedish telecommunication experts are happily calling Stockholm the home of the mobile phone. I visited the opening night of an exhibition that takes us back to the beginning: 1956.

Weje Sandén from financial periodical Veckans Affärer showed me that first mobile phone...which required the user to be a bit of a bodybuilder:

"That year the first automatic mobile telephone system opened in Stockholm. Its weight was 40 kilo. You managed to make 3 or four calls and then the battery was in the car was flat..It was like - you made one call - and then you made a call to get it serviced. It was like an old fashioned telephone. You made a call and you were connected automatically to the normal telephone system."

It looks like an old rotary phone that the top has been lifted off and re-used...

"Yes exactly it was not so reliable..."

A far cry from the pocket sized, bling covered gems of today with their polyphonic ring tones.

First of the phones, that distantly resebles "contemporary" mobilesFirst of the phones, that distantly resebles "contemporary" mobiles
" ... Here we have the latest models - much smaller - much lighter. And of course much more reliable. Now you can call everywhere and take photos and get emails. The latest services mean that you can also get TV on your mobile as well. So there is allot that has happened in these 50 years."

50 years - what about a mid-life crisis. Every one has them where can the mobile phone go to from here?

"Actually the fastest growing markets are in Africa and Asia. Today two and a half billion people have a mobile phone. It is actually the fastest growing technology in mankind's history. If you compare it to the PC and the internet - you have two and a half billion users of mobile phones - one billion users of the internet and nine hundred million - or nearly a billion PCs so its more than twice as big and still growing faster than ever. Last year we added 400 million new users in the world so I think it will continue for quite a long time."

And what has it meant for Sweden?

"Its one of the country's, what I would call "base industries". It stands for more than 10% of the countries exports. It provides employment for approximately 150 000 Swedes. Its one of the biggest inventions in modern Swedish history I would say."

2.5 billion people can't be wrong, but what do you think mobile phones mean to our lives?

"To stay connected. I was in India in April and what I saw was that I could send an SMS about when I saw an elephant walking on the street. That is the thing about mobile phones - they are so direct"

Sweden's Ericsson is the world's largest maker of mobile phone networks. The company reported earlier this month that third-quarter profit had grown by 17 percent, boosted by strong results at its co-owned handset maker Sony Ericsson. And as the world's number one company in its field, Ericsson is proudly watching those 50 candles being blown out on this particular birthday cake. Jan Uddenfeldt is Senior vice president:

It's hard to imagine, how far the quest for portability can goIt's hard to imagine, how far the quest for portability can go
"It's really fantastic to see that we have had the mobile telephone for 50 years. And we have to remember that Sweden was the first country to start with the mobile phone. This is the origin of mobile technology - and this is fantastic to see. And we have been at the forefront in developing these new technologies - and the best example is perhaps GSM. There are over two billion users of GSM in the world and Ericsson was the first to install GSM fifteen years ago in Europe."

Any sneak preview of what's to come?

" The next step is what we call mobile broadband. This means the broadband technology can be used in laptops and you can always get in contact. With the latest 3G technology we can offer up to 4megabits per second - so it really is broadband technology."

From the futuristic, back to the basics. Östen Mäkitalo has been described as the grand old man of mobile telephony.

Östen MäkitaloÖsten Mäkitalo
"I have been working with Televerket, Telia then Telia-Sonera for a large number of years. When I started the first mobile telephone system had already existed for ten years. What we did at that time was that we took note of what had happened. Even though there was only a few hundred subscribers - nevertheless, it showed us the potential. We could begin to think - imagine if this could be made much smaller and much cheaper. Think if it could be made in such a way that you did not need to know where you are. People could still reach you . Their signals could reach you where ever you were in the world. Then mobile phones could be the property of everyone."

The way forward often requires a little daring. Was mobile telephony immediately recognized as the gold-mine it was or was it considered risky business? Was it crystal clear that this was going to be the next big thing?

"Definitely not - because as late as by the end of the 1970's when we were buying the equipment high level people in the industry and our management thought that - Ok mobile phone penetration could reach about 3% of the population. If they had known that this was going to be a multi-multi billion collar business I don't think they would have allowed our group to go on...."

But are you a mobile phone-a-phobe? Don't worry -- as Weje Sandén from Veckans Affärer:

"There is always a button that you can switch it off if you want.."

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