On this day in history : 28th October 1959 – The first British call from a car phone is made….
From outside the Lymm Hotel in Cheshire the Postmaster General, Reginald Bevins MP, put a call through to Lord Rootes, the automobile mogul, who was in London…. A number of technicians, positioned in exchanges and base stations in Manchester, Liverpool and Hardwick waited to relay the call….
After WW2 radio phones – which were effectively two-way radios, began to appear in cars but didn’t actually arrive in Britain until the end of the 1950s…. One of the earliest known experiments occurred in 1920, when a radio enthusiast in Philadelphia constructed a transceiver which enabled him to speak to his wife from a moving car, some 500ft away…. It needed a massive aerial – made from a stove pipe….
The first commercial carphone service came from Motorola in the United States in 1946 – two-way radios that could be connected to landlines…. Only 3 calls at once could be handled by the service, meaning callers would often have a long wait in a queue….
After the initial trials in Britain by the GPO in 1959, transmitters fixed to the newly constructed Post Office Tower enabled the radio phone to arrive in London in 1965…. Prime Minister Harold Wilson made the first call….
Calls had to be manually connected by operators – a method simply known as ‘System 1’….and it could cope with up to 300 callers at a time…. By lifting a handset and selecting a free channel the caller would be put through to an operator (providing in range of a VHF – very high frequency – radio station) and a call could be connected to a landline…. From a landline users would ask the exchange to connect a car registered with the service….
During the 1970s improvements saw the launch of ‘Systems 2 and 3’…. Equipment was costly – and bulky; a handset and speaker – with a transceiver situated in the boot of the car, connected to a whip aerial…. Manufacturers included companies such as Marconi and Pye….
On the 14th of July 1981 BT’s ‘System 4’ first became available in London – a fully automated service…. It certainly wasn’t a cheap service, costing £100 per quarter plus the cost of calls – a considerable amount of money back then…. ‘System 3’, costing a mere £40 per quarter, was still operational, having some 3,000 users….many of whom preferred the operator service, finding it more ‘friendly’….
In 1985 cellular mobile networks were introduced – paving the way to the mobile world we know today…. In 1988 ‘System 4’ was switched off….