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Page last updated at 16:10 GMT, Friday, 23 April 2010 17:10 UK

Meet Marty Cooper - the inventor of the mobile phone

Martin Cooper, inventor of the mobile phone
Martin Cooper, inventor of the mobile phone, said manufacturers are cramming too much into new handsets

By Tania Teixeira
BBC News

Martin Cooper may not be a household name, but his invention is familiar to more than half the planet's population who own a mobile phone.

The concept of a handheld phone was his brainchild, and with the help of his Motorola team, the first handset was born in 1973 weighing in at two kilos.

When he stood on a New York street and made the first phone call from a prototype cellular phone, he could not have conceived how successful it would become.

Now a worldwide telecoms industry has sprung up along with a vast array of technologies developed for mobile phones.

$10,000 phone

He told Click that producing the first phone cost Motorola the equivalent of $1m (£650,000) in today's money.

"We had to virtually shut down all engineering at our company and have everybody working on the phone and the infrastructure to make the thing work," he said.

We joked that 'in the future, when you were born you would be assigned a telephone number and if you didn't answer the phone, you were dead'
Martin Cooper

"Even by 1983, a portable handheld cellular telephone cost $4,000 (£2,600), which would be the equivalent of more than $10,000 (£6,500) today."

Mr Cooper said his team faced the challenge of squeezing thousands of parts into a phone for the first time.

"The industrial designers did a superb job, but by the time the engineers got done we ended up with two and a half pounds.

"A very substantial part of that first phone was in fact battery which weighed four or five times more than an entire cellphone now," he said.

"The battery lifetime was 20 minutes, but that wasn't really a big problem because you couldn't hold that phone up for that long."

Bring freedom

After the phone's production, the bigger obstacle became adapting the small infrastructure, used for car phones at the time, to support mobile phone calls.

"The challenge was to create the network with the promise at that time that we only needed three megahertz of spectrum, the equivalent of five TV channels to cover the world.

Man using mobile phone in the 1980s
In the early 80s mobile phones were a luxury that cost thousands of dollars

He and his team hoped one day everyone would have their own handset.

"In fact we had a joke that said 'in the future, when you were born you would be assigned a telephone number and if you didn't answer the phone, you were dead'.

"We had no idea that in as little as 35 years more than half the people on Earth would have cellular telephones, and they give the phones away to people for nothing."

Handheld phones were originally produced to help doctors and hospital staff improve their communications.

He hoped the devices would help bring safety and freedom to people, but the eventual social implications were beyond his understanding almost four decades ago.

"We had no idea that things like Facebook and Twitter, and all these other concepts, would ever happen."

Modern monsters

A new generation of so-called smartphones have revolutionised the mobile phone industry and changed the way people use them.

The technology in handsets has shifted in focus from voice calls to include other functions such as a portable media player, web browser and camera among others.

By cramming in a whole host of technologies, Mr Cooper believes operators and phone manufacturers have turned the handheld phone into a "monstrosity".

Samsung, HTC and BlackBerry smartphones
Mr Cooper believes smartphones will become chips to implant behind the ear

"The instruction book is now bigger and heavier than the phone itself," he said. "Good technology is intuitive - the cellphone forces you to become an engineer."

But he still enjoys trying out the latest smartphones, because he wants to understand the innovations happening in the phone market.

"You have to immerse yourself into a product and use it in order to really understand it and that's why I have a new cellphone every month or two."

'Slave' implant

As mobile phones go to a fourth generation, with new features in each update, the inventor of the handheld phone said the handset of the future should aim to improve a user's quality of life.

"Technology makes your life better, more convenient, safer, educates you, entertains you, and mostly makes you more productive," said Mr Cooper.

"The future of cellular telephony is to make people's lives better - the most important way, in my view, will be the opportunity to revolutionise healthcare," he added.

"We could not have predicted the annoyance that people have when the phone rings at the opera, but it doesn't take a cellular phone to make people be rude."

In terms of the physical development of mobile phones, which have already shrunk from the size of a brick, he believes future users will be able to dispense altogether with the device.

"The cellphone in the long range is going to be embedded under your skin behind your ear along with a very powerful computer who is in effect your slave".

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