Opinion

Mobile market unrecognisable 30 years after first call

6 min read

02 January 2015

Former editor

With 1 January 2015 marking 30 years since Michael Harrison made the world’s first mobile phone call, it’s fair to say that he and the 1980s’ world population would scarcely have believed how dependent we would become on the communication tool.

Before that momentous moment, we had been reliant on the good old fixed landline, fax machines, pagers and the early beginnings of email. The mobile phone, in all its clunky glory, suddenly meant that we were able to make contact on the go – albeit for only a short period at a time and at a big cost.

Back then, it marked the end of a cold war-type battle between Racal Vodafone and BT Cellnet to make the first call. With Harrison helping Racal Vodafone take that accolade, it took a further two weeks for BT Cellnet to match the accomplishment.


Since then the mobile phone has gone from a device which had to be carried round in its own briefcase to one that has arguably replaced our personal computer, address book, camera, tape deck/CD player/MP3 device and even TV.

The mobile has followed trends which saw it shrink in size during the period immediately after the turn of the millennium, before ballooning back up as consumers demanded bigger, colour screens.

This, and the advent of smartphone applications, has given rise to a new swathe of businesses and entrepreneurs. Pick up anyone’s smartphone and you’ll have access to any number of service providers who will give you a lift (Uber/Hailo), clean your house (Handy/Homejoy), secure a holiday rental (Airbnb/HouseTrip) or complete any miscellaneousness job you may have (TaskRabbit).

Combined with the democratising of previously costly hosting, website creation and branding, young enterprising people are able to use the popularity of mobile usage to create new businesses. And, despite seeing historical technology such as pagers and MiniDisc players slip out of popularity, it appears the smartphone is here to stay.

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Maurizio Pilu, partnerships director at Digital Catapult, a government cents set up to accelerate UK digital ideas, said of the occasion: “30 years ago the first ever mobile phone call was made. The development in mobile since has been completely unprecedented.

“Who would have predicted that the majority of the UK would no longer be using mobile for voice? Data now leads the way when it comes to mobile and we are using record amounts of mobile data across the UK.”

Pilu’s comments about data ring true when you consider the recent 4G battle that has waged across Britain. Starting off with network provider EE, which is now the subject of acquisition bid from BT, the “superfast” 4G network is being taken to more and more cities and seen as arguably better way of connecting people than getting better WiFi in place.

“As the demand for superfast connectivity, access to data and the rapidly growing ‘Internet of Things’ are becoming more vital to consumers and businesses, technology needs to keep evolving,” Pilu added on the topic.

“5G holds much promise but in order for it to be commercially deployed in 2020, it is essential that businesses, universities and digital stakeholders continue to collaborate. While much collaboration can be virtual, collaboration in physical space is still crucial to allow innovators to learn from each other and from researchers, and allow them develop and test in real environments, accelerating the development of next generation mobile technologies.”

This leads us to the debate of what must be done to improve mobile. As mentioned, the last 30 years have seen unprecedented development – but we cannot allow mobile innovation to stand still. Centres such as the Digital Catapult have been set up to ensure tomorrow’s digital ideas get the help and support needed to make them a reality.

The UK is also building an enviable private investment framework for entrepreneurs creating businesses in the mobile and digital spaces. Venture capital firms now have deeper pockets and are rightly excited about the potential upsides of fast-growth mobile-based companies. 


The dominance of the Apple iOS and Google Android operating platforms is being challenged by Windows, Chinese options and even the second (or third/fourth depending on your viewpoint) coming of Blackberry. Developers now have an incredible array of software to play with when it comes to producing new products for mobile.

When the 60th anniversary of the first mobile phone call rolls round at the beginning of 2045 it’s fair to say that the mobile and the world it inhabits will be a very different place. Wearable devices are on the rise and could shape the way we interact with mobile for years to come. Google Glass is also changing the way we interact with the spaces we move and operate in, creating a kind of real time augmented reality. But with implants and smart material in their infancy, it’s hard to map out where mobile will go. We at Real Business would love to hear your thoughts below.