Happy Birthday mobile phone call! Find out how the UK got connected

The first handheld mobile phone call was made 45 years ago this week, we take a trip down memory lane at some other important communications milestones.

Last updated: 21 March 2018 - 12.50pm

On April 3rd 1973 the first mobile phone call was placed by Martin Cooper of Motorola - an important step to the smartphone-infiltrated world we live in today.

We’ve come a long way since the brick-like mobile phones and before that the days of operator-connected calls and party lines. From the first email and the use of dial-up internet to superfast broadband, 4G and smartphones, here are the top milestones that have been reached along the way.

[Read more: From dial up internet to early websites: 19 scenarios from the early days of the internet]

1876 – The first telephone call

On 10 March 1876, Edinburgh-born inventor Alexander Graham Bell spoke the words: “Mr Watson, come here – I want to see you” to his assistant in the next room using a telephone. Bell was also the inventor of the forerunner to the cordless phone – a “photo phone” that transmitted sound on a beam of light instead of electrical wires.

1891 – International calls between UK and France

The first international telephone service opened between London and Paris in 1891 – the first sub-sea cable linking two countries. Only two people could make a call at a time, using special booths in the city centres. The link was particularly popular with commercial organisations, journalists and those working on the stock exchanges.

Postcard of Automatic Exchange

1912 – Britain’s first automatic exchange opens

Early telephone calls relied on an operator putting each call through to the correct line. However, this began to change when the Post Office, whose telephony arm later became BT, opened automatic exchange. These allowed customers to be connected without the use of an operator. Human switchboard operators remained the norm in many areas for several years, both for areas that did not have automatic exchanges and for all long-distance or “trunk” calls.

1936 – The Speaking Clock makes its debut

BT’s Speaking Clock, which still receives more than 12 million calls a year, was introduced in 1936, costing one penny from home and tuppence from a phone box. The first Speaking Clock was accurate to within one tenth of a second. Today it is accurate to within five thousandths of a second. The service used to be known as “Tim”, as dialing the first three letters of “TIME” would call the clock.

1958 – The Queen makes the first self-dialled long distance call

The Queen made the first long distance call that did not require an operator. She called the Lord Provost of Edinburgh from Bristol. The call marked the inauguration of Subscriber Trunk Dialling, or STD for short, which allowed Bristol customers for the first time to dial other parts of the UK without the need for an operator.

[Read more: The Queen sends her first Tweet]

1972 – The first email sent

The first email was sent between two computers next to each other in 1972 by Ray Tomlinson, who is generally credited with having invented email. The text read “QWERTYIOP” and the message was sent via an Arpanet connection.


1973 - The first mobile handheld mobile phone call

Martin Cooper from Motorola invented the first mobile phone. He made the first phone call on an early protype calling Joel Engel, head of AT&T, from the streets of New York. Check out the video below to find out more.

1983 – The first mobile phone

Motorola released its first commercial mobile phone, known as the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, in 1983. It offered 30 minutes of talk-time, six hours on standby, and could store 30 phone numbers. It also cost £2,639 (nearly £8,000 today).

Motorola DynaTac - Wiki Comms

1992 – Dial-up internet rolls out

The UK’s first commercial internet service provider (ISP) was formed in 1990 and started to provide internet access in 1992. One of its first customers was Demon Internet – a major provider of internet access in the UK.

2000 – Broadband launches in the UK

Telewest offers cable broadband with maximum speeds of 512 kilobits per second.

2009 – 65 per cent of UK households have an internet connection

More than half of households now have internet at home, and 55 per cent access it every day, according to government figures.

2017 – The smartphone society

According to Ofcom, 81 per cent of adults have broadband and 93% own or use a a mobile phone, 71% a smartphone enabling them to get online on-the-go.

Read more: From the candlestick to the Mickey Mouse and the Halo - how the home phone has evolved

Credit: BT Archives