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Definition: cellphone

(CELLular telePHONE) The first ubiquitous wireless telephone. Prototyped in 1973 and launched as a service in the U.S. by AT&T a decade later, the first cellular systems were analog. All digital today, the cellphone has turned into a handheld personal computer (see smartphone and cellphone vs. smartphone). A cellphone is also called a "mobile," "mobile phone," "handset" or "cell." In the U.S., there are more than 20 companies offering cellphone service (see MVNO).

First Mobile Cellphone Call
American engineer Martin Cooper, considered the father of the cellphone, made the first mobile call on a prototype Motorola handset in 1973, but it would take another decade before the phone became a commercial product. This 2007 photo was a reenactment of that call made to a rival engineer at AT&T working on a similar project.

Exploding Worldwide by the 1990s
Throughout the 1990s, cellphone sales were booming worldwide, and three billion units were in use by 2008. The mobile phone became an addiction for many people (see nomophobia). By 2012, there were more than 300 million cellphone subscriptions (including smartphones) in the U.S. Although third-world countries adopted cellphones without ever having landlines, by 2016, half the homes in the U.S. relied only on cellular technology.

Major Carriers Worldwide
Following are the top ten carriers by revenue as of 2022:
   AT&T (U.S.)
   Verizon (U.S.)
   China Mobile (China)
   Nippon Telegraph & Telephone (Japan)
   Deutsche Telekom (Germany)
   T-Mobile (U.S.)
   Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (Japan)
   Vodafone (U.K.)
   Orange (France)
   KDDI Corp. (Japan)
   Telefonica (Spain)

Cell Technology
Geographic areas are divided into slightly overlapping circular "cells." Each cell contains a base station that is identifiable by its transmitting and receiving antennas located on a tower at the top of a hill or building. The base stations connect to the landline phone system of the country and to the Internet.

Multiple cells combined with low power transmitters allow the same frequencies to be used with different conversations in different cells within the same city or locale. The primary digital cellphone technologies are LTE, GSM, CDMA and TDMA. See 3G, PCS, AMPS, LTE, GSM, CDMA, TDMA, WAP, feature phone, cellspace, cellular network extender, screaming cellphone and cordless phone.

The Cells
Multiple base stations cover a geographic area. As the mobile user travels, the call is automatically "handed off" to the next station. The more cells, the greater number of customers supported at the same time, because the same frequencies are used within each cell.

First Commercial Cellphone in U.S.
On sale starting in 1984, this Motorola DynaTAC 8000X cost $3,995 and weighed two pounds. See DynaTAC. (Image courtesy of Motorola, Inc.)

Could They Have Imagined?
As Europeans began to use their new-fangled Ericsson phones in the late 1800s, could they have imagined today's smartphones? Photo taken at Antoni Gaudi's famous "La Pedrera" apartment house in Barcelona.

A Cellphone to Die For
This "fantasy coffin" is in the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. Popularized in the mid-1950s by Ghanaian artist Kane Kwei, each custom-crafted coffin was built to illustrate an important aspect of the deceased's life.