The first mobile phones cost $6,800 and we paid $70 per month plus 70c a minute to talk on them.
If that was 1987’s version of cellular technology, what will 2020’s version be?
Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Auckland, Kevin Sowerby, was a graduate student when those first brick-like mobiles appeared.
Today he gives his inaugural lecture on the history of cellular technology and what the future may hold.
“Since the late 1980s, we’ve gone through four generations of cellular technology and with each development, demand simply keeps rising,” he says.
“It’s estimated that by 2020, the total number of wirelessly connected devices worldwide will be 24 billion, a huge number.”
While extra capacity has been wrung from the radio spectrum - which makes wireless connection possible - by building ever more cell sites, we are running out of channels.
According to Professor Sowerby, this ‘spectrum deficit’ means that in the United States for example, demand will exceed supply by around fifty percent by 2019.
“There just aren’t enough radio channels that can be allocated by government, the spectrum is already allocated to other services such as broadcasting, microwave links, navigation, satellites, ships and aircraft,” he adds.
“But even if we can find enough spectrum by 2020, there will be even greater demand beyond that time.”
For Professor Sowerby, that’s because many new wireless technologies are either only just arriving or still on the drawing board.
They include ‘augmented reality’ systems which allow users to view their environment through a mobile device, for example travel directions or carbon monoxide levels on the street.
Next up will be machine-to-machine communications such as the ‘connected’ or driverless car which tops the list for forecast wireless demand, Professor Sowerby predicts - close behind are health remote monitoring, assisted living and home and building security.
“How this demand will be met is a major challenge, will we have to look at using frequencies which are an order of magnitude higher than those we currently use?” Professor Sowerby adds.
“Only at these so called “millimetric wave” frequencies is there unallocated spectrum, but these incredibly high frequencies are not well-suited to conventional mobile use.”