First UK Mobile Phone Call
Mobiles are such an everyday part of our lives now that it is hard to think of being without one: but the technology is relatively recent – it was only 1985 when what would become Vodaphone launched its network, quickly followed by Cellnet (which evolved into O2).
As is the way of such things, the launch required a celebrity. Reg Varney of On the Buses fame had made the first withdrawal from a cash-machine in the UK; Ernie Wise had the honour of making the first commercial mobile phone call here. On January 1 1985 Wise for whatever reason dressed in a costume straight out of a Dickens novel, made a call - in front of crowds of reporters and photographers - from St Katherine’s Dock in London to Newbury where the company was headquartered.
When the service was launched Vodaphone predicted the eventual market would be 2 million; Cellnet was more conservative, expecting half that. Perhaps they figured only the fittest would be able to carry the brick-sized (and weighted) portables as they tended to be called then; or more realistically, that given the price (£2k or so) they would be restricted to yuppies, who did indeed snap them up, loving the exclusivity for a while of shouting: “I’m on the phone,” in trains and on the streets. Now it is rare for someone not to have a mobile.
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