Man, it is amazing to me at where wireless mobile phones are today compared to where they were when I entered the business.  One thing that has definitely remained stable is the “coolness” factor.  It was as cool to have a phone back in 1987/1988 when I started my career as it is today to have an iPhone.

Back then I worked for a company called “Detroit Cellular Telephone Company” which was the “other” company in a duopoly system to provide cellular service in Detroit, MI. (DCTC as it was abbreviated then had other holdings in Lansing, Grand Rapids and Ohio at the time, but Detroit was the largest). And speaking of large, all those movies out today that show bag or brick phones to make us laugh…yep, that is what we sold.  That, or installed phones in your car, usually between the two front seats, with a wired handset and an antennae on the outside of the car.

I could be wrong on my history, but I also believe that in 1987 three important events happened in cellular:

  1. National subscribers exceeded 1 million
  2. CTIA was launched
  3. The FCC declared that cellular licensees could employ alternative cellular technologies in the 800 MHz band

In 1988 the analog networking cellular standard IS-41 was published. This Interim Standard sought to integrate seamlessly how various cellular switches and databases communicate with each other and the PSTN. This integration could allow “roamers” to travel cellular system to cellular system through handoffs and could also be validated for fraud or subscriber features.   

In 1990/1991 we at DCTC (now known as PacTel Mobile Services a holding of Pacific Telesis, one of the seven Regional Bell Operating Companies, created after the 1984 breakup of AT&T) were busy installing fiber from the cellular switch to the Cell Sites (fiber…it’s not just for backhaul anymore).  Ameritech (another RBOC) was our competitor in the MI and OH cellular marketplace, was experiencing competition in their local market from CLEC’s and decided to sell us fiber T-1 lines to the cell sites before we went with a competitor!

About that same time, IS-54 (Digital wireless technology (well dual mode really)) came out.  Think of this period in time as 2G digital wireless.

I bring this up because back in the early 1990’s cellular carries were using this digital network to sell services like SMS  (Short Message Service) and CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data).  SMS was created in 1995 for the hearing impared but subscribers were reluctant to use the service due to the cost.

Compare both of these technologies with today where over 2.5 billion text messages, are sent on a daily basis and data usage is expected to increase 600% over 2G busy hour traffic.

With all this usage, something had to change and today’s 4G systems are based on an entirely new packet-based architecture, which includes the use of Ethernet physical interfaces for interconnection between functional elements.    The higher bandwidth required by 4G cell sites, as well as the use of native Ethernet as the physical interface for connection and transport of these services back to the switch is driving this change. 

Reminds me of when we moved from copper to fiber back in the early 1990’s!

Check out this oldie!