Beginning in 1918 the German railroad system tested wireless telephony on military trains between Berlin and Zossen. In 1924, public trials started with telephone connection on trains between Berlin and Hamburg. In 1925, the company Zugtelephonie A. G. was founded to supply train telephony equipment and in 1926 telephone service in trains of the Deutsche Reichsbahn and the German mail service on the route between Hamburg and Berlin was approved and offered to 1st class travelers.The Second World War made military use of radio telephony links. Hand-held radio transceivers have been available since the 1940s. Mobile telephones for automobiles became available from some telephone companies in the 1940s. Early devices were bulky, consumed high power, and the network supported only a few simultaneous conversations.

In the United States, engineers from Bell Labs began work on a system to allow mobile users to place and receive telephone calls from automobiles, leading to the inauguration of mobile service on 17 June 1946 in St. Louis, Missouri. Shortly after, AT&T offered Mobile Telephone Service. A wide range of mostly incompatible mobile telephone services offered limited coverage area and only a few available channels in urban areas. The introduction of cellular technology, which allowed re-use of frequencies many times in small adjacent areas covered by relatively low powered transmitters, made widespread adoption of mobile telephones economically feasible.

Prior to 1973, mobile telephony was limited to phones installed in cars and other vehicles.Motorola was the first company to produce a handheld mobile phone. On April 3, 1973, Martin Cooper, a Motorola researcher and executive, made the first mobile telephone call from handheld subscriber equipment, placing a call to Dr. Joel S. Engel of Bell Labs, his rival.

 

First automatic analogue cellular systems deployed were NTT’s system first used in Tokyo in 1979, later spreading to the whole of Japan, and NMT in the Nordic countries in 1981.

The first analogue cellular system widely deployed in North America was the Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS). It was commercially introduced in the Americas in 13 October 1983, Israel in 1986, and Australia in 1987. AMPS was a pioneering technology that helped drive mass market usage of cellular technology, but it had several serious issues by modern standards. It was unencrypted and easily vulnerable to eavesdropping via a scanner; it was susceptible to cell phone “cloning” and it used a Frequency-division multiple access (FDMA) scheme and required significant amounts of wireless spectrum to support.In the 1990s, the ‘second generation’ mobile phone systems emerged. Two systems competed for supremacy in the global market: the European developed GSM standard and the U.S. developed CDMA standard.

The second generation introduced a new variant of communication called SMS or text messaging. It was initially available only on GSM networks but spread eventually on all digital networks. The first machine-generated SMS message was sent in the UK on 3 December 1992 followed in 1993 by the first person-to-person SMS sent in Finland.

2G also introduced the ability to access media content on mobile phones. In 1998 the first downloadable content sold to mobile phones was the ring tone, launched by Finland’s Radiolinja (now Elisa). Advertising on the mobile phone first appeared in Finland when a free daily SMS news headline service was launched in 2000, sponsored by advertising.

Mobile payments were trialed in 1998 in Finland and Sweden where a mobile phone was used to pay for a Coca-Cola vending machine and car parking. Commercial launches followed in 1999 in Norway. The first commercial payment system to mimic banks and credit cards was launched in the Philippines in 1999 simultaneously by mobile operators Globe and Smart.

The first full internet service on mobile phones was introduced by NTT DoCoMo in Japan in 1999.

The first pre-commercial trial network with 3G was launched by NTT DoCoMo in Japan in the Tokyo region in May 2001. NTT DoCoMo launched the first commercial 3G network on 1 October 2001, using the WCDMA technology. In 2002 the first 3G networks on the rival CDMA2000 1xEV-DO technology were launched by SK Telecom and KTF in South Korea, and Monet in the US. Monet has since gone bankrupt. By the end of 2002, the second WCDMA network was launched in Japan by Vodafone KK (now Softbank). European launches of 3G were in Italy and the UK by Three/Hutchison group, on WCDMA. 2003 saw a further eight commercial launches of 3G, six more on WCDMA and two more on the EV-DO standard.

 

During the development of 3G systems, 2.5G systems such as CDMA2000 1x and GPRS were developed as extensions to existing 2G networks. These provide some of the features of 3G without fulfilling the promised high data rates or full range of multimedia services. CDMA2000-1X delivers theoretical maximum data speeds of up to 307 kbit/s. Just beyond these is the EDGE system which in theory covers the requirements for 3G system, but is so narrowly above these that any practical system would be sure to fall short.

By the end of 2007, there were 295 million subscribers on 3G networks worldwide, which reflected 9% of the total worldwide subscriber base. About two thirds of these were on the WCDMA standard and one third on the EV-DO standard. The 3G telecoms services generated over $120 billion of revenues during 2007 and at many markets the majority of new phones activated were 3G phones. In Japan and South Korea the market no longer supplies phones of the second generation.

After 2009 the industry began looking to data-optimized 4th-generation technologies, with the promise of speed improvements up to 10-fold over existing 3G technologies. The first two commercially available technologies billed as 4G were the WiMAX standard (offered in the U.S. by Sprint) and the LTE standard, first offered in Scandinavia by TeliaSonera.

One of the main ways in which 4G differed technologically from 3G was in its elimination of circuit switching, instead employing an all-IP network. Thus, 4G ushered in a treatment of voice calls just like any other type of streaming audio media, utilizing packet switching over Internet, LAN or WAN networks via VoIP.