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The first mobile phone on wheels

The year is 1950. A Volkswagen bus drives over to the island of Lidingö, outside the Swedish capital of Stockholm. After nearly five years of development and testing, the day had arrived for the launch of world’s first fully automated system for mobile telephony. From the bus, a voice was transmitted to a boat anchored in a marina just outside the southern city of Trelleborg, over 600km away: ”Hello, this is the Norwegian steamer, Birkeland.” The voice was clear and distinct. No disturbance on the line. It was hard to tell who was more surprised, the voice on boat or the one in the car.

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The service quickly became popular, spread to 25 cities, and had thousands of subscribers. However, the technique was very heavy and bulky. The transmitter consisted of vacuum pipes and 46 mechanical relays, weighing around 40 kilograms. It also took up most of the trunk.

It did, unfortunately, also break easily and required a lot of maintenance. In addition it drained so much power from the battery that the car could barely drive. They used to joke that there was enough power for two calls, the second to the mechanic. The connection took eight seconds - the tubes needed to get hot first. Ericsson supplied the gear and base station for this. Mobile phones in cars had a range of 30 kilometers.

Of course, a lot of things have happened since that. Today your mobile phone has more computing power than the computers used for the Apollo 11 moon landing? What will happen in next 50 years?

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