It's been 40 years since the first cell phone call

Martin Cooper, a former Motorola engineer, inventor and executive, made the first cellular mobile phone call 40 years ago this week, on April 3, 1973. 

That was revolutionary enough, but the modern age of the cell phone really took off six years ago when the iPhone was first launched in June 2007. We had smartphones before then, but with the iPhone we suddenly had rich access to the Web and two-way data in apps and elsewhere as never before.

The innovations in the last two years with Augmented Reality (AR) and Location-Based Services (LBS) are a great example of how mobile software is rapidly accelarating upon a base of wireless networks and hardware.

The speed of innovation is expanding so rapidly with wireless and mobile devices that Tom Soderstrom, chief technology officer for NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory says a mobile decade is now just three years, not 10. 

That means the iPhone is already two decades old and that my own functional age is closer to 20 decades—200 years! We are definitely seeing more innovation in our lifetimes than previous generations.

Soderstrom showed off a cool AR app in the AppStore called Spacecraft 3D at a recent Premier 100 conference.  With it, he was able to use his iPhone focused on a special AR target to produce a 3D image of Voyager and 10 other spacecraft.

Last week, Sujai Hajela, vice president and general manager of wireless networking at Cisco talked with me about the rapid expansion of mobile connections globally that should grow by about 13 times by 2017.

Cisco has worked with chips from cellular radio chip maker Qualcomm to bring more intelligence to the wireless network through Cisco’s Network Mobility Service Engine, Hajela said.

Location analytics a few years ago were primarily based on GPS, which uses a radio in a smartphone to communicate with a satellite to tell your phone’s location within about 3 meters to 5 meters of accuracy.  By using triangulation with cell towers and even Wi-Fi access points and other methods, that accuracy can be reduced to about 1 meter with hyper-location technologies, Hajela said. When compared with a store’s physical layout in a database, that location information becomes powerful.

Some of the other location methods available are based on software interpretations of things we might never imagine.  In one example, the accelerometer in a smartphone can be monitored to determine what angle the smartphone is being held, with that information handed to the network for comparison with other data.  The angle of a signal that a cell tower receives can also be used for tracking. Where we were positioned a minute ago can be used to predict our pathway, Hajela said.

All of that information can become important for a person walking through a store, shopping for items on a shelf.  A retailer can compare our location data, if we allow it, to our prior buying behaviors.  Conceivably, a savvy retailer can send us data  to help us make better decisions on a product, or to offer tips for how to operate or use a product, or where to go in the store to buy it or find accessories for it.

“There are multiple systems and multiple things being collated,” Hajela said.  The potential for using prior data with real-time location information is still not being realized, although it will also be important for industrial uses, as a worker in a large manufacturing facility or within the bowels of a ship or plane finds and repairs a broken part.

The use of wireless networks to help monitor and track medical device sensors is still untapped. We already know about wireless capsules that can send data to a smartphone as the medicine they contain is dispersed through the body.  The Internet of Things is expanding to sensors in cars, in houses, in planes and wind turbines, almost all of it connected with a wireless link at some point in the network.

At the pace of late, Soderstrom might need to collapse his mobile decade to just two years, if not 18 months. Did Marty Cooper and his colleagues have any idea in the 1970s how many doors they would open with the cell phone?

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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