Celebrating 50 years of Wireless Technology

Mon, April 03, 2023

Fifty years ago today, NAE member Martin Cooper made the first-ever cellphone call. On April 3,1973 Cooper, a Motorola engineer, called his competitor Joel Engel, head of AT&T-owned Bell Labs, on a handheld mobile phone prototype called “the brick," nicknamed in reference to its’ 26-ounce weight. On the call to Engel, Cooper said, "I'm calling you on a cell phone, but a real cell phone, a personal, handheld, portable cell phone.” This iconic moment signifies one of the most impactful engineering innovations in the past fifty years, forever changing how we communicate and enabling today’s connectedness.

NAE President John Anderson (C) connects with two pioneers of the wireless communications industry, NAE Members Marty Cooper (L) who is credited with making the first cell phone call, and Andrew Viterbi (R) whose mathematical formula paved the way for widespread digital communicat.

Martin Cooper has been a contributor to personal wireless communication technology for more than 50 years. He knew that people needed the freedom of anywhere, anytime cellular communication, as opposed to being tethered to a desk, or a car. Cooper has been referred to as the father of portable cellular technology and is recognized as an innovator in spectrum management. He was a division manager and head of R&D for Motorola during a 29-year tenure. Prior to that he was a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy. As an entrepreneur, Cooper started a number of businesses including co-founding GreatCall, Inc., maker of the Jitterbug phone and service, and ArrayComm, a leader in smart antenna technology.

Cooper_CellPhoneApril3.1973 (002).jpgIn 2013, Cooper, Engel and three others shared the NAE’s prestigious Charles Stark Draper Prize for “pioneering contributions to the world’s first cellular telephone networks, systems, and standards.” Recognized as one of the world's preeminent awards for engineering achievement, the Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering honors an engineer whose accomplishment has significantly impacted society by improving the quality of life, providing the ability to live freely and comfortably, and/or permitting the access to information. 

At the 2023 NAE Regional Meeting in San Diego, California, NAE President John Anderson (C) connected with NAE Members Marty Cooper (L) and Andrew Viterbi (R)— bringing together two pioneers of the wireless communications industry.

Andrew Viterbi is widely known for the creation of the "Viterbi Algorithm", a mathematical formula to eliminate signal interference. Like Cooper’s engineering innovation, Viterbi’s Algorithm paved the way for the widespread use of cellular technology. As noted by the University of Southern California, “today, the Viterbi Algorithm is used in all four international standards for digital cellular telephones, as well as in data terminals, digital satellite broadcast receivers and deep space telemetry. Viterbi is also the co-developer of CDMA -- Code Division Multiple Access -- the most widely used cell phone technology in the U.S.”

Together, these pioneers of wireless technology shaped the world of communication as we know it today.