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Remember the days when mobile phones really were the size of a house brick? We do because Carl AR Humphrey was dealing with mobile phones and airtime contracts back in the late 1980’s, back in the days where we all had to pay 25p per minute and were charged for the first minute - even if the call was one second long or someone’s answerphone clicked in! Even after the first minute customers were then billed in half minute increments and those users inside the M25 were paying a premium for every minute used!

 Fortunately none of our many customers pay those pricey call charges nowadays.


The first ‘mobile’ phone that we used did not even have a mobile number but a callsign, ours was SWIFT 152. Our next purchase was a BT badged product (Bronze), a sleek looking handset installed into a carrier larger than your average briefcase. Plug it into the vehicle cigarette lighter socket (not many vehicles actually had one in those days) and situate the magnetic 15’’ antennae onto the vehicle roof. However you dare not go too fast around the corners for fear of your £2500 portable phone unit falling off the passenger’s seat and rattling around the footwell!


Around the early 1990’s the Nokia Mobira (Nokia’s early name) Cityman was the phone of the city traders and high flyers choice. The Motorola 8000 series phones was one of the models that began to bring the mobile phone to the business owner not just the rich and famous. Certainly not a pocket sized phone the 8000 series was a lethal weapon if launched at someone by its 6’’ screw in antennae! Suddenly the red BT phone boxes were no longer required by the forward thinking few who had signed up for a 3 year mobile phone contract with Vodac or British Telecom. With no free calls each month and only earning £1.50 per hour I had to be very careful as a 5 minute call to a friend could just about cost me an hours wage!


With a car kit fitted you could remove the battery from the 8000 series and slide the phone into a holder in the boot of your car. This would allow you to have hands free operation in the car using a mounted handset and a power boosted signal. Remember the coverage we enjoy today is vastly improved from the patchy signal 20 years ago, in some areas signal was restricted to main roads and towns only.


Always looking at ways to entice new users to a mobile phone we managed to get our hands on some sensibly priced Storno mobile phones, in reality a Motorola 8000 series phone but badged under a different name and sold in white. This was many years before it was trendy to have i-pods and mp3 players in fashionable white.  


The Motorola flip phone was the next big ‘must have’ and I can remember the first ones we sold were £500 + on 3 year contracts with quarterly billing, naturally battery life was not that great and this was years before texts and cameras were even thought of on mobile phones. Panasonic caught the public’s eye with the F1 which at least looked a little bit like the phones of today (although it did have a pull up aerial!)  and NEC had the angular, but tough as old boots P3.


At this stage when a customer was issued a mobile number the dealer had to program the number into the phone, each phone had a different procedure and often took 4 or 5 goes to get the number into the phone and the phone making calls! It was rumoured that dealers could get the NEC P3 into scan mode to scan other mobile phones in the area and listen to their conversation, or at least one half of the conversation if they were talking to another mobile. It was also not uncommon for a user to open their monthly bill and get the shock of their life with a bill of a couple of grand after getting their phone cloned. On most occasions the networks would waive part of the bill but not on all occasions!


The introduction of ‘digital’ mobile phones and sim cards stopped the cloning of mobile phones but there was a huge backward step in the network coverage, which did not instantly outweigh the benefits of European use and per second billing.


Motorola were the major GSM UK manufacturer of choice as they had enjoyed excellent success with the analogue MicroTac II, but the Motorola 7000 series flip phones were not everyone’s choice and Nokia and Ericsson were introducing newer better models on a regular basis. Over the next few years we saw Philips. Alcatel, Orbitel and others come to market but the introduction of text messaging was the biggest thing to hit the industry. Not hugely different to today’s text messaging (apart from the limit on characters) it was an instant hit and was to earn the networks millions, even billions in years to come.


The Nokia 1611, 3110, 5110 and 6110 were all huge successes for Nokia. Ericsson, prior to their join up with Sony, also had a loyal following with models such as the 318 and 388. We were by now all using a mini sim card not the credit card sized sim cards that we all started with. That said the first mini sim cards had a phonebook with a memory for just 10 mobile numbers, although sims were soon available with 50 numbers on. The one thing that has not improved dramatically over the last 10 years is in fact the size of the phonebook on sim cards as even in 2008 the best you can get is 250 numbers on a sim card.


Sim card memory aside the other industry improvements have been at startling rate with cameras, videos, Bluetooth, data, voice recorders, e-mail, faxes, games, internet and mp3 players being introduced.


So here we are today with many models available free of charge when signing up with a new provider. Hands free kits are available with colour displays and Blackberry devices allow us to send/receive our e-mails when skiing in Chamonix, sunbathing in Cannes or cruising in California. Data modules that make laptops as good as your desktop computer and data cards that allow truck drivers to receive faxed delivery notes mean in today’s age peoples ‘office’ is wherever they happen to be in the world.






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