LONDON: It’s been 30 years since the first ever call on a mobile phone was made. Can you remember the first time you spoke on a mobile, or even better owned your own one?
Michael Harrison, the son of former Vodafone chairman Sir Ernest Harrison, became the first to test the system when he called his father at midnight on January 1 1985.
Mr Harrison had secretly left his family’s New Year’s Eve party at their home in Surrey to surprise his father, calling him from London’s Parliament Square on the newly-launched Vodafone network.
He made the call from the 11lb (5kg) Transportable Vodafone VT1, which boasted around 30 minutes of talk time.
As Sir Ernest answered the phone, his son said: “Hi Dad. It’s Mike. This is the first-ever call made on a UK commercial mobile network.”
Mr Harrison recalled that the line was “crystal clear”, and his conversation was complicated only by the shouting of New Year’s Eve revellers.
He said: “The setting was quite dramatic, standing by the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square surrounded by curious New Year’s Eve revellers.
“I think neither they nor I had even seen a mobile phone before, let alone used one.
“There was also a little bit of cloak and dagger fun sneaking out of the family New Year’s party to get whisked up to London to make the surprise call to my father.
“It was just like a normal telephone call – at least that’s my recollection. I thought it might somehow sound quite different talking to somebody on a cellular network so it was a bit of a surprise that everything was so clear.”
He said he had no idea at the time that the mobile phone would become ubiquitous within a generation.
He said: “I did think that mobile would catch on, but more for people who had to be in contact like that, not as an indispensable part of everyone’s daily life.
“Looking at the size of those first devices it would have taken a rare imagination to see the true future. Having said that, my father, for years before this first network went live, was often telling us how mobile phones would change the world.”
Days later, a crowd gathered at St Katherine’s Dock in London to watch comedian Ernie Wise make the first public mobile phone call.
Wise took the same device used by Mr Harrison to the event in a 19th century mail coach to highlight the convenience of the new mobile phone.
Wise’s call was received at the original Vodafone headquarters in Newbury, Berkshire, where a handful of employees were based in an office above an Indian restaurant.
Such was the demand for a fully portable, cellular phone that more than 2,000 orders had been taken by the Vodafone sales team before Mr Harrison made his call from Parliament Square.
By the end of 1985, more than 12,000 devices had been sold.
All were far from portable and cost around £2,000 – equivalent to roughly £5,000 today.
However, the early mobile phones symbolised a revolution in communications and were an instantly desirable item, and the brick-like devices featured in films and television shows from Wall Street to Only Fools And Horses.
The first wave of full-page adverts, created by the Saatchi & Saatchi agency, declared: “You can be in when you’re out.”
Mungo Park was the first person to buy a cellular phone in the UK and was Vodafone’s first-ever customer.
He was persuaded by his friend Ivan Donn, a salesman at Vodafone, to buy the VM1, a Panasonic in-car handset, 30 years ago for £1,200.
Mr Park said: “The impact of the phone was fantastic, adding an extra 90 minutes to my day and it quickly paid for itself.
“I could use the call to say goodnight to my children if I was heading home from work or running late, as well as calling businesses in different time zones day or night.”
Britons now make more than 132 million mobile phone calls a day.
Vodafone group chief commercial and operations officer Paolo Bertoluzzo said: “At launch, the founders of Vodafone targeted British business executives, sales representatives, journalists, doctors and veterinary surgeons.
“Thirty years later, Vodafone’s customers range from young people in Europe, India and Africa through to the world’s largest multinational businesses.
“While our business has changed beyond all recognition over the last three decades, our goal and purpose haven’t: to continue to empower our customers, whoever and wherever they are, through connectivity as mobile, broadband and digital transform society in ways unimaginable in the 1980s.”