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The mobile phone, 30 years ago: photos

It's been 30 years since the first mobile phone call was made on Telstra's network, then called Telecom Australia, without the assistance of an operator. The phones were tied down to a car and cost a fortune to own, but they set the foundation for today's cellular network. Here's how they used to build them.
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By Michael Lee, Journalist on
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1 of 7 Michael Lee/ZDNet

(Credit: Telstra)

The car phone system weighed 14kg, had a 45cm handset. The handset cost nearly $5000, or $17,000 in today's terms.

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2 of 7 Michael Lee/ZDNet

(Credit: Telstra)

It cost an additional $350 to install and required a radio transmitter be attached to the boot of the car. It could store 16 numbers and alerted owners of a call by honking the car's horn or flashing its headlights.

NEC gifted Telecom with a gold-plated mobile phone (pictured), which Telstra claims to be possibly one of the first "blinged out" phones in the world.

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3 of 7 Michael Lee/ZDNet

(Credit: Telstra)

This is the manual for the phone.

When it was launched in 1981, reception for the network covered the greater Melbourne area and Sydney. There were just three base stations in Melbourne and five in Sydney.

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4 of 7 Michael Lee/ZDNet

(Credit: Telstra)

Two years later, Brisbane was included in reception coverage, but it wouldn't be until 1985 that all capital cities would be connected. The photo is an advertising campaign for the device.

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5 of 7 Michael Lee/ZDNet

(Credit: Telstra)

Telecom workers demonstrate the device.

Telstra executive director of networks and access technologies, Mike Wright, was a graduate engineer in 1981 and oversaw the installation of the first mobile network exchange in Brisbane.

"Back in 1981 I never imagined there would be more mobile devices in Australia than people, and that they could be used to watch live TV, someday feature 3D content and become a critical way to how we connect," Wright said.

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6 of 7 Michael Lee/ZDNet

(Credit: Telstra)

While the 007 network, or public automatic mobile telephone system (PAMTS), wasn't a true cellular service like the ones used today and operated for a relatively short period, it did play an important role.

"We called the first Telstra network the 007 network because that was the number range it used and while in today's terms it was more like a 'Zero-G' network, it was the foundation of Australia's modern mobile phone industry. In just 30 years we're now building a '4G' network that's five generations of mobile evolution so far in my career," Wright said.

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7 of 7 Michael Lee/ZDNet

(Credit: Telstra)

John Burgess, better known for hosting Wheel of Fortune, was one of the first in Australia to have a car phone.

However, just a few years later, in 1987, Telecom launched its cellular network and the first handheld mobile phones, or "bricks", started to appear on the market.

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