30 years since first UK mobile call

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Published: Wednesday 31st December 2014 by The News Editor

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Vodafone is tonight marking 30 years since Britain’s first-ever mobile phone call was made on its newly-launched network.

The test call was made at midnight on January 1 1985 by the son of then boss Sir Ernest Harrison, using a cumbersome 11lb (5kg) device that was a world away from the streamlined smartphones of today.

Michael Harrison rang his father at his home in Surrey from London’s Parliament Square – later recalling that while the line was crystal clear the excited shouting of New Year revellers created considerable background noise.

Mr Harrison said in the call: “Hi Dad. It’s Mike. This is the first-ever call made on a UK commercial mobile phone network.”

It was to herald the start of the UK mobile revolution and came nine months after original parent company Racal Electronics announced the name of its Vodafone venture after winning a bid for the private sector UK cellular licence.

Following the test call there was a public launch days later featuring comedian Ernie Wise, who rang using the same device from London’s St Katherine’s Dock to Vodafone’s original headquarters above an Indian restaurant in Newbury, Berkshire.

The first generation of mobile phones were sold in the UK from 1984, before the network was officially live.

Yet such was the demand that more than 2,000 orders had been taken by Vodafone before Mr Harrison had made his initial call.

By the end of 1985, more than 12,000 devices had been sold.

Today, Vodafone has 438 million customers with mobile operations in 26 countries.

The original devices were “far from portable” and at £2,000 – equivalent to £5,000 in today’s prices – did not come cheap.

But they gained cache in the emerging “yuppie” culture, targeted by early adverts featuring Ferrari-driving executives.

Saatchi & Saatchi encapsulated the new phenomenon in full-page newspaper ads declaring: “You can be in when you’re out.”

Today, Vodafone group chief commercial and operations officer Paolo Bertoluzzo said the business had “changed beyond all recognition over the last three decades”.

He 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.”

Published: Wednesday 31st December 2014 by The News Editor

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