The 1947 Paper That First Described a Cell-Phone Network

hexagons.jpg

In 1947, the same year that the transistor was invented and 40 years before there were a million American cell-phone subscribers, an engineer at Bell Labs sketched out the rough design for a standard cellular phone network. In just eight pages of body text, D.H. (Doug) Ring laid the intellectual groundwork for what is our most widespread digital information technology. Ring was thinking about car phones and it took a long time for technology to catch up to the vision, but the basics are there.

"In this memorandum it is postulated that an adequate mobile radio system should provide service to any equipped vehicle at any point in the whole country," Ring wrote. "Some of the features resulting from this conception of the problem are discussed along with reference to a rather obvious plan for providing such service. The plan which is outlined briefly is not proposed as the best solution resulting from exhaustive study, but rather is presented as a point of departure for discussion and comparison of alternative suggestions which may be made."

Indeed, this paper was just a Bell Labs technical memorandum, one of many thousands. It was never published outside the laboratory.

It's worth noting that Ring was not quite the very first person to imagine a cell network. That honor goes to another Bell engineer, W.R. Young, who Ring says "pointed out ... the best general arrangement for the minimum interference and with a minimum number of frequencies is a hexagonal layout in which each station is surrounded by six equidistant stations." But he was the first to put ink on paper and describe the consequences of the system.

The complete paper is presented for your perusal below with thanks to Alcatel-Lucent, which inherited the intellectual heritage of Bell Labs.

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In