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In telecommunication, a cellular mobile or cell phone (in the United States), also called a mobile phone (in the United Kingdom and Ireland) is a mobile communications system that uses a combination of radio wave transmission and conventional telephone switching to permit telephone communication to and from mobile users within a specified area.

The term does not comprise the so-called portable phone or cordless phone, which is associated with a fixed telephone landline and can only be operated close to (less than 100 metres of) its base station, such as in and around the house. The term 'cell phone' applies specifically to mobile phones which use a cellular network; satellite phones are also mobile phones, but not cellular.

Mobile phones have existed at least since the 1950s, though the distinction becomes blurry when special systems are used to "patch" conventional Radiotelephones (2-way radio) into a phone network with the assistance of human operators. Modern mobile phones can make and receive calls automatically, operating as would a normal phone (though most have a superset of the ability of fixed-line phones).

Mobile phones began to proliferate through the 1980s with the introduction of "cellular" phones, with multiple base stations located relatively close to each other, and protocols for the automated "hand-off" between two cells when a phone moved from one cell to the other. In this era, mobile phones were somewhat larger than current ones, and many were designed for permanent installation in cars, or as "transportable" phones the size of a briefcase.

As technology improved throughout the 1990s, the larger "bricks" disappeared and tiny hand-held phones became the norm.

In most of Europe, wealthy parts of Asia, and Australasia, mobile phones are now virtually universal, with the majority of the adult, teenage, and even child population owning one. They are less common in the United States - whilst widely available, market penetration is much lower than elsewhere in the developed world. Reasons advanced for this include incomplete coverage, fragmented networks making roaming difficult, inferior network technology, relatively high minimum monthly service charges, relatively low-cost fixed-line networks, and the car-centric nature of US society.

The effects of antitrust legislation in the United States breaking up the nationwide Bell network may also have had an effect. In other parts of the world the competing mobile phone companies have offered a wide range of service plans from pre-paid cards to high flat rate subscriptions. They have also resorted to cut-throat discounting, normally selling handsets at high discounts (including wholly subsidised units) in return for long term (usually 1-year) contracts with high disconnection costs and handsets locked to single networks (SIMLOCKS). Such practices allowed many consumers to obtain a mobile phone and caused spectacular market penetration. The experience of the American telephone companies with antitrust cases in the 1980s and 1990s meant that they would be reluctant to engage in these practices to build their customer base.

Due to their low establishment costs and rapid deployment, mobile phone networks are rapidly spreading throughout the developing world, outstripping the growth of fixed-line[?] telephony. Such networks can often be economic, even with a small customer base, as mobile network costs are mostly call volume related, while fixed-line telephony has a much higher subscriber related cost component.

Cellular telephony

A cell phone is a portable telephone which receives or sends messages through a Cell site, or transmitting tower. Radio waves are used to transfer signals to and from the cell phone. Each cell site[?] has a range of 3-5 miles and overlaps other cell sites. All of the cell sites are connected to one or more cellular switching exchanges which can detect the strength of the signal received from the telephone. As the telephone user moves or roams from one cell area to another, the exchange automatically switches the call to the cell site with the strongest signal.

The term "cell phone" is uncommon outside of the US and Japan. However, almost all mobile phones use cellular technology, including GSM, CDMA and the old analog mobile phone systems. Hence, many people use the term "cell phone" to mean any mobile telephone system. The exception to mobile phones using cellular technology are satellite phones.

The Iridium phone system is very like a cell phone system except the cell sites are in orbit. The marine radio telephone satellites administered by INMARSAT have a completely different system (see below).

Old systems pre-dating the cellular principle may still be in use in places. The most notable real hold-out is that many amateur radio operators maintain phone patches in their clubs' VHF repeaters.

Early mobiles were analog; newer ones are digital.

There are a number of different digital cellular technologies; these include: GSM, CDMA, DECT.

Mobile phone technology is often divided into generations: 1G, 2G, 2.5G, 3G:

All of these technologies were based on cellular technology. However, satellite based phones are called mobile phones too.

Major mobile phone manufacturers include Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola.

Many mobile phones support 'auto-roaming', which permits the same phone to be used in multiple countries. However, both countries must use the same mobile system and the same frequencies, and there must be an agreement between the two countries' telephone operators.

In the UK, mobile phones are often called simply mobiles. In Germany, they are called Handys. In Sweden they are sometimes called nalle, or "teddy bear", referring to the fact that many people always carry them around and feel insecure if they misplace them.

Mobile phones must be distinguished from portable phones[?] (called cordless phones in the US); with a portable phone the user purchases their own base station, which they connect to a landline, the range of the phone is generally restricted to under 50 m, and the phones operate on a different frequency and protocol (e.g. DCTS[?] in North America; DECT in Europe).

Mobile phones do not only support voice calls; they can also send and receive data and faxes (if a computer is attached), sending short messages (or "text messages"; see Short Message Service), access WAP services, and provide full Internet access using technologies such as GPRS. Mobile phones often have a clock and a calculator and often one can play some games on them. Newer models also allow for sending pictures and have a built-in digital camera. This gives rise to some concern about privacy, in view of possible voyeurism, for example in swimming pools.

Newer models have included many features aimed towards personalisation, such as user defined ring tones and operator logos, and interchangeable covers, which have helped in the uptake by the teenage market.


Inmarsats use a completely different system. Basically, the satellite simply retransmits whatever signals it receives. The mobile stations actually log into a ground station. More information is available at INMARSAT.

Note: In cellular mobile systems, large geographical areas are segmented into many smaller areas, i.e., cells, each of which has its own radio transmitters and receivers and a single controller[?] interconnected with the public switched telephone network. Synonyms cellular phone, mobile phone, cellular radio, cellular telephone.

Source: from Federal Standard 1037C

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