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How did 60's mobile phones work?
September 6, 2007 11:14 AM   Subscribe

How did 60's mobile phones work?

The other day I saw an episode of The Andy Griffith Show whose plot revolved around a wealthy businessman arriving in town (a furniture polish mogul, natch). One of the ways you knew that this guy was seriously wealthy was that he had a phone in his car, which connected via a switchboard to a land line. It was a color episode of the show, which would place it in the latter half of the 60's, which is still well before the networks were built out.

How would such a device have worked? CB was around, but there's no privacy. Would access to the relevant spectrum have been available to civilians at the time?
posted by mkultra to Technology (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
They were extremely expensive because there wasn't a lot of spectrum available for it. I'm pretty sure that the phone company used a business band for it, and each mobile was assigned a frequency. As a result it wasn't possible for there to be more than a handful of them in any given metropolitan area.

Correct that there was no privacy, but those frequencies wouldn't have been very fruitful to monitor manually (by snoopers) because they didn't get used much. And there were no automated scanners then.

The business bands are much longer wavelength than the ones currently used for cellular, which means that a single tower could have served a very large area, but not very many mobiles. (Also, I think the tower and the mobiles ran at much higher transmitter power levels.) So they really were very expensive.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:18 AM on September 6, 2007


IIRC about $1100.00 per month, and there may have been no more than a half dozen "lines" available, and you usually had to wait for a line.
posted by Gungho at 11:30 AM on September 6, 2007


wikipedia: History of mobile phones
posted by jepler at 11:33 AM on September 6, 2007


phrack magazine: Mobile Telephone Communications By Phantom Phreaker (1986)
posted by jepler at 11:38 AM on September 6, 2007


In the early days you had some proprietary stuff (MTA?) usually taking up the 800mhz frequency in the form of two way radio that may or may not have looked like a phone. Proper cell communication didnt start until the AMPS (1970s) days.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:41 AM on September 6, 2007


Here's the obligatory Wikipedia article on the history of mobile phones

At first they were basically analog radios (like CB) with a dedicated spectrum that an operator would listen to and then patch you into the regular phone network.

The search term "Phone Patch" might give you more information and point to other similar technologies (e.g. Marine Operators which do the same thing for Boat radios)
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:55 AM on September 6, 2007


The spectrum currently used for 800 MHz cellular used to be UHF TV channels 73-77 and 80-83. For the last 20 years or so the FCC has been trying to reclaim the vast tracts of spectrum which were originally allocated in the 50's for television broadcast use. They're in the final stages of opening up another cellular band in the range of 400 MHZ, by clearing out the last few remaining UHF broadcast stations using those frequencies. But the 1960's phones used other, much lower frequency spectrum.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:13 PM on September 6, 2007


I used a radio phone in the early 80s at a remote camp. It used to cost about $6 a minute at that time plus the annual radio license. To use you'd contact a radio phone operator and they would call the party you wanted to contact and then patch you through. Privacy was essentially nil. Besides the radio operator listening for the end of the call you were broadcasting on well known frequencies without encryption. I think the camp had its own specific frequency, I don't ever remember a party line situation arising. Mind you at two hours labour per minute it wasn't used for casual calling.

They same thing was possible in the CB world by contacting a CB base station and asking the operator to connect you to a land line. The experience was similar except radio phones were full duplex and CB is only half duplex. My parent's towing business used CB radio for dispatching and they had a semi-automated cb-landline patch rig.
posted by Mitheral at 12:19 PM on September 6, 2007


IIRC about $1100.00 per month, and there may have been no more than a half dozen "lines" available, and you usually had to wait for a line.

I'm curious how the operator knew you were a $1100-paying customer. One would think that back in those days you could just carry around a patched transceiver in your car and place calls like a big shot.
posted by rolypolyman at 2:18 PM on September 6, 2007


I'm curious how the operator knew you were a $1100-paying customer.

Around here a system similar to SelCall, CTCSS, or MFC was used to ID the caller. The original ones I've seen used little tuning forks rather than electronic oscillators to generate the tones!
posted by Pinback at 2:37 PM on September 6, 2007


Whoa. This is totally off topic but a tuning fork powered steampunk dtmf generator would rock.
posted by frieze at 4:06 PM on September 6, 2007


The original television remote controls used tuning forks, too. No batteries; they were strictly mechanical.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:38 PM on September 6, 2007


The original television remote controls used tuning forks, too. No batteries; they were strictly mechanical.
My brother-in-law used to have one of these old sets. You could hold out your keys and jangle them and the TV would randomly change channels or adjust the volume.

posted by blueberry at 2:47 PM on September 7, 2007


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