03. 03. 2023

20 Years of 3G in the UK

The year is 2003. The Black Eyed Peas are topping the charts with the single “Where Is the Love?" while the mobile scene is dominated by simple voice and SMS from existing telcos BT Cellnet (O2), Orange, One2One (T-Mobile) and Vodafone Airtouch (Vodafone). A new mobile network operator is preparing to enter the stage and conquer the British market.

Twenty years ago today, Hutchison 3G launched the UK’s first 3G network, using the brand Three (stylised as “3”). The launch marked a turning point in the UK market - the introduction of 3G technology was expected to revolutionise mobile communications, providing faster internet speeds, video calling, and other multimedia services.

Three's Launch Logo

Three’s original logo from launch in 2003

It’s often forgotten that Three was a tech start-up swimming against the tide of the dot-com bubble burst with limited resources to deliver what cynics described as a pointless upgrade to the already perfectly functional 2G networks being delivered by existing operators. However, this was actually an advantage when building the network; it was a completely fresh start with total focus on delivering 3G with no legacy equipment to support or executives to convince of the benefits. 

The main focus was video calling. Previous attempts at video calls on 2G devices such as the Orange Videophone never achieved mainstream consumer support, whereas all of Three’s launch phones natively supported video calling. This was a big push by Canning Fok, who was Group Managing Director of Hutchison Whampoa (majority stakeholder of Three), who told the development teams that two way video had to work or they should go home.

Patricia Hewitt with the e606

Patricia Hewitt MP, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, makes a public mobile video call over Three's network to Canning Fok -  Image from Hutchison Whampoa in 2003.

The Mobile Phone Museum caught up with Peter Simpson, Director of Handset Technology at Three from 2000 to 2004. He recalled matters were not straightward at the network; “it's not called the bleeding edge for without reason”. Every aspect was being developed as the standards were still being ratified leading to some interesting interpretations. There was a massive focus on end to end interoperability testing, particularly as Three was taking a walled garden approach to content.

The three handsets that were ready for launch were the NEC e606, e808, and the Motorola A830. Both manufacturers were keen to push into the UK market, especially as they had lost large amounts of market share to Nokia, the dominant handset manufacturer at the time.

The Launch Devices - NEC e606, e808 and Motorola A830

The launch devices: NEC e606, e808 and Motorola A830

Simpson said that the 03/03/03 date was decided very late in the timeline - the original launch was aimed for Q2'2002 but this got pushed back to Q4'2002 and then into Q1'2003. The magic date was set and pressure was really put on across the company to make it a reality.

Jumping back to present day, Three is still a leading player in the UK telecoms market. However, the era of 3G is coming to an end - it plans to switch off the 3G network by the end of 2024.

Thank you to Peter Simpson, Peter Clarke and David Wheatley for their contributions to this blog.

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23. 01. 2023

Sea Cubs Phone Up the Past

Will and I were recently invited to the 2nd St Ives Sea Cubs in Cambridgeshire. It was an excellent opportunity for us to share the Mobile Phone Museum’s “Fantastic Phones” workshop. With my experience in the mobile industry and Will’s experience as a Scout Leader, we followed the timeline of the mobile phone from Martin Cooper’s first mobile phone call with a Motorola phone in New York in 1973 up to Steve Jobs’ unveiling the Apple iPhone in 2007.

The Cubs got hands-on with some highlights from the Mobile Phone Museum collection, including the Motorola 5000X, Orbitel 901, Nokia 9000 Communicator, Nokia 8110, Siemens SK65 and Motorola V70.

One of the Cubs holding the Motorola 5000X

After learning about the collection, the Cubs designed their phone of the future – influences included flexible display technology, longer battery life and the exploration of new input methods.

Thank you to 2nd St Ives for hosting the Mobile Phone Museum. We look forward to giving more workshops in the future.

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03. 12. 2022

30 Years of Texting Thanks to the Orbitel 901

On 3 December 1992, the first text message using the Short Message Service (SMS) was officially sent from a computer terminal in Reading, UK by an engineer at Sema Group Telecoms. It was received on an Orbitel 901 mobile phone by Richard Jarvis, the Engineering Director at Vodafone’s value-added services subsidiary Vodata. The message consisted of two words: “Merry Christmas”. It was sent to show off this unique new service to the CEO of Vodafone at a Christmas drinks gathering.

Orbitel 901 Front Mpmbrand Black

Forming part of the GSM 2G cellular standard, the SMS was envisaged as a secondary service for operators to send update messages of up to 160 characters to customers. When the standard was first launched, handset manufacturers didn’t include proper keypads because mobiles were regarded as only being used to make telephone calls and receive messages. At the time, text messaging was synonymous with pagers, so the idea that you could receive and send messages on a mobile phone was like something from a science fiction film.

However, the technology quickly caught on, and over the years we’ve increasingly seen a transition in the way we interact with a mobile phone — from voice to visual. Gone are the days when the default use of a phone was to hold it to your ear. Most people now spend more time looking at their mobile phones than talking into them. SMS was the catalyst for this transition.

Video from Vodafone UK showcasing the Museum's Orbitel 901

Working at Vodafone around 1994, I remember doing training on how to send and receive text messages using a Nokia 2110. People would give me a look of incredulity when I explained that to send my name as a text message I’d have to press the number 2 key twice, followed by a further two presses on both the 3 key and the 6 key — just to create three letters B - E - N on the phone’s screen. Before long people were getting so fast at texting on phones that they could pretty much touch-type on a numeric keypad. Phone makers were also starting to introduce innovative solutions to aid texting such as the Ericsson Chatboard and the Nokia 6800.Nokia 6800 OpenWe’ve now reached a point where people take text messaging on mobile phones for granted when they use services like WhatsApp that handle over 100 billion messages per day.

Over time, SMS text messages have largely been usurped by other messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Apple’s iMessage, WeChat, and others but the technology that started it all still has an important role as a reliable and robust basic messaging service. In the modern era, many people get texts with messages to authenticate an online purchase or confirm a login as it’s the lowest common denominator when it comes to sending a message and it’s still super reliable.

Not bad for a service that is now 30 years old, and was never intended to be used for person-to-person communications. 


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23. 11. 2022

Celebrating The First Year of the Mobile Phone Museum

It’s hard to believe it’s a year ago today that we officially launched the Mobile Phone Museum at a memorable event in central London. It was an evening attended by the great and the good of the mobile industry as well as key members of the technology media and various other supporters of our charity project. It was a huge undertaking to put on a “one-night only” exhibition, and this was only made possible through the generous support of Vodafone UK who remains our anchor sponsor.

Reflecting on the last 12 months I’m extremely proud of what we have achieved. We have continued our commitment to curating the world’s most authoritative collection of mobile phones. At the time of launch we had 2000 unique devices and this has grown by an impressive 500 additional mobile phones, the majority of which have been donated by members of the public and people who work in technology industry. Furthermore, we’ve also been extremely successful in securing 20 products on our “Most Wanted” list including the Nokia N950, Motorola Aura Diamond Edition, Samsung Serene and the Philips Ilium Synergy. These are all rare devices that help us set our collection further apart from others around the world.

The Mobile Phone Museum has also been popular with the media being featured in both print and video, highlights from the past 12 months include a video created by new smartphone maker Nothing and this excellent piece that appeared recently in Tech Radar Pro. We also appeared on Channel 5’s Big Antique Adventure as part of an “antiques of the future” slot. All of this enthusiasm and coverage has helped maintain interest in the Museum project and encouraged us to keep pushing hard to take it to the next level.

A key part of our mission is using the Mobile Phone Museum collection to help inspire what we hope will be the next generation of young designers and engineers. Although the pandemic has made it challenging to arrange school visits, we’ve successfully undertaken several pilots with primary schools in the south of England. We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive reaction to our workshops and hope that we can develop this element of the charity project more comprehensively in 2023. At present we are in discussions with a number of potential sponsors to secure funding to initiate a STEM box programme which will make it even easier for schools to access our unique resources.

Another highlight was having an exhibition stand at the Mobile Industry Awards, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary. This was a fantastic opportunity to promote the Museum to the vibrant mobile phone industry and we hope it will lead to more donations and support in future.

Looking ahead to 2023, in addition to continuing to develop the educational arm of the charity, we aim to grow the collection further with a goal of reaching over 3000 unique devices by the end of the year. We also hope to add more device images and write-ups to the website as we continue to enhance the content we offer to our visitors.

Although our initial plan had been to continue as a “virtual” online museum until 2025, when we would have a physical exhibition to celebrate the key milestone of 40 years since the first mobile phone call in the UK, we are regularly asked when it will be possible to see the collection in person? On this basis, we have started to look at options to have a small physical exhibition in 2023. It is early days, but when we have news to share we’ll be sure to provide an update.

A huge thank you to the trustees, our lead sponsor Vodafone and our other supporters, in particular Genuine Solutions. Without your help none of this would be possible. We are looking forward to another exciting year ahead and feel confident the Mobile Phone Museum has built a strong platform in its first year that will help us continue growing the charity for years to come.

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05. 10. 2022

The James Bond Phone Collection

So called “James Bond Day” and the 60th anniversary of the first Bond film, Dr No, provided a great opportunity to celebrate the mobile phones featured in the James Bond franchise that are included in the Mobile Phone Museum collection.

A particularly unique item that we are proud to own is the Ericsson JB988 which were lucky enough to have made by the talented team at Phase Two Design.

This fictional creation is famous for folding open and transforming into a touch pad remote control that allowed James Bond to drive his BMW 750iL from the back seat of the car. Additional features included a fingerprint scanner, lock pick and a 20,000 volt taser.

We believe this is the first JB988 to include all the movie features at the original size, as seen in the film.

The museum also has an extensive collection of mobile phones featured in the James Bond films can be found here. The vast majority of devices were made by Sony Ericsson but there are also phones from Ericsson, HMD Global (Nokia Mobile), Samsung and Sony with some of the details of which films they featured in.

#60YearsofBond #JamesBondDay #JB988 #EricssonJB988 #TomorrowNeverDies

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26. 09. 2022

Helping Celebrate 20 Years of the Mobile Industry Awards

The Mobile Phone Museum team recently attended the glitzy Mobile Industry Awards which was celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2022. The organisers and sponsors, which include Genuine Solutions, a long-time supporter of the Mobile Phone Museum project, asked whether we would be prepared to come along to the evening to showcase some icons from the museum collection.

Thanks to some generous support from Vodafone UK, we purchased an exhibition stand and enjoyed a fun evening telling some of the key figures from the UK mobile industry about the Mobile Phone Museum and its goals.

Mia22 005

As part of the event, the Mobile Industry Awards team arranged a BYOP initiative – with BYOP standing for “Bring Your Old Phones”. This helped raise awareness of the museum’s goal of adding as many interesting devices to its collection as possible. Several phones were donated during the evening, including a couple that we did not already have!

Mia22 015

Many thanks to all involved. We had a great evening and appreciated the enthusiasm for the project from so many people – as well as a number of offers of some very rare devices that are on our “Most Wanted” list. Fingers crossed on the Samsung Matrix Phone coming our way!

Image credits: Mobile Industry Awards 2022

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