On a spring day in 1973, a Motorola engineer stepped onto Sixth Avenue in Manhattan to call one of his competitors three miles away at Bell Labs. The caller’s name was Martin Cooper, and today, he’s considered the “father of the cell phone” because his history-making chat was the first ever cellular one. The industry has come a long way since that inaugural wireless call, and the four books below do a superb job of documenting the tale.
1- “Constant Touch: A Global History of the Mobile Phone”
Written by university professor Jon Agar, “Constant Touch: A Global History of the Mobile Phone” explains in plain English how wireless phones became the ubiquitous norm.
Agar offers an easy-to-understand chronology of cellular advancement and discusses the impact of mobile phones on society. It’s only 192 pages, but “Constant Touch” is jam-packed with exciting factoids about the history of cellular phones.
2- “Cellular: An Economic and Business History of the International Mobile-Phone Industry”
In 2022, The MIT Press published “Cellular: An Economic and Business History of the International Mobile-Phone Industry” by Daniel Garcia-Swartz and Martin Campbell-Kelly. It was a smash hit in tech circles and was quickly included in the prestigious History of Computing compendium.
The 400-page work takes readers back to the industry’s infancy in the 1970s all the way up to the modern global market. Notably, Garcia-Swartz and Campbell-Kelly emphasize the incredible and unlikely cooperation that was required and executed between private and public sectors to launch the cell phone era.
3- “30 Years of Mobile Phones in the UK”
As its title suggests, Nigel Linge’s “30 Years of Mobile Phones in the UK” focuses on mobile phone growth in the United Kingdom. Linge’s story starts in 1985, the first year widespread mobile calling was available in the UK, and it goes on to explore how licensing deals and the rapid rise of data technology shaped the wireless industry. He also explains the advent of mobile-web business models, including the prepaid wireless minutes industry.
Since it’s written in easily accessible language, you don’t need a computer science degree to engage with Linge’s book. Moreover, it’s stuffed with great photos that will dazzle “tech-history heads.”
4- “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry”
“Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry” examines a specific story important to the history of mobile phones. Authored by accomplished journalists Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff, it tells the engrossing, page-turning story of BlackBerry Limited, a fledgling startup that went from boom to bust in under 20 years due to visionary insights and internal feuds coupled with frantic and unchecked growth.
Shortlisted for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year, “Losing the Signal” received high praise from Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and The Times of London. It was also a fan-favorite in the corporations-in-crisis niche.
The rise of the mobile economy is a fascinating tale, and these four books describing the journey make for informative and engaging reading.