The cellphones of the 1980s - TechCentral

The cellphones of the 1980s

The Vodafone VM1 weighed almost 5kg

The Vodafone VM1 weighed almost 5kg

Imagine a cellphone that weighs almost 5kg, is the size of a briefcase and costs R75 000 in today’s money? Believe it or not, that’s what early adopters had to put up with in the early days on mobile in the 1980s.

To commemorate the first-ever mobile phone call 30 years ago — on 1 January 1985 — Vodafone in the UK, on whose network the call was made, has released a list of the first phones it sold to consumers.

They included the VM1, a 1985 model that weighed in at 4,9kg. It cost £1 475, or £4 141 when adjusted for inflation.

The VM1 was classed as a mobile phone, but it couldn’t actually be used outside of a car. The heavy base unit was bolted into the boot of the car or the rear parcel shelf, according to Vodafone. The phone itself was mounted in the front of the vehicle, in front of the dashboard or in the armrest.

The VM1 was fitted with an aerial drilled into the roof of the car, the company said. An additional glass mount aerial could be stuck out of the rear screen of the car to help pick up greater reception.

Michael Douglas with a Motorola 8000X in Wall Street

Michael Douglas with a Motorola 8000X in Wall Street

Although the VM1 was the first product that company sold, the Transportable Vodafone VT1 became available simultaneously close to the January 1985 launch of the network. It weighed 200g less than the VM1 — 4,7kg — and would have to be charged for 10 hours to provide 30 minutes of talktime. It could be charged in or out of the car depending on the kit the user bought to go with it, Vodafone said.

The Transportable Vodafone VT1

The Transportable Vodafone VT1

“Most customers opted to buy a VM1 above a Transportable if they were frequently in their car, as this was more convenient.”

The first mobile phone that bears a resemblance to modern devices was the Motorola 8000X, introduced by Vodafone in March 1985. Christened “The Brick” by its users, it was used by Michael Douglas in the 1987 Hollywood hit Wall Street. It cost £2 995, which translates into £8 409 (more than R150 000) in today’s money.

Nokia Cityman 1320

Nokia Cityman 1320

Other early mobiles included the £1 875 (£5 264 adjusted) VPI Citiphone, which played “God Save the Queen” if its user pressed 001 on the keypad and and Chopin’s “Funeral March” if it malfunctioned. There was the Nokia Cityman 1320, Nokia’s first portable phone, introduced in the late 1980s. The Cityman, which weighed 0,75kg, would have set back an early adopter almost £5 000 (R90 000) in today’s money.  — © 2015 NewsCentral Media

3 Comments

  1. Jannie van Zyl on

    I had one of those big analog phones. Weighed about 15Kgs and I carried it everywhere, even into restaurants! 🙂

  2. Wandile Tembe on

    Good read. Mobile phones were only for the rich Wallstreet sales man. Now a 6 year old in South Africa has one.

  3. Goodness! I must have been just out of my teenage years when SA (Telkom) launched the C450 ‘Car Phone’ network. In those days you had a great choice of instrument (read brick) you could buy a Siemens or a Philips.
    At Siemens we launched at a price of R16,750 – sold about 20 per month. Then we introduced a ‘rental scheme’ : Upfront Installation fee of R750; and then a five year rental of R300 per month (“R10.00 per day” went the advertising!). This scheme upped the sales tempo to > 100 per month.
    This ultimately gave Telkom a subscriber base of some 24,000 users – ground-breaking stuff in those pioneering days!

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