How the History of the Mobile Network Sheds Light on Roaming Fees
March 31, 2015
Do you know how long cell phone networks have been around? You might be surprised to learn that they've been in existence since 1973 in some form or another. The creators didn't optimize the first networks for international calls, much less the affordable plans that we offer now.
Martin Cooper invented the first mobile phone in 1973 while working at Motorola, which Google has recently purchased. Motorola holds a surprising number of patents! Cooper invented the first car phone, which saw commercial use in the 1980s. You may have seen one of these car phones in '80s movies such as Heathers; they were even bigger than home phones of the same era! Travelling out of designated service areas probably meant losing coverage altogether instead of incurring roaming fees at the time.
The first generation of mobile networks, also identified as "1G," were built in the late 1970s to prepare for the commercialization of the aforementioned car phones that resembled bricks. The first network became commercially available in 1983 in the United States, with Japan utilizing the same technology in 1987.
The first 2G networks incorporated digital signals into cellular networks. These appeared in the 1990s, although different companies competed to push their own patented 2G technologies in America and Europe. Different carriers backed different 2G systems, although cell phones didn't play the same part in daily life as they do now. Different companies own different mobile network towers.
Companies developed 3G networks in the early to mid-2000s with standardization and data streaming in mind. Handling broadband data became the hallmark of 3G systems and thus a requirement for smart phones processing data-heavy applications involved with social networks, streaming music and video, and GPS systems on top of regular calling and texting capabilities. 3G needed to grow to accommodate data consumption.
4G networks have begun to improve data bandwidth by roughly ten times that of 3G networks. Mobile Internet browsing has become so ubiquitous since 2009 that Google has actually changed its search algorithm to favour websites optimized for mobile browsing. Mobile data consumption has become the new norm in the West and continues to grow rapidly in India.
Now you can see where roaming fees enter the picture. More carriers have entered the market to cater to the demand for mobile data consumption, but they don't want to leave you without service. They have reached agreements for their customers to be able to operate on each other's networks across the globe for a premium fee. Roaming has become a lucrative niche.
Cell phone towers actually tap into the existing system of telephone cables throughout the world. Landlines connect home phones to each other through fiberoptic cables that run underground throughout the continent. These cables have run across the Atlantic Ocean since 1956, although some technologies have begun to replace them.
Each cable contains junctures that direct a signal toward a specific destination. These junctures are like forks in the road; eventually the signal reaches the destination, such as a home or a workplace. That process lets the audio signal funnel its way through continents, countries, provinces, counties, cities, postal codes, streets, and addresses.
Cell phone towers tap into that system, which is why cell phones can call home phones and vice-versa. Incidentally, it's also why cell phones are usually to blame in the event of a dropped connection between a landline and a mobile phone. Cell phone towers use radio signals to project the signals from the fiberoptic cables to your mobile phone, if it's within range. They effectively provide geographic hotspots for phones to receive signals in a manner conceptually similar to the way your laptop or phone receives a Wi-Fi signal.
That's why roaming fees exist. Understanding the history of mobile networks will shed light on how roaming fees might apply to your daily life. Get in touch with us to find out how you can avoid excessive roaming fees with the right plan.