Functionality drives a mobile towards a particular shape. They are a bit like car designs put in a wind tunnel to reduce drag – they all come out looking much the same. It takes real genius to break-out and produce really great designs.

Whilst most attention is paid to technology advance, the world’s mobile culture has been enriched by these occasional bursts of outstanding design. Even more exceptional is for a mobile phone to emerge in the class of fine art and great craftsmanship. We set out to discover the new design trends in mobiles that have emerged over the past two decades and some rare industrial design gems.


(Click on the heading of interest:)

1. The Shape

1a The Perfect Candy Bar (Au “Talby”)

1b Just Right for a telephone (Nokia 6310i)

1c Drive to Thinness  (Samsung U100, Alcatel Touch Idol Ultra)

1d Defined by the biggest screen (From Apple iPhone to the Folding Screen)

2. Colour

2a Brand and Colour (Swatch Mobile TCE122)

2b Design and Colour (LG LX600)

2c Snap on Colour fascias (Ericsson GA628)

2d Colour as Exclusivity (Siemens special edition of the SL55)

3 Movement

3a The boom microphone ( Sony CM-R111)

3b Loudspeaker in a cover flap (Motorola StarTac)

3c Clamshell (Motorola RAZR V3)

3d Evolution of the Slider (From the Nokia 8110 to the Nokia 8800)

3e Twister (Motorola V70 to the Motorola Aura)

3f Double twisters (Nokia N92 and N93)

4. The Keyboard Design Challenge

4a Lids on keyboards (Nokia 9000)

4b Sliding keyboards (Siemens SL10, Danger Hiptop and Blackberry 9800)

4c Twister keyboards ( Nokia 7705)

4d Hybrid keyboards one slider ( HTC S740, LG Rumor)

4e Hybrid keyboards two sliders (Samsung U750 and Pantech Matrix C740)

4f Qwerty Keyboard as a work of art (Blackberry Pearl, Porche Design)

4g Numeric keypad as a work of art (Æ+Y)

4h Soft keyboards on Smartphones

5. Navigating around a mobile or smartphone

5a Navi-key (Nokia 3110)

5b Scroll-wheel (Blackberry 5810)

5c Trackball (Blackberry Pearl 8100, T-Mobile Sidekick 3)

5d Optical Joystick (Samsung SCH-V960)

5e Finger swipe on touch sensitive screen (Nionode N1, Apple iPhone)

6. Something disguised as a mobile

6a Taser (Kelin K95)

6b Gun (anon)

6c Pepper spray

6d Pepper spray as a mobile clip-on accessory

6e Listening device (Nokia 1100)

6f Bombproof smartphone case (Samsung S6)

7. Mobile disguised as something else

7a Powder compact (Xelibri 6)

7b Bar of chocolate (Sharp SH-04D)

7c Lip stick (Nokia 7280 & Nokia 7380)

7e Wrist watch (Samsung S9100)

7f Credit Card (Realphone Logophone)

8. Store of precious stones

8a Motorola

8b Goldvish

9. Novel Materials

9a Wood ( Mobiado Professional 105GMT and Gresso Luxor)

9b Plastic wood (Motorola StarTac)

9c See through plastic (Bosch 509e, Motorola Ming)

9e Glass (LG Crystal)

9f Cloth (Nokia 7200)

9g Eco-friendly biomass plastic

10. Mobiles Blessed by a Great Global Luxury Goods Brand

10a Dolce & Gabbana ( Motorola V3iDG)

10b Fender (HTC Fender)

10c Lamborghini (Nokia 8800 Sirocco)

10d Escada (Siemens SL55)

11. Outstanding Craftsmanship

11a Vertu Signature

11b TAGHeuer Meridiist

12.Works of Art

12a King Arthur Limited Edition of the Nokia 8800

12b Bang & Olufsen (Samsung) Serene

13. The Smart Watch 

13a Striving for the perfect shape

13b The battery drain challenge


NEW DESIGN TRENDS IN MOBILE – Design” high-points” of mobile history (First Edition)

1.The Shape

1a The Perfect Candy Bar (Au “Talby”)
The Japanese network operator KDDI set out to create a reputation for offering outstanding designs of mobile phones. The “Talby” was the third in a series in this mobile design project in which some of the world’s leading designers were invited to create something special.

1a1 Talby

The Talby’s almost perfect mobile form-factor


The designer was Australian born Marc Newson and the genius of the design was its combination of almost perfect form factor for a phone, futuristic look from its use of brushed aluminium, pop colours for the keys and very comfortable to hold in the hand. It was produced by Sanyo and launched in 2004 on the Au network in Japan.

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1b Just right for a telephone (Nokia 6310i)

In its hey-day the Nokia 6310i was hugely sought after by the corporate executive. At one point the VIP demand was so high that Vodafone sent an e-mail around to its staff pleading for any staff that had one to give it to the Business Division in order to meet demand. It is not obvious at first glance why it was so popular.

Nokia 6310i – Approaching the optimal shape for a telephone

It boils down to the designer getting everything “just right” for a telephone. The length and depth of curve on each side of the body of the phone made it very comfortable to hold. The curve around the loud-speaker allowed the mobile to be pressed tightly to the ear to blot out office background noise. The keys could be easily pressed by the largest of fingers. The battery life was exceptional. Bluetooth made for easy connection in a car hands-free arrangement. It is one of the great “nostalgia” mobiles.
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1c Drive to Thinness (Samsung U100)

One of the most pronounced design trends of the second decade of mobile phones was “thinness”. Consumer focus groups brought out that something that is “body worn” should not stick out and mobiles were now regularly being tucked into a pockets. Our records show the world’s thinnest mobile phone is the Samsung U100 (at 5.9mm) that came out in 2007.

1c Samsung U100

Samsung U100 – the record of the world’s thinnest mobile (at least in 2007)

An entertaining battle broke out in 2011 between Samsung and Apple as to who had the world’s thinnest smartphone. In one corner the Galaxy S2 measuring 8.71mm at its thinnest point but bulging out to 9.19mm to accommodate the camera lens. In the other corner was the Apple iPhone 4 with a uniform 8.71mm the entire length. The referee was the UK Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA took the view that consumers would not be interested in the thinnest part of the device, but in its overall measurements that affected whether the device could fit easily into a pocket. Apple emerged with the 2011 crown. In terms of the battle of the smartphone giants, the flagship Samsung Galaxy S4 that came out in 2013 is 7.9mm thick..

Huawei Ascend P6 – record for the world’s thinnest smartphone (2013)

In 2013 Huawei are claiming the world’s thinnest smartphone at 6.18 mm with their Ascend P6 just beating the Alcatel Touch Idol Ultra at 6.45mm…just 0.28mm to go to match the record for the humble mobile telephone…although the Samsung U100 does have a camera lens ledge jutting out. The Apple iPhone 6 in late 2014 has arrived at 6.9mm.  

Apple thinness

Apples focus on thinness by model

New world record in mobile thinness are likely.  GSMHistory will reflect them in future editions.

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1d Defined by the biggest screen (From the Apple iPhone to Foldable Screen)

The Apple iPhone has transformed the mobile industrial design ethos. The front display screen is now at the centre of the design of a mobile smartphone. A lot of Internet content, particularly videos, look better when the mobile is held in a landscape view. Thus the picture aspect ratio now defines the necessary width of the smartphone. 


Video looks better in Landscape view and this now drives the aspect ratio

Users want the largest possible screen, so no real estate is available beyond the screen for the mobile for the designer to use to differentiate their smartphone. That is fine when the screen is switched on. But when the smartphone is switched-off the mobile phone aesthetics reduces to a dreary black slab of glass. That has dominated the mobile phone shape for the best part of a decade.

This change of consumer priorities towards watching a screen has put into reverse the trend towards making mobile devices ever smaller. The illustration shows just how little

The Samsung Galaxy Note from 2013 and the Technophone M2 from 1987

the front face of a mobile phone has shrunk in nearly 30 years. The question now is how big a device consumers are prepared to carry – with the iPad defining the upper boundary

1d apple ipad

The Apple iPad has lifted expectations on how large a portable screen might be

of a portable device. A design breakthrough has been the foldable screen. It has been a long time coming due to the technology challenges that have had to be overcome to produce a foldable display that would not crack along the middle from 10’s of thousands of opening an closing actions over the life of the smartphone.

The first company to bring a smartphone to market with a foldable OLED display was Royole

Royole Pai with outward foldable screen

The phone becomes an Android tablet screen when it is open and two Android phone screens when it is closed. In the closed mode it detects which side of the phone is being viewed and switches off the side of the display not being viewed. 

Samsung chose a distinctively different approach with the inward foldable screen.

 Samsung Fold

A second normal screen on the front allows many functions to be accessed without having to open up the folding screen. This is not only convenient but probably helps extend the life of the screen fold.

The inward foldable screen has allowed the re-emergence of one of the most popular mobile designs of all time…the Motorola Razr

Motorola Razr makes a come-back

Motorola captures the authentic Razr experience

The Samsung Galaxy Z is another example of the come-back of the flip phone.

Samsung Galaxy Z

A nice design feature of this smartphone is the joint that allows the phone to be used at multiple angles (Flex mode) for varied use cases.

The foldable screen is just at the start of its technology journey. Tri-fold screens are in prototype (2020). An industrial design milestone will come when somebody reintroduces the iconic AU Talby “candy bar” as a smartphone with foldable screen and recapture “a real telephone”.

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2. Colour 

2a Brand and Colour (Swatch Mobile TCE122)

Swatch was one of the first companies to bring both “a brand” and “colour” to the mobile phone. The design created by the Italian designer Fabrizio Galli for Swatch and launched in the UK and Italian analogue TACS markets in 1993. The mobile electronic innards were Nokia but the outside was pure Swatch – bold and colourful.

 2a Swatch 

Swatch Mobile – First to bring both brand and colour

Another design first is the curved back making it more comfortable to clutch in the hand than some of its contemporary “bricks”. The see-through plastic allowed a view of the electronic innards revealing perhaps the watch makers influence, although less fascinating than the moving parts of a watch.

At the time Fabrizio Galli was studying under Mario Bellini the world renowned Milan architect and designer. The mobile sold better in Italy than the UK but by 1993 GSM mobiles were in the ascendancy – so its sales life-span was relatively brief.
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2b Design and Colour (LG LX600 Lotus)

The LG Lotus (LX600) combined design and colour to allow Sprint Nextel to better address the female market segment. It was introduced in 2008 in a soft mauve or darkish red. A black version was also available.

LG Lotus – Colour and design making something good from an ordinary mobile

In a joint marketing endeavour with LG the US fashion designer Christian Siriano designed a limited edition scarf (described by one commentator as “billowy”) with a pocket specifically to accommodate the LG Lotus. In the same fashion show the mobile was to be seen half out of a pocket in a chocolate coloured vest on the catwalk. The mobile is likely to be remembered for much longer than the Siriano scarf but no doubt LG found an endorsement from the great designer very helpful.
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2c Snap on colour fascias (Ericsson GA628)

The mobile industry was remarkably slow to exploit colour in their mobile designs. Black was the norm and set future customer expectations. Going for a very striking colour might attract some consumers but put off many more. Black was the safe choice. Ericsson was the first to discover a way to meet every taste in colour with the same mobile and also allow a user to change their minds half-way through the day – the snap on colour fascias.

2c Ericsson GA628

Ericsson GA628 – Put the choice of colour into the hands of the consumer

The mobile itself was the very neat design that was the hallmark of Ericsson mobiles and introduced in 1996 on the GSM 900 networks
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2d Colour Exclusivity (Siemens special edition of the SL55)

On pure design alone Siemens deserved to have a much bigger impact on the global mobile market than it managed to achieve before it exited in 2006. One of the best out of the Siemens design stable was the very neat SL55. The mobile was small and rounded like a pebble. It felt good to hold. Slide the mobile and the keyboard appeared. It came together as a great design but why were the colours so dull?

Siemens SL55 – A neat design in subdued colours

Siemens produced a very limited edition of the SL55 in the striking Ferrari red. On the back was the name of Vodafone and their logo as it appeared on the Ferrari F1 racing cars.

Siemens SL55 special edition – Colour as a principal differentiator

Vodafone were sponsoring Ferrari F1 at the time. The mobiles in this very eye-catching colour were given out as Corporate gifts and it is not evident that they were ever made available to the public.

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3. Movement

3a The boom microphone ( Sony CM-R111)

The Sony culture excels in great designs that do not compromise on technical performance. One of the problems of shrinking the length of a mobile is that the distance between the human ear and mouth does not shrink with it. Hold a tiny mobile to the ear and the mobile microphone is capturing very little of the sound a voice is projecting. Sony came forward with a neat design solution – the swivel boom microphone on the Sony CM-R111.

   Sony CM-R111 with natty hinged microphone boom

The mobile brought together an attractive style and form factor with features that maximised the mobile’s technical performance – the boom microphone and extendible external antenna. The one draw-back was that the boom microphone was vulnerable to damage.

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3b Loudspeaker in a cover flap (Motorola StarTac)

A “polar” alternative to the approach taken with the Sony CM-R111 was for the extendible piece to contain the loudspeaker. This design solution emerged with the Motorola StarTac in 1996.

3b motorola-star-tac-85

StarTac introduces the hinged lid with earpiece and steers the industry towards the clamshell

The hinged cover was much stronger than the boom and also protected the keys from accidentally being depressed when carried in a pocket. It led the industry design route to the “Clamshell” that was to came to dominate mobile phone market over most of the early 2000’s.

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 3c Clamshell (Motorola RAZR V3)

The earlier clamshell mobiles with a full screen in the lid had a thickness that made them look inelegant. This led some to take the view that the design was unlikely to catch-on. One such person was the CEO of Nokia. But is was not a view shared by consumers. Soon the entire market was moving towards clamshell mobiles. When one very very senior Vodafone executive in 2003 asked senior people at Nokia why they still had not produced a clamshell design of their own…not a word was said…all eyes looked upwards! It was not until late 2003 that Nokia gave way and announced their first clamshell, the Nokia 7200. There was perhaps only 3 months between the Nokia 7200 arriving in the market and Motorola announcing a clamshell mobile that took the world by storm – the Motorola RAZR V3.


Motorola RAZR V3 stunned the world with the clamshell’s thinness

Motorola sold over 150m RAZR V3 (and variants) and the sheer number makes the design seem commonplace today. At the time its arrival it sent a high voltage shock right across the industry. It’s slimness at 13.9mm was ground breaking for a clamshell. By way of comparison the Nokia 7200 was 26mm thick. In all regards the RAZR V3 was a master-class in industrial design right down to the electroluminescent keypad made from a single metal wafer.

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3d Evolution of the Slider (From the Nokia 8110 to the 8800)

The Nokia 8110 announced in 1998 got the ball rolling in making “a slider” mechanism popular with consumers.

3d nokia-8110

An early slider approach to a mobile that became a movie star in the film “The Matrix”

This mobile is also in a select group of great “nostalgia” mobile, cementing its place by being a prop in a particularly cool film of the period called “The Matrix”. It’s banana shape is also clever in bringing the microphone more directly in front of the mouth. However the disadvantage is its curved profile makes it less comfortable to carry in a shirt pocket.

The Siemens SL10, introduced in 1999, carried the slider into its mainstream form where the electronics is distributed between the two sliding sections.

2d siemens sl55 ordinary

Siemens SL10 evens out the volumes of the two sides of the slider mobile

The design high point of the slider mobile in the mass market is probably Nokia’s 8800 series announced in 2005.

3d nokia-8800-gold-arte

Nokia 8800 series becomes the design high-point for the “slider” approach

The Motorola Z8 offers an interesting curio for the collector of slider mobiles


Motorola Z10 brings back a curve to the slide

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3e Twister (Motorola V70 to the Motorola Aura)

The twister has the same concept as the slider of breaking the mobile into two parts to reduce the length of the mobile not in use and the same flick of the thumb to produce a working mobile at its maximum length – but by a quite different mechanism. The Motorola V70 launched in 2002 demonstrated market interest in this novel rotational approach but interest in the concept muted by a mediocre technical performance. The V70 nevertheless remains a mobile of interest to collectors. 

3e motorola-v70

  Motorola V70 adds the twist mechanism to mobile design history

Proof that the twister has its following came with the introduction at the luxury end of the market of the Motorola Aura in 2008.

3e motorola-aura

 Motorola Aura turns a twist mechanism into a luxury item

The mobile has an etched stainless-steel body and rotating cover with a visible gear mechanism. This throws into sharp contrast a stunningly clear screen enhanced by a 62-carrot sapphire-crystal lens.

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3f Double twisters (Nokia N92/N93)

The high point of mobile designs involving moving mechanisms must surely be the Nokia N92 and N93 in 2005 and 2006 respectively. The lid swivels on one axis like a normal clamshell. It swivels on the other axis to make a neat screen to watch when the mobile is set down on a table. The angle of the screen is adjustable in this position.

3f nokia-n92 rev1

Nokia N92 with a hinged lid to open and adjust for perfect mobile TV viewing

With those two axis of movement in place the screen can be set in almost any position relative to the rest of the mobile. This might be of some use when the camera function is being used but a more certain objective is just showing off a quite brilliant brilliant design.

3f nokia-n93

 Nokia N92 and N93 – The amazing double twist movement

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4. The Keyboard Challenge

4a Lid on a Qwerty keyboard (Nokia 9000)

The seminal “Phones on the Move” UK DTI consultation document coined the phrase the “Office in the Pocket”. There has been no office since the invention of the PC that has lacked a fully QWERTY key-board. So getting a full QWERTY key-board onto a mobile phone was essential to fulfil the mobile’s “Office in the Pocket” destiny. The Nokia 9000 got the mobile phone to first base.

4a nokia-9000

 Nokia N9000 takes the mobile into a versatile “office in the pocket”

For a number of years the Nokia 9000 series has a band of loyal followers. Another excellent function of the mobile was it loud-speaker that provided an excellent audio conference terminal for office meeting rooms.

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4b Sliding Qwerty keyboards

The Siemens SL10 is the first mobile with a slide-out keyboard. It was essentially a simple numeric keyboard and was marketed in 1999. One of the first Qwerty slide-out keyboards emerged in 2002 and was the Danger Hiptop. It presented “Landscape” view of the screen.

4b HipTop

Danger Hiptop (re-badged as the T-Mobile Sidekick) reveals the Qwerty by a slide of the finger

The mobile was designed by Danger (later taken over by Microsoft), manufactured by Flextronics and marketed in 2002. T-Mobile popularised the mobile when the Danger Hiptop was re-badged to become T-Mobile Sidekick. There followed a series of very elegant Sidekick versions over the following 9 years. Most were made by Sharp but Samsung was chosen for the Sidekick 4G that arrived in 2011:

4b sharp sidekcik 4g

T-Mobile Sidekick 4G holds the faith in the basic slider design 12 years later

A few mobiles have come along with a slide-out Qwerty keyboard that presents a “Portrait” view of the screen. One of the earliest was the Blackberry 9800 that came out in 2010: 

4b blackberry-9800

  Blackberry 9800 is one of the rare portrait keyboard sliders

The “Landscape” screen presentation offers a wider associated Querty keyboard than the “Portrait” presentation. This seems more ideal. But Blackberry’s decision to use the “Portrait” presentation on the 9800 is probably due to fitting better with the Blackberry form-factor design heritage.

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4c Twisting Key-boards

It was inevitable that designs of mobiles would come on the market where the keyboard is revealed by twisting the top layer of the mobile. The Nokia 7705 is one example.

4c Nokia 7705

Nokia 7705 brings the twist to revealing a Qwerty keyboard

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4d Hybrid key-boards – one slider

The HTC S740, that came out in 2007, provided a normal numeric keypad on the front of the mobile for telephone calls and a “Landscape” sliding Qwerty keyboard for text.

4d htc-s740

HTC S740 offers two different keyboards with the Qwerty sliding out

The LG Rumour is another example that came out in the same year. 

4d lg-rumor

LG Rumor – Another early design with dual keyboards

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4e Hybrid keyboards two sliders

An interesting hybrid design is the Samsung U750 that came out in 2010. This has a dual hinge and opens one way for text on a Qwerty keyboard and the conventional flip-phone opening to expose a numeric keypad for telephone calls.

4e samsung u750

Samsung U750 – Offering two keyboards with a really clever dual hinge

An interesting feature of this design is how it avoids the patent filed in 2003 by Invatec Appliances Corp for a “Hand-held communication electronic apparatus having two slidable keypads”.

The pure two slidable keyboard approach can be found in the Pantech Matrix C740 that ATT offered in 2008.

4e Pantech Matrix C740

Pantech Matrix C740 uniquely offered two sliding keyboards

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4f Qwerty Keyboard as a work of art (Blackberry Pearl, Porche Design)

Keyboards are highly functional but that has not suppressed creative designers from making them attractive works of art. This is an area where people will have their own opinions of what looks beautiful. Even more contentious would be any sort of claim of the most beautiful. So the Blackberry Pearl is given only as a likely contender in the competition.

4f Blackberry Pearl 2

Blackberry Pearl provided a canvass to add fine decorative art to a Qwerty keyboard

Bring the two words “Blackberry” and “Porsche” together and the immediate assumption is that word “Porsche” is there to enhance the brand image of the Blackberry P9981. But looking at this quite stunning design and one can believe that it is the Porsche brand that is getting a brand up-lift from its association with the mobile. That said Thorsten Gessler and his Porche Design Group had a big input to the design. 

4g blackberry_porsche-design.p9981

Blackberry Porche Design takes keyboard design to a new high-point

The body of the phone is made from forged stainless steel and the back cover is hand-wrapped leather. What really lifts this phone into the league of its own is the design of the keyboard. It is a work of sculptured art. If the smartphone had been around in the times of Moses then surely the Tablet of Stone would have had this keyboard attached to it.

Tablet of stone2

Paying homage to a great sculptured work of art in keyboard design

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4g Numeric keypad as a work of art ( ÆSIR Æ+Y)

This mobile, announced in 2011, is a result of a collaboration organised by the Danish company ÆSIR and has resulted in a keypad that is a work of art created by the designer Yves Béhar:

4g AE plus Y

An incredibly beautiful numeric keypad design from Béhar

The design philosophy of Yves Béhar was to try to return the mobile to its roots of voice, clarity and simplicity – a response to the design blandness of the smartphone. Its name may be difficult to translate into all languages but it speaks the universal language of a “work of art”.

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4h Soft keyboards on Smartphones

The tactile keyboard is very popular with users and particularly those spending a lot of time entering text. But for a smartphone, where the keyboard can appear and disappear on a screen with a swipe of a finger, the tactile keyboard is an extra cost, design complication and most of all adds to the thickness of the mobile. Consumers like thin mobiles. So a lot of design attention on keyboards has switched from hardware to software. But design creativity remains very much alive.

A good example is a proposal from John Lambie an Australian entrepreneur. which has been designed for optimum use with either one finger or to split itself in two for the use of two thumbs.

4h lambie keybaord

John Lambie keyboard App concept for faster thumb input of data into a smartphone

The keyboard order can be be flipped for easier use by left handed people. What is really instructive is to put this idea alongside an earlier mechanical innovation by Nokia that created a similar proposition in their mobile Nokia 6800:

4h lambie nokia 6800 combo

Nokia 6800 hinged design marvel of its time vividly contrasts hardware versus software innovation

There could be no better example to show the potential of the smartphone in transforming the balance of mobile design from the physical world to the world of software application.

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5. Navigating around a mobile or smartphone

5a Navi-key (Nokia 3110)

The first mobiles used keys to allow users to navigate between menus on a screen and up and down a menu. Nokia gained an early market lead in the analogue mobile era getting the interface right between key, strokes, screen menus and where the user was trying to navigate to. The next significant design innovation was the introduction of their ‘Navi-Key’ menu navigation system in 1997 with the Nokia 3110. 

5a nokia 3110

Navi-key (Nokia 3110)

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5b Scroll-wheel (Blackberry 5810)

A very distinctive alternative to the Nokia approach was the scroll-wheel introduced by Blackberry. It was on their very earliest models. The first Blackberry on a public cellular network with a scroll-wheel was the Blackberry 5810.

5b comp blackberry scroll wheel

The source of Blackberry addiction – the scroll-wheel

It was loved by users and was a contributory factor to the “Blackberry Addiction”…where Executives would spend their waking hours scrolling up and down the flood of corporate e-mails they had received…pausing to click on the same scroll-wheel to read a particularly important e-mail. The blackberry would be held just below table level in meetings with the thumb having a full work-out and eyes down pretending to follow a paper being presented at the meeting.

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5c Trackball (Blackberry Pearl 8100, T-Mobile Sidekick 3)

In September 2006 BlackBerry introduced a miniature trackball that allowed full 4-way and mouse-style navigation on their Pearl 8100. In fact the name Pearl came from the fact that the trackball looked at a distance like a pearl.

4f Blackberry Pearl 2

Blackberry move from scroll-wheel to Trackball 

The very early versions proved less reliable than the scroll-wheel. In June 2006 the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 also came out with a trackball. The emergence of the trackball from two manufacturers in 2006, the optical joystick from Samsung also in 2006 and the Apple iPhone and LG Prada with capacitive touch screen entry showed just how the momentum was building-up in in the industry 2006 for radical change in design philosophy in navigating around a mobile. 

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5d Optical Joystick (Samsung SCH-V960)

In December 2006 Samsung launched the first mobile featuring an optical joystick – the Samsung ‘SCH-V960. Optical sensors read and reacted to a users’ finger movements.

5d Samsung sch v960

First Optical Joystick 

It provided 360 degrees of movement and was the first departure from the traditional four-way menu navigation.

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5e Finger swipe on touch sensitive screen (Nionode N1, Apple iPhone)

The first smartphone which was unlocked by the user swiping their finger across the touch sensitive screen was the Nionode N1 launched in 2004. Their technology used a web of light beams. When the mobile was locked a padlock was displayed with an arrow to indicate which way to swipe. An earlier version actually had the words “right sweep to unlock”.

Fig 36 Neonode N1


First mobile with finger swipe 

Apple is credited with popularising an exceptionally easy to use smartphone navigation around swiping and touching a touch sensitive screen. It was one of those rare moments in design history of getting everything right in one leap. 

5f Apple iphone 2

Steve Jobs – One of the all time greats of mobile phone design

Apple may not have invented the capacitive touch screen or been the first to bring a mobile to market with one (the LG Prada was the first mobile with a capacitive touch screen) but their genius was bringing it to life in a way that smashed all the human factor barriers to users easily accessing the Internet on their smart phones. The proof of this has been the double digit compound growth rates of data across mobile networks ever since. 

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6. Something disguised as a mobile

6a Taser disguised as a mobile

The industry has been packing all manner of features into mobile phones. What have designers come up with for self-defence in these troubled times? Where are the mobiles that shoot more than just photos?

The most popular approach appears to be the stun gun. There are at least half a dozen models of stun guns dressed up as mobile phones. Top of the range is the Kelin K95 manufactured in China.

5a Kalin 95

A Taser disguised as a mobile phone

The 4.8v battery makes is appear harmless enough but it delivers a jolt of 2,500,000V. This places it in the voltage range of the Tasers used by many police forces – so it is no toy. The devices can be legally carried without any need for a permit in 43 states in the US but it is classed as a fire arm in many European and other countries and prohibited.

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6b Gun disguised as a mobile

Some may take the view that if the stun gun is classed as a fire-arm – why not go for the real deal – a gun built into a mobile phone? It came as a surprise to the Italian Carabinieri in 2008 to discover what appeared to be a normal mobile phone but was actually a lethal firearm.

5b gun mobile

A covert gun disguised as a mobile phone

The mobile phone gun was found in a raid in a suburb of Naples, southern Italy, as part of an operation against the Gionta crime family. It fired four .22 bullets through an outlet at the top disguised as the aerial. The bullets were loaded by sliding the mobile phone below the screen sideways.

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6b Gun disguised as a mobile

6c Pepper spray disguised as a mobile

Another approach to hiding a weapon in a mobile has come from company in Korea with a pepper spray housed in a mobile phone clam shell.

5c pepper spray mobile

Pepper spray hidden inside a clamshell mobile phone

The majority of women would have found the mobile telephone contributing considerably more to their safety

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6b Gun disguised as a mobile

6d Pepper spray as a clip-on accessory

What these offensive weapons built disguised as mobile have in common is that non of them allow the user to make or receive telephone calls on them. This is surprising as the greatest contribution to personal safety, by far, comes from the ability to telephone the police. .One designer has came up with quite an outstanding industrial design where a pepper spray does not impede the telephone function. It is an accessory for the Apple i-Phone.

5d pepper spray mobile add on

 Accessories provide huge industrial design opportunities eg this pepper spray add-on 

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6e Listening Device (Nokia 1100)

Mobile designs can have flaws. For example most can be adapted so that they can be dialled and auto-answer on silent mode…even without the light coming on This turns the mobile into a listening device. This can be done with almost any mobile but some were easier to modify without having to get inside the mobile.

6e Ministry poster 3

 The darker side of mobile phone design

The Nokia 1100 got for itself a particularly dark reputation. In 2009 Investigators were curious why these mobiles were

6e nokia 1100

Nokia 1100 – a software design flaw on some models 

fetched over 500 times more than the usual second hand price. But it was only for ones manufactured at Nokia’s German plant in Bockum that fetched these astronomic prices. It turned out that they had a software design flaw (bug) that allowed criminals to reprogramme them to use someone else’s phone number. This enabled them to intercept the Transaction Authentication Number (TAN) codes sent by some German and Dutch banks to authorise money transfers.

These example are few and far between for the older generation of mobiles that used proprietary software. This shielded users from all the bugs, viruses and malware that have long been the bane of our PC’s connected to the Internet. One of the down-sides of Smart phone is that they open the flood-gate to all these troubles and woes that will hit the mobile user in due time.

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6f Bombproof smartphone case (Samsung S6)

In November 2015 a suicide bomber ignited his bomb outside the State de France in Paris and sent a shower of lethal shrapnel flying in all directions. One struck a passing Parisian on his way home. His Samsung S6 smartphone took the full impact of this high velocity jagged metal shrapnel piece.

Bomb proof smartphone case

Samsung S6 – Damage from bomb shrapnel

The strength of the case and glass screen probably saved his life. A credit to the quality of material used for this particular smartphone and an addition to the annals of unusual benefits of carrying a mobile phone.

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7. A mobile disguised as something

7a Powder compact ( Xelibri 6)

Siemens is considered by many to have been one of the first pioneers of “the fashion phone” with their Xelibri series. Six very distinctive mobiles were produced in the series from various designers. The star of the series was the Xelibri 6 that was made to look like an elegant ladies power compact in an appropriate pink: 

6a siemens-xelibri-6

Siemens Xelibri 6 led in innovative fashion mobile design

It remains today a popular collectors item.

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7b Bar of chocolate

In 2012 the Japan mobile operator DoCoMO caught the design world’s attention introducing a mobile that was made to look like a bar of chocolate. Sharp made the mobile in collaboration with Q-Pot and their designer Tadaaki Wakamatsu.

6b Q-pot 3

Sharp and Q-Pot shape a mobile in a very convincing looking bar of chocolate

At first glance is looks like a tongue-in-cheek bit of fun. But sitting behind is the mobile at the centre of a very clever marketing plan. Q-Pot have developed a brand around “youth and fun”. It is used to sell fashion accessories. DoCoMo wants to better penetrate the youth market – which the combination of the Q-Pot brand and the novelty

6b Q-pot 1

Weaving a successful brand story around a new mobile

Quite brilliant and with a legacy of a very collectable item of any mobile design collection.

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7c Lip stick phone

Nokia’s two iconic lip-stick mobiles, the Nokia 7280 and 7380 emerged in 2004 and 2005 respectively

6c lip stick phones:

Nokia’s highly successful lipstick mobile duo

They well represent a period of Nokia’s life when the company was brimming with the self-confidence to experiment with a variety of designs and form factors that pushed the boundaries of conventional thought. The mobiles target the young female market – one that had been generally under served in mobile design. The Nokia 7280’s input mechanism was designed by Ron Bird but initially for a semi-professional camera Nokia were developing with the code name was ‘Caprice’ that was never brought to market. (For more detail of the input mechanism, see video)

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7d Wrist Watch Phone

The world’s first wrist watch mobile phone was the Samsung SPH-WP10 in 1999. This is illustrated in our vintage mobile collection. There have been many since and a large number of very inexpensive watch mobiles are readily available from China. The two most enduring watch mobiles at the quality end of the mobile market have been the Samsung S9100 and LG GD910. We show the Samsung S9100 below:

6e samsung-s9110

Samsung S9100 turns the mobile into a very smart wristwatch

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7e Credit Card

Real Phone Corporation produces GSM mobiles with the size and form factor of credit cards.

6f credit card 1

 Working GSM mobile in a credit card

What some may first see as a design gimmick has a more serious commercial purpose. It uses the mobile as a promotional gift to publicise corporate logos. At an earlier time the pen or diary were the customary items for corporate gifts bearing corporate logos.  

6f logo mobile composite

The mobile becomes a corporate promotional gift

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8. Store of precious stones

There have been a line of luxury mobiles where the key attribute are the precious jewels affixed to the body of an otherwise standard mobile. A good example of this is the Motorola V220 special edition:

7a Motorola V220 Special Edition

 Motorola V220 transports a store of wealth

Today a Motorola V220 could be acquired today for £12 at auction but the Special Edition would costs over 2300 times this figure – elevated by 1,200 diamonds encrusted on the mobile, 18 carat gold keypad and the name of the designer Peter Aloisson associated with it. At the end of the day the mobile has become a means of carrying around a store of value in the precious stones.

The Goldvish “Le million” represents the very top of this class of mobile jewel studded mobile:

7b Goldvish $1m

Goldvish create the world’s most expensive mobile – “Le million”

It is officially the most expensive mobile phone in the world, according the Guiness Books of Records. The “Le million” is a one off, featuring a blinding 120 carats worth of VVS-1 grade diamonds, according to designer Emmanuel Gueit. What makes this mobile perhaps more than just a carrier of precious stones. The shape of the mobile is unusual – even exotic.

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9. Materials

9a Wood

The Mobiado Professional 105GMT mobile may have been more appropriately located under super-luxury or even a work of art. It is relevant to a section on unusual materials though its use of ebony. The entire front and back is created from a 274 carat sapphire crystal set into a 5 micron think 24 carat gold plated brass frame. This is inlaid with ebony hardwood. The battery cover is made entirely from one large piece of sapphire crystal.

8a mobiado

Mobiado’s use of Ebony Hardwood

Gresso introduced a luxury mobile in 2006 made entirely out of African blackwood

8a gresso luxor

Gresso’s unique use of African Blackwood

The variation in the wood has enabled Gresso to claim that each mobile is unique.

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9b Plastic wood

A very early example of mobile designers reaching out for materials other than mat black plastic is this edition of a Motorola StarTac:

8b Motorola StarTac pls wd

Motorola bringing illusion of a fine veneer wood for a special edition Motorola StarTac

The material is still plastic but much effort has gone into making it look like expensive walnut wood – the sort that might be found on the dashboard of an early Jaguar car.

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9c See through plastic

Plastic has been used imaginatively in several mobiles. The first noteworthy effort is the Bosch 509e.

8c bosch 901e

Bosche 509e wins a place in the Museum of Design in Plastic

It has see through plastic so the innards of the mobile engine are visible. The choice of colour was chosen to align with the house colour of the network operator “Orange”. The mobile is in the Collection of the “Museum of Design in Plastics” in University College at Bournemouth.

A clever use of high transparency plastic is the Motorola “Ming”:

8c motorola ming

Motorola Ming uses clear plastic to add class to its mobile

The see-through hinged lid protects the screen and provides almost a shop window effect on a nicely styled mobile and lifts it above the plethora of other clamshell mobiles. The clear plastic projects an image of something behind that is worthwhile enough to protect.

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9d Glass

A very clever use of transparent material is the LG GD900 “Crystal” where the numeric key-pad has been etched onto a piece of glass that slides down to expose the key-pad

8e lg crystal

LG Crystal that etches the keyboard on glass to re-enforce the image of a “crystal”

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9e Fabric

The Nokia 7200 was Nokia’s first clamshell mobile. It immediately differentiated itself from the mass of other “silver” clamshell mobiles by a very tasteful use of cloth over part of the body of the mobile giving it more of a feel of a fashion phone: 

8f nokia 7200

Nokia 7200 uses fabric to differentiate the mobile and make a fashion statement

There are a number of mobiles that have done the same thing with leather.


8f Vertu Ascent

Vertu Ascent – One of many mobiles to use leather to make the mobile feel special

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9f Eco-friendly biomass plastic

The DoCoMo N701iECO is a 3G (UMTS) clamshell mobile with 1.2MP camera and a battery standby time of 430 hours. Nothing exceptional there. What is special is that it is the first mobile to be made from (90%) high-biomass plastic.

8g N701iECO 

N701i – World’s first biomass mobile casing 

The plastic (kenaf-reinforced polylactic acid or PLA) is made from lactic acid obtained by fermenting dextrose from a biosource corn PLA made in an industrial composting facilities. To improve the material’s strength and heat resistance woody fiber is added from the kenaf plant (Hibiscus cannabinus L.), a fast-growing plant. Moisture resistance is improved by using a synthesised version of PLA, Terramac. The mobile resulted from a collaboration between NEC and fiber/textile manufacturer Unitika. The mobile was launched in 2006 on the DoCoMo network with a strong emphasis on its contribution to sustainable materials.and low carbon footprint. 

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10. Mobiles Blessed by a Great Global Luxury Goods Brand

Over the past few decades all the leading mobile manufacturers have sought to lift their own images by producing limited (or special) editions of their mobiles simply by adding the name of a widely recognised fashion or luxury good global brands on the mobile. It has then been presented to the market with the right packaging and premium price. Three examples are given below.

10a Dolce & Gabbana (Motorola V3iDG)

9a motorola D&G

 Motorola V3iDG- aspecial edition was certainly not a limited edition but one that sold very well.

10b Fender (HTC Fender)

Fender are extremely highly regarded is some parts of the pop music world for their electric guitars and high quality loud-speakers.

9c HTC My Fender

HTC Fender Edition – Linking the mobile to a leading brand in the pop music industry

The HTC showed a lot of marketing sophistication with a collaboration with Fender in 2009 to promote a smartphone directly addressing this youth sub-culture.

10c Lamborghini (Nokia 8800 Sirocco)

The Lamborghini Nokia 8800 Sirocco is another special edition, this time out of the Nokia stable. It is a standard 8800 Sirocco but with the addition of the famous Lamborghini logo engraved on the font and the back.

9b Nokia 8800 Lamborghini

Lamborghini Nokia 8800 Sirocco levers a motorcar super-brand onto a mobile

This example had the added cache that the ball bearings in the slider phone mechanism were supplied to Nokia from the auto company. It was a limited edition of 500 that all featured Lamborghini graphics as wallpapers and screen savers. There was even a special ringtones and short documentary video about the Lamborghini.

10d Escada (Siemens SL55)

If there is something the perfume company Escada does exceptionally well is beautiful packaging of their bottles of perfume. When Siemens partnered with Escarda to market a special edition of their SL55 mobile they did not disappoint in packaging the tiny mobile in the very highest Escada branded packaging right down to the Escada house colour:

9d siemens escada ed

Escada add the packaging flair to a Siemens SL55

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11. Outstanding Craftsmanship

11a Vertu Signature

It takes more than adding a Luxury brand name to a mobile to lift it into the luxury goods market. The approach has been some combination of outstanding craftsmanship, expensive materials and great styling. The company with the most consistent record of turning these elements into successful products is Vertu. The Vertu Signature launched in 2003 is a model that probably best sums up the Vertu founding design culture:

10a Vertu Signature

 Vertu Signature – one of the most successful designs from Vertu

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11b TAGHeuer Meridiist

The TAGHeuer Meridiist claim to this top league of mobiles is the 430 hand-assembled components. These sit inside a sturdy stainless steel body with a screen made from 60.5 carat scratch resistant sapphire crystal.

10a TAGHeuer Meridiis

TAGHeuer Meridiist makes hand-craftmanship central to its design


The marketing strap line for the Meridiist is “Time in your Hand”. This built on a design feature of a small messaging display in the top of the mobile allowing the user a discrete glance at the time, calling number identity and even incoming messages.

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12. Works of Art

A “craft” industry has sat under the mobile industry for a number of years that has taken standards (usually top of the range) mobiles and embellishing them with creative designs.

12a King Arthur Limited Edition of the Nokia 8800

One of the best examples of design-craft is the King Arthur Limited Edition of the Nokia 8800

11a1 St George 2.

  King Arthur Limited Edition – a sub-industry adding craft to a mobile

The mobile was produced by Olinari, a company formed in 2006 to take everyday gadgets and turn them into works of art. The enterprise was known at an earlier time as Loriolus and customised Nokia mobiles by gold and chrome plating them.

11a2 St George

Showing the level of detail of the King Arthur

The “King Arthur” took this craft to a new level and is regarded as one of the best examples of a mobile as “a work of art”.

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12b Bang & Olufsen (Samsung) Serene

Those with a far less traditional view of art and more attracted to the Scandinavian school of design will be more impressed with the Bang & Olufsen (Samsung) Serene

11b samsung sonata: 

Bang & Olufsen (Samsung) Serene – Work of Art Scandinavian style


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13. The Smart Watch 

 13a Striving for the perfect shape

The smartwatch has opened up a new frontier of design challenge. The smartwatch differs from the mobile telephone built into a watch. It is a mobile computer built into a watch and defines the first design challenge: 100’s of years of conventional watch design reveals a general consumer preference for a round watch face but the ideal computer display is a rectangle. How has the industry met this challenge?

 Shapes selected by some of the leading smartwatch suppliers

The challenge become clearer when the consumer moves from reading the time to interacting with the computer and data functions:

Visual impact of the display is a key design driver

The circular display imposes an extra limitation on displaying information generated in a rectangular format world.

A notable design innovation is the curved display used to very great effect with the Samsung Gear S.

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13b The battery drain challenge

Whilst the shape of the smartwatch may influence purchasing decisions it will be a trade-off between usefulness of the applications versus the chore of having to recharge the batteries every  day that is likely to determine how many will finish-up in a drawer.  Different companies are meeting this huge battery drain design challenge in different ways:

Ultra low battery drain display

The Pebble uses an e-paper display:

Pebble’s e-paper display limitations

This design approach extends the period between recharging the battery to an impressive 7 days. The e-paper display also offers good contrast that stands up reasonable well in day-light. But the display lacks the impact of colour.

Hybrid approach to the display

A start-up company Kairos is developing a novel design approach to power management. The watch function is a mechanical automatic self-winding movement with a 42 hour power reserve. Overlaying this is a 40% transparent organic light emitting diode (TOLED) display:

Kairos hybrid smartwatch

Kairos is claiming an impressive battery life of 5-7 days for the smartwatch function but more impressive is the cross-over this design achieves with the luxury end of the watch market.

Making the chore of charging the battery just that bit simpler

Both Apple and Motorola (Lenovo) designers have come up with very thoughtful ways to make charging their smartwatches less of a chore:

 Apple inductive coupling simple enough to do in the dark

Moto 360 charging dock turns the smartwatch into a bed-side clock

The battery drain challenge journey is just beginning.

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Do you now want to read about what has been happening inside the mobile? The technology history of the mobile is presented in the companion article  that records the “technology firsts” of the mobile world:






Our modern world is awash with ideas. Some become the raw material of great technology achievements. Most don’t. The difference in fortune usually comes down to a pivotal moment along the way. For GSM it all came down to 37 weeks in 1987.

GSM can trace its origins as far back as 1975 when Henry Kieffer from the Swiss PTT suggested Europe needed to find new spectrum for mobile at 900 MHz – the vital raw material for radio.

Setting-up of GSM was the next significant milestone. Similar standards activity also started in USA and Japan. In those countries the standards responsibility for the radio and the linked network were split between different standards bodies. A similar split had existed inside CEPT. The critical decision in 1982 was to allow GSM to define everything it needed for itself. This secured a competitive edge for European mobile standards making. 

Over the next few years GSM became a funnel for ideas from every R&D Lab in Europe. Great institutions like CNET, CSELT and BTRL, key Industrial Labs (Ericsson, Alcatel etc) and many Universities were all drawn into this exciting new opportunity – to digitalise Europe’s mobile networks. 

GSM's critical moment

1987 was GSM’s Pivotal Moment

Over a very turbulent period in 1987 Europe produced the very first agreed GSM Technical Specification (February). Ministers from the 4 big EU countries cemented their political support  for GSM with the Bonn Minister’s Declaration (May) and the GSM MoU was tabled for signature (September). The MoU drew-in mobile operators from across Europe to pledge to invest in new GSM networks to an ambitious common date. It got GSM up and running fast.

In a breathtaking 37 weeks the whole of Europe (countries and industries) had been brought behind GSM in a rare unity and speed.

Creation of GSM

What made the difference between GSM falling over a cliff edge and spectacularly taking off

In this pivotal moment the guiding hands shaping the outcome of all three critical events were (from right to left) Armin Silberhorn Germany), Stephen Temple (UK), Philippe Dupuis (France) and Renzo Failli (Italy): 

Fig 31 Bonn Quadrapartite

Officials delighted that Four Ministers sign the Bonn declaration giving GSM the green-light 

Thomas Haug (Winner of the 2013 Draper Prize for pioneering contributions to the world’s first cellular telephone networks, systems, and standards) facilitated a seamless criss-crossing of the initiative in and out of GSM..


Thomas Haug  GSM Chairman keeps the ship steady in turbulent waters

Keeping the radio technical details on the right track was led by the brilliant French engineer Alain Molaberti. 

Fig 18 Alain Maloberti 2

Alain Molaberti successfully steered the direction of the controversial radio interface

The very first GSM call was made by the Finnish Prime Minister (Harri Holkeri) in Helsinki to the Mayor of Tampere (Kaarina Suonio) who was in front of the Rosendahl Hotel in Tampere in Finland.

The future success of GSM then passed into the hands of hundreds of engineers from all the major mobile radio operators and the large systems companies. The result was a common cellular radio network right across Europe to serve the needs of the business community – an early triumph for the new European Single Market.

But the future destiny of GSM was not to stay rooted in the business market. Something happened that took it off this path and onto one that was to lead GSM to become the most successful communications network in history – with over 6 billion users. The mobile industry was to move out of its base of professional electronics and into a new world of consumer electronics. The point of origin for this transformation was the seminal publication by the UK DTI called Phones on the Move”. 

Phones on the move collage

The point of origin of mobiles becoming a mass consumer item

This was the first public consultation by any government to set out the new visions of Personal Communications as a consumer industry driven by widening the scope for network competition, opening up the 1800 MHz bands, adding 38 GHz microwave links to reduce the cost of back-haul and adding fresh energy to GSM’s scale economies. “Phone on the Move” was conceived and written by Stephen Temple who also proposed and wrote the GSM MoU.

Industry embraced the vision. The mobile revolution was born.  

…and hidden behind the curtain…other remarkable GSM achievers: Jan Audestad, Christian Vernes and Michel Mouly.

One of the reasons why GSM was so attractive to developing countries was that it was a complete telecommunications network. Standards bodies in other parts of the world only produced a specification for the radio piece of the mobile network. Automatic roaming and handover of calls between base stations required dedicated exchanges for numbering and switching management. GSM took the ideas developed for the NMT network and significantly extended them to support handover between exchanges and information security. A step forward was made in flexibility by using Signalling System No. 7 which was essential to support new data services and SMS.  


Jan Audestad who led the network side of the GSM standard

The Chairman of the GSM Working Party that quietly got on with putting all this together in a sensible architecture was was Norwegian Engineer Jan Audestad. Two other key contributors were Michel Mouly (France) and Christian Vernhes (France) 

The other miracle of GSM was that the technical standard was ever completed on time. It was written in “the paper age”…over 5,000 pages of it. Feeding into this was probably 100 times that amount of paper by way of contributions to meetings. The contributors were dispersed right across Europe.

Bernard Mallinder from the UK headed up a full time support team under GSM to accelerate the work and in today’s world might have carried the title of Project Manager. 

Fig 12 Bernard Mallinder

Bernard Mallinder

Thomas Beijer from Sweden was the Secretary of GSM and had to record a continuous flow of decisions taken by GSM that never met twice in the same place in its early days. 

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Four years of research  has produced our authoritative guide of the first mobiles to hit key technology mile-stones and influenced the smartphones we carry around today.

The story of “who created SMS” is really fascinating. It offers insight into not just to who the hero’s were that made it happen, but how society (nearly a quarter of a Century later) sets about recognising the fathers of such an outstanding outcome.

If anyone went to their local public Library and asked for a book on the creation of SMS they are likely to come away with one published by Wiley in 2010 called “Short Message Service”. It contains the names of anybody of any importance in the creation of SMS. It is forensic in its detail. But how many people today do research using books in a library?

The Internet has become most peoples’ gateway to information. If anyone Googles on the Internet “Who invented SMS” then the great Google information engine offers too many names including: Matti Makkonen, Finn Trosby, Friedhelm Hillebrand, Bernard Ghillebaert, Oculy Silaban, Neil Papworth…and that is only Page 1 of the Google search results (Feb 2013).

The problem with Google is that it lacks discrimination for the truth. Wilkipedia often does not help in complex and controversial areas. It tends to descend into an information mush. So the serious journalist is left sorting through contradictory Google search results. Many on short dead-lines pick the answer that seems to have the most independent citations.

This is what happened during the 20th Anniversary of SMS. Most came to the conclusion that a Matti Makkonen is the father of SMS…a name that does not appear anywhere in the highly reliable account in the Wiley book on SMS. This should be a warning for the future. All those wrong media articles giving an entirely erroneous account become yet more citations in Google…leading more into the trap of thinking…all these people saying the same thing cannot be wrong. Well they were wrong!

So who really did create SMS?

1. All 21st Century technology draws on a huge number of technical ideas – so it is a completely useless enterprise to try to track back from an outcome (like SMS) to a single person in the 15th Century thinking hill-top beacons could become a simple messaging system. The fact is that in the early 1980’s the world was awash with people having ideas about mobile messaging.

2. The point of origin of what we would recognise today as SMS was a document that emerged in the joint Franco-German R&D trials in October 1984 calling for the provision of a message transmission service of alphanumeric messages to mobile users with acknowledgement capabilities.

3. Here the story moves into GSM. A simple way to determine who the father of SMS was in GSM is to imagine he (or she) has never been born and ask if SMS (as we know it) would still have happened? On this test SMS has two fathers – Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert. They were the guiding hands in SMS’s pivotal moment.

Fred Hillebrand

Bernard Ghillebaert

4. So GSM now had a service definition but this still had to be given technical substance. If we now list those most responsible for the shaping a very successful technical solution the three names that appear at the very top of our list would be Finn Trosby, Kevin Holley and Ian Harris.

Finn Trosby


Kevin Holley

Ian Harris

We now have the two plus three most credible heroes of SMS – delivering both a brilliant concept and a viable technical solution respectively.

6.The next notable milestone is the first SMS sent over an operational GSM network. Here Neil Papworth steals the lime-light with his SMS to Richard Jarvis that Richard received on his Orbitel 901 in 1992. There have been other claims to have sent the first SMS but they miss the point. These sort of “firsts” are media events to mark a commercial milestone – in this case a Vodafone milestone. An illustration of this is the widely accepted story that the British TV Comedian Ernie Wise made the first cellular call over the UK cellular networks in 1985 but almost certainly there were test calls going over both cellular networks prior to their official public launch.

7. At this stage of the SMS story journalists tend to leap straight to the huge phenomenon of young people sending SMS messages to each other. The spin on the story is that those in GSM in 1984-88 missed the blindingly obvious and children had to show them the way. In fact there was a monumental shaping event that came in-between. It was the great mobile revolution transforming mobile from an expensive tool for the business community (and the wealthy) to a mass consumer item. The point of origin for this transformation is widely attributed to be the DTI Phones on the Move consultation document in 1988.

8. The final thread in the SMS success story occurs around 1995. A substantial number of GSM networks are, by then, providing inter-connection of SMS messaging and mobile “pre-paid” arrives (an innovation we attribute to the Portuguese GSM operator TMN).

9. Once the mobile became so cheap that even most children could afford one – then the condition for the mass take-off of SMS fell into place – the driving factor being an SMS message costing up to 10 times less than a telephone call. It is a credit to modern education that most children could work out how to get the most for their pocket money and master keyboard entry. This is what drove SMS messaging volumes into the stratosphere in the youth market.

The SMS Technical Achievements as viewed in 1991

It is easy to look back at SMS in the light of its enormous success as the world’s largest and most successful messaging community. But how was it viewed in 1991 at the point when GSM networks were only just being switched on. The following paper was presented by Kevin Holley to IEE Colloquium on GSM and PCN Enhanced Mobile Services in January 1991 and offers us this unique view of SMS – even before the first SMS message had been sent.

SMS Description 1991 by K Holley

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How did Europe manage to get everything so right with GSM, stumble when it came to 3G and completely lose the plot by the time 4G arrived? Can today’s European policy makers in learn anything from GSM?

The following is based upon a speech given by Stephen Temple at a seminar hosted by TeliaSonera in Stockholm on July 1st to celebrate the award of the US Draper Prize Thomas Haug, an outstanding Swede and European and the first Chairman of the GSM standards group. It sets out for the first time why GSM was so spectacularly successful and in particular the part that could be used again in Europe to regain the ground it has lost over 3 generations of mobile technology:

The US mobile operator AT&T has recently claimed a clear lead over European mobile operators for the new 4G technology. This has emboldened them to consider taking-over some of Europe’s struggling mobile operators and teach them how to make of success of 4G. (See FT June 20th – US Mobile Operator aims to capitalise on 4G technology). How times have changed. It seemed like only yesterday that Europe was teaching the rest of the world how it is done with their stunningly successful 2G (GSM) technology.

Europe’s descending performance over successive generations of mobile technology can be graphically mapped by a single word for each of three generations. For 2G (GSM) the word would be “outstanding”, for 3G the word is “underwhelming” and now with 4G the word being muttered in some quarters is “shambles”. How did Europe manage to get everything so right with GSM, stumble when it came to 3G and completely lose the plot by the time 4G arrived? Are there any lessons that can be learnt from GSM?

An obvious question to ask is whether the GSM success was down purely to it being a superior technology? Whilst the GSM technology had some advantages it certainly did not stand head and shoulders above its other digital rivals. In fact the very first GSM hand portable was no better than the analogue hand portables around in 1992. So we can say with certainty it was not the technology alone – although a good open technical standard was a necessary pre-condition. We need to look elsewhere for the explanation for a success that far exceeded the GSM communities expectation.

The most plausible reason for GSM’s huge global success was that in 1992, when GSM was first introduced, there were in fact two revolutions going on in parallel. The first was a technology revolution – analogue to digital. The leadership of Thomas Haug in the production of the necessary open technical standard has been deservedly recognised in the Draper Prize. The second was a revolution in the “Operating Model”. That is a phrase used here to describe the particular mix of government policy, regulation, competition model and cooperation model that was put behind the GSM standard. It embraces the forces that act on a new technology trying to establish itself in the half regulated/half competitive mobile network world.

The UK was particularly influential in shaping this revolutionary new “Operating Model” beginning with mobile network competition that was applied to GSM, the creation of a new model of international cooperation – the GSM MoU and a package of further world ground breaking measures in the UK’s 1988 Personal Communications Network (PCN) initiative. The resulting new Operating Model was rapidly adopted across Europe and the rest of the world. It provided the momentum to super-charge GSM to becoming the most successful communications network in the world, with 5 billion mobile phones and generating trillions of dollars of wealth over the life of the GSM technology.

Perhaps GSM was too successful. It left a presumption that success with later generations of mobile technology would come of its own accord. This has not been the case. Less detailed attention was paid to the Operating Model needed to make a success of the new 3G technology. Economists came along with new ideas like “spectrum auctions” that spun out of control and tore away some of the fabric of the Operating Model. The very high prices paid for the spectrum led to mobile operators slashing their capital budgets and this delayed the roll out 3G networks. Coverage was patchy and still is today (the wrong choice of frequency). The supply industry was hit by the cutbacks in orders and left European suppliers with less money to spend on R&D.

By the time 4G came along the Operating Model, at least at the European level, was completely dysfunctional. In particular, the timing of the release of new spectrum across Europe for 4G has been all over the place. Some national regulators have been running off at tangents creating further delays. Nobody has yet woken-up to the fact that a future mobile network that largely provides access to the Internet has radically different economics.

In the old economic era the mobile services and networks were one integrated market. In the new mobile Internet age the networks and services become separated into two distinct markets and critically there is no financial link between the two. The Googles, Amazons and millions of other Internet enterprises reach their customers over mobile (and fixed) networks but pay absolutely nothing for the carriage of their data. This leaves the mobile network operators having to invest in capacity to fuel this growth but getting no automatic share of the resulting Internet services and application revenues. If this is not challenging enough, mobile operators are further handicapped by independent regulators pursuing very short term agendas. The Regulators do not do this out of choice but are forced down this path by the mandate given them by past governments to match the earlier economic era. It is the wrong Operating Model for the new mobile Internet age. It is no wonder that Europe has lost so much ground.

We are beginning to hear cries for European policy makers to learn the lessons from GSM? But the world has moved on a long way in 25 years. So are there any lessons from GSM that could be applied today? There are still a few and luckily the secret of GSM’s success is one of them.

First, we know from GSM that technology alone is not transformational. It is the Operating Model behind the technology that drives the transformation. So, the real secret of GSM’s success was the thought given to the Operating Model to deliver the GSM vision in the particular circumstances pertaining to the late 80′s. This is where the GSM magic can still be applied to the circumstances and new opportunities of our time. Policy markers need to ask themselves the questions: what is the vision of “untethered wireless access to the broadband Internet” and what is the right Operating Model that best assists the private sector to deliver this vision? A bold, innovative and uncompromising new Operating Model for an untethered wireless-fibre world could deliver a big “GSM style” success.

So, if Europe doesn’t want to wait for another 10 years until 5G comes along to get back into the race…a revolution in the mobile network Operating Model could be the next big thing!


Academic researchers love to go back to the original documents. Some are out of reach in private archives. Here at we give on line access to seven important documents that have critically shaped today’s mobile world.


1. Origins of GSM – Technology

In 1984 France and Germany agreed to run joint R&D trials of emerging digital cellular radio technologies. It was essentially a competition between leading French and German technology companies to have their digital mobile technology chosen by the state monopoly mobile operators in France and Germany for a future digital cellular radio service.

In 1985 the agreement was extended to include Italy.

Below is a copy of the official tripartite co-operation agreement between France, Germany and Italy:

Digital Cellular Cooperation between France Germany & Italy

In 1986 the UK joined this agreement and it became the Quadrapartite agreement on Digital Cellular radio. A fourth annex was added to the agreement listing the UK R&D activities.

The intentions of the agreement was to coordinate of R&D activities and operational plans. The reality was it was like an onion with three layers. The inner layer was an 18m ECU Franco-German R&D collaboration. The second layer embraced Italy…a junior partner in technology terms but very enthusiastic to see a common European standard. The third layer was the UK …willing to see a common technical standard… providing it was the one the UK mobile operators felt able to support and in a far trickier situation to commit the UK to rolling out the new digital mobile networks…since this was no longer a decision for the UK Government.

The technology differences between France and Germany on the one hand (more development than research) and Italy on the other (more research centric) becomes clear from two of the annexes attached to the agreement. A copy of the two annexes is attached below:

Annexes Rev Dig Coop Agreement defining R&D


2. Origins of GSM – Intellectual Property Rights

All the grief that was to hit ETSI (and most European suppliers) on Intellectual Property Rights flowed from a single page in the third annex to the France/German/Italian co-operation agreement. It required any Essential Patents to be available to all European suppliers “free of charge”. An Essential Patent was one that would be infringed unavoidably if a mobile radio was to be compliant with the technical standard.

A copy of this third annex is attached below:

IPR conditions Rev Franco German R&D cooperation

This was later to lead to the mother of all IPR battles in the European Telecommunications Standards Institute when ETSI came to decide its rules on IPR.

Ranged on one side were all the European Telecommunications Monopoly operators and their traditional suppliers. Ranges on the other side were IBM, DEC and Motorola. It was a clash of history and culture.

All the big monopoly telephone companies had national R&D laboratories producing dazzling innovation. But they made their money from telephone services protected by state monopolies. So the tradition was to licence out any of their IPR free of charge to their traditional suppliers. This was not just a European thing. ATT invented the transistor and gave away their IPR on this mother of all electronic inventions to mankind – free of charge.

On the other hand IBM, DEC (in computers) and Motorola (in private mobile radio) made their money selling kit and they secured their monopoly position (where they could) through patent protection laws. The fact that some of their patents were essential to a public telephone service was simply a bit of good luck they were entitled to…and giving it away free of charge was not going to happen…they were not even willing to be forced to licence key IPR on fair and reasonable terms.

It was a clash of public policy and private interests and between the interests of manufacturers and service companies. Today these IPR wars still rumble on – the result of these yet unresolved conflicts.


3. Origins of GSM – An Agreed Standard

GSM met in Madeira in February 1987. The results from all the trials had been gathered in and processed. A decision had to be made on which technology to select to become the basis of the GSM technical standard. But GSM failed to find a common agreement. On the one side were France and Germany backing a wide-band TDMA solution. On the other hand were most other countries preferring a narrow-band TDMA approach.

It was also evident that there were sharp divisions of view on which version of narrow-band TDMA should be selected. On the face of it the GSM Madeira meeting looked set to fail and this is what most of the world concluded at the end of the meeting.

But the GSM Madeira meeting achieved a hidden success. It managed to agree a set of working assumptions for a narrow-band TDMA solution that was not only agreed by the narrow-band TDMA camp but was also supported by France and Germany (without prejudice to their preference for wide-band TDMA).

This breakthrough resulted from intensive back-room discussions and set down on some scruffy pieces of paper. This comprised a summary document describing the nature of the agreement, the specification for base stations and the specification for mobiles.

Below is a copy of those scruffy pieces of paper for specification for the GSM mobile (the set of the initial working assumptions)… the draft of the world’s first recorded GSM mobile specification:

1st GSM mobile spec

The Bonn meeting of Ministers (mentioned below) forced GSM to change the agreed modulation method to secure political agreement…but that was within the spirit of a set of working assumptions.


4. Origins of GSM – Political

GSM was a European project that sat across the European Union (or Community as it was then called) and the European Free Trade Area. Both were represented in CEPT. The party absent from CEPT (formally speaking) was the European Commission. So GSM was not the usual type of EU political project coming out of Brussels. The political decision was the result of an inter-governmental partnership between France, Germany, Italy and the UK. It flowed from the digital cellular cooperation agreement mentioned above. The critical meeting was hosted by the German Minister in Bonn in May 1987. Below is a copy of the declaration agreed at this game-changing meeting between the big-4 EU (or CEPT) governments represented:

Bonn Minister’s Declaration

It sent a very strong political message that there would be a single standard supported across Europe, it was specific on the technology to be used and committed each of the four governments to take all necessary measures to ensure GSM services opened by 1991 in their respective countries.

The most critical of these measures was securing the investments from the mobile network operators. Towards this end the declaration called on Officials from the four countries to draw up a Memorandum of Understanding to be ready by September 1987 for all mobile operators in CEPT to sign. The proposal for the MOU came from DTI Civil Servant Stephen Temple.

That is not to say the European Commission had no role in the success of GSM. They tabled a Directive that ensured the spectrum was set aside for GSM (that might otherwise be usurped by market pressures in some countries), played a strong role in the GSM type approval and were instrumental in propelling the duopoly GSM network competition model across the entire EU.


5. Origins of GSM – Networks and Services

The GSM Memorandum of Understanding was perhaps the most important document in mobile phone history. It was the decisive means to secure not only the investment in GSM networks in every European country but to do it on a scale, scope and time-scale to shock an entire industrial eco-system into life…to create in fact an entirely new industry almost overnight. There is only one original copy of the GSM Memorandum of Understanding. This is held at the HQ of the GSMA. The UK DTI Official who drew up the GSM MOU took a copy in Copenhagen after it had been signed and before it being handed over to the German Administration who provided the first Chairman of the signatories of the GSM MoU (which later became the GSMA). Below is a copy of this original author’s copy:


The GSM Memorandum of Understanding had an annex setting out Network Implementation Phases and Related Milestones. A copy of this Annex is set out below:

GSM MOU Annex – Milestones

Every mobile operator signing the Memorandum of Understanding did so on a unique page that was added to the MoU. This was in the spirit of a very open agreement…a spirit where Europe was willing to share the benefits of this common effort with every mobile operator in every part of the world.

Thirteen mobile network operators from twelve countries signed the MoU on the 7th September 1987. Copies of these original signatory pages are given below:

Signatures on GSM MOU

In the meeting on the 7th September when the MOU was formally discussed there were indications from 11 countries that their operators would sign the MOU. Over the lunch break Portugal got authorisation to sign…making 12 countries by the end of the day. Around a week later Spain then signed. A purely voluntary GSM Memorandum of Understanding had catalysed agreement right across Europe… that was eventually to transform mobile radio globally.

6. Origins of GSM – Personal Communications

In the 1970′s and 80′s national mobile networks were rolled out on the basis of the fewest possible base stations to provide national coverage – which meant towers on top of hills or high buildings. GSM was conceived in this era where mobile phones were either car phones or huge heavy portable devices. In these early years of cellular radio the portable mobile phone was inconsequential…they only worked when they were very close to a base station. In 1986 around 85% of UK mobile customers only had car phones. That percentage was much higher in France, Germany and Italy.

There were plenty of visionaries around that dreamed that one day every wire-line telephone in every home would be replaced by a small mobile radio telephone.

The most practical way of achieving this vision (from the perspective of the early 80′s) looked to be the cordless phone. Japan led the way with its PHS service and by 1988 there was wide interest in a European version of this. In the UK it was called Telepoint based on a 900MHz cordless phone called CT2.

The use of national cellular radio networks for wire-line substitution for a mass consumer market did not look a practical or economic proposition.

This conventional wisdom was to be dramatically changed in 1989.  The UK Department of Trade and Industry published a seminal consultation document called “Phones on the Move”.  A copy of this document is below:

DTI Phones on the Move

The document broke new ground. It was the first time a government gave a very strong steer that personal communications should be based upon GSM technology and not cordless phone technology. Underpinning this was the fact that it was also the first time any government proposed to open up 1800 MHz for cellular radio services.  At 1800 MHz transmission distances are much shorter…so that more dense networks had to be rolled out. The beneficial side effect of this was to significantly widen the area over which small mobiles would work successfully…a factor enhanced by licencing a third and fourth competitive mobile operator.

The decision to open up the bands at 1800 MHz in Europe had another very positive consequence. It allowed GSM to be adopted in the USA  (at 1900 MHz) and was to lead to seamless roaming across the Atlantic…allowing the G in GSM to truly mean Global.

7. Origins of GSM – Radio Spectrum

Spectrum is the vital raw material for all radio services. New spectrum has always been critical in getting new networks into service. It often creates the opportunity. Since the very early days of Marconi  most of that new spectrum has come from re-farming spectrum from an obsolete service. In the case of GSM the dawn of the spectrum opportunity was some NATO military radio services that were being phased out that used spectrum at 900 MHz.

Below is a copy of a UK Home Office internal minutes between top Civil Servants on what to advise Ministers to do with this new spectrum.

Home Office 900 MHz spectrum

It is a classic document in three respects. First, it acknowledges the case for this new spectrum being given over to mobile services and notes the possibility that this view might be shared by other countries in Europe. Second it confronts the BT monopoly and mentions (for the very first time) emerging political forces wanting competition to be introduced into public mobile radio. The Home Office sees all sorts of problems with introducing mobile network competition – and this offers an important historical insight into how how alien mobile network competition was viewed by officials right across Europe.

The third thing the document capture is how radio spectrum was managed (behind closed doors) prior to the arrival in Europe of spectrum auctions and independent regulators…it also shows  the enormous efforts made by the radio spectrum managers of the late  1970′s to be ahead of the curve. Here is a document dated 1981 looking ahead to the likely national mobiles needs through to 1995…and not being that far adrift.

(Note for interest: A very good resource of other GSM documents can be found on WWW.GSMHistory.Org).

Around 2007 3G became of age and mobile phone users, particularly those between 15 and 30 years old, found themselves in the midst of a tectonic change in the way they engage with the world around them. Every aspect in which we communicate and interact with the world around us changed in an even more fundamental way than was the case when the GSM revolution brought the mobile phone in reach of nearly everyone across the world. What was the technology genesis of 3G? Who brought to 3G a vision of a mobile world where everyone would be connected to an information universe, where pictures, videos, social networking and information sharing would become a fundamental part of everyday life?

Edwin Candy

Few have the privilege of being on the inside of such a technology revolution that lasted 20 years from inception to reality. Ed Candy is therefore in a fairly unique position to shed insights into this important piece of mobile history.


The era of conception

UMTS was conceived and progressed by the research community at a time when the feasibility of mass-market mobile car phones as opposed to business mobile car phones was only just being explored.

In 1987 personal mobile phones were the size of a house brick and cost over $1500 each. Office data systems for medium and large business were driven from huge central data processing centres with dumb terminals cabled back to the centres and personal computers were few and far between.

Mobile phone equipment network and subscriber prices meant that mobile was mainly only affordable by, and the prerogative of business users. The service capability and battery life was severely limited by the electronic components and technology available at that time and subscriber population penetration was less than ten percent in developed countries where a mobile service was available.

The predominantly state controlled telecommunications sector was rapidly being deregulated and privatized. The central European PTT administration Technical authority CEPT was being reformed into a broader European Standards body ETSI to include standards formulation for the new private sector operators and manufacturers.

Governments were considering if multiple licensees could be assigned in member states to encourage competition amongst mobile operators and PTT’s were divesting Mobile and Paging operations from their core fixed line activities to demonstrate that they were engaging in deregulation and the ITU the international telecommunications coordination body had commenced an initiative for a new international mobile specification and spectrum recommendation under the title FLMPTS (Future Land Mobile Phone Telecommunications Service). 


The birth of a Mobile Phone research project – UMTS

In the late 80’s the European Commission established a part funded research program called RACE, an acronym for Research into Advanced Communications in Europe. It was “the carrot” part of a package of measures put forward by the European Commission to complete the Internal Market by 1991. The research proposal centred on the prevailing vision held by governments and industry around the world that the future of telecommunications networks would be a fibre optic connection to every home providing “super highways” of unlimited bandwidth.

The Philips Telecommunications Companies were engaged alongside other companies from across Europe in helping the Commission Officials to refine the program objectives. They had participated in the definition phase and hoped to be the beneficiaries of research funding.

In March 1987 Edwin Candy, who was International Systems Manager at Philips Radio Communications Systems in Cambridge England, was approached by the holding Philips Company and asked if he saw an opportunity for the radio business to benefit from some EU research funding. It was an optimistic “ask” as the RACE program from the start was sharply focused on research areas to support development of the fibre-to-the-home vision. The “call for proposals” documents contained no references to mobile telephony or any wireless solutions.

The next four weeks were to see an amazing convergence of ideas technology projections and visionary concepts.


Figure 1 –  UMTS road map


This journey began when Rod Gibson from Philips Research Laboratories in Redhill UK and Edwin Candy met together with their R&D engineers to consider whether a funded collaborative RACE program could benefit the research program at the Research Laboratories

They looked at how, in the future, very complex electronic functions and digital signal processing could be accommodated in relatively low cost digital integrated circuits, the advances in communication systems technologies and particularly how these could change the nature of mobile telephony systems and services over the next ten years. These could lead to a Universal Telecommunication System.

The emerging goal was encapsulated in two cartoons with the caption ” one pocket telephone does the lot


Fig 2 & 3 – How the cartoonists saw it

Philips at that time were researching technologies which could be used to increase the capabilities of low power digital integrated circuits which could be used for portable equipment. Their experience as one of the world’s largest manufacturers of consumer electronics products provided a rich insight into the possibility that highly complex personalized phones that could be developed using new digital techniques and components and the impact that scale would have on the price.

Already it was possible to see the impact large-scale integration would have on the early GSM products and understand how equipment pricing would be driven down with the scale afforded by a Europe wide market for mobile telephones.

Over the next month Ed and Rod began to formulate an embryo of a very bold initiative. Within days young R&D engineers from across Philips, including Gerard MacNamee and Sunil Vadgama, were transferred to Cambridge to look at the feasibility for a revolutionary new mobile system, which they called UMTS – Universal Telecommunication System. It was to be a network, which would provide affordable pocket mobile telephony and video at 2 Mb/s for everyone.


A Gap in the Vision

Although the UMTS Vision was surprisingly accurate, and recognized the need for a high rate data channel to and from mobile and the need to connect to connect to computers and data centres, it did not see foresee the possibility of a huge data network of equivalent in size and reach of the telephone. Nor did it see the dependence by today’s society on connection to the Internet. In fact the World Wide Web was not invented until 1989 and the Apple iPhone did not arrive until 2007.

In many ways the later development of the Internet and web services simplified and reduced the cost development of UMTS and provided an unimaginable diversity of services and richness of experience, which underpins mobile services today. It also meant that in the later stages of development the data aspects of UMTS were available as UMTS services.


The Collaborators

In April 1987 a two-day seminar and meeting was organized at Philips Research Laboratories in Redhill to consider if a collaborative program could be established under the rules of the RACE programme.  An invitation was extended to equipment and component manufacturers, telecom operators and universities across Europe.


Figure 4 – Representatives from 9 European manufacturers descend on the Philips Research Labs in Redhill, England

Participants included manufacturers Ericsson, Nokia, Alcatel, Bosch, Thompson, Thorn EMI, Plessey Roke Manor Research, GEC Marconi and of course Philips. There were representatives from Universities including Karlsruhe, Strathclyde and Bradford. British Telecom and the Greek operator OTE represented the operator community in both fixed and mobile.

Ed Candy and Rod Gibson set out a research program for a UMTS network and a consortium management structure for such a collaborative program. The aim was to define a network and technology, which would lead to a single set of standards that would be used to create not just a European but world network and market. At its heart was the vision of the UMTS service in fifteen years’ time. From this flowed the major technical challenges and the identification of research domains needed to achieve a UMTS network. Attendees were invited to describe their research programs in mobile and consider how these could contribute to UMTS. A series of workshops were organized to allow participants consider if these diverse capabilities could indeed create UMTS.

In order to consider synchronization between the multitude of independent research activities and the financial constraints, participants were invited to set out current and future research work areas in mobile and committed resources. This process allowed visibility of mobile research across the industry and to see if a UMTS program could be constructed from these activities. It also allowed identification of challenge areas where new work would have to be commissioned.

Research is significant financial commitment by organizations, so in addition to the technical challenge the benefits from a part funded program had to be considered in terms of available resources and be financially viable. To gain acceptance from each of the participating organizations, the program would have to enhance and complement their own activities.

Overnight between the two days of meetings Ed and Rod tabulated and matched the respective programs and established that the individual research activities were surprisingly complementary. Where research topics overlapped or where tasks were under resourced, tasks and resources were interchanged between participants.

The outcome exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations. By the close of the meeting the headline structure of the UMTS program had been completed and participants left with the task of obtaining agreement for participation from their organizations. UMTS was underway.

This in itself was an extraordinary achievement between enterprises, which for the most part were in fierce competition in their respective fields. What helped to solidify this spirit of cooperation is that the meetings exposed that the task was well beyond any individual organization in terms of resources and technical capability but it could be achieved as an Industrial group. It validated the European Commission’s belief that collaborative pre-competitive R&D was essential for European industry to stay in the global race.


The RACE UMTS submission

Selection of research proposals for funding is a very competitive process. The total sum of the bids always exceeds the money available several times over. The Commission Officials ran a very transparent process. The projects needed to comply with a wide landscape of requirements over and above technical excellence. They needed to encompass stakeholders from education and businesses of varying size from different regions. The participants had to be able to ultimately exploit the research. But there was no escape from politics. The funds need to be distributed proportionately across Member States.

Ed Candy established a team in Cambridge to prepare and submit the program. The composition of the work programs was refined again and again as available resources, capabilities, and respective costs were identified and confirmed.

PA Consulting were selected to prepare the submission and to assemble the work packages deliverables and work items together with the articulation of the benefits that UMTS would bring. Graham Maille and Geoff Vincent from PA joined the team and set about preparing the extensive documentation required for such a large consortium.

It became clear at an early stage that there would be over twenty partners in the program and that funding of around £35 million would be needed for the first phase. As the finance technical and administrative process continued a number of new partners emerged. Fortunately these organizations brought additional skills and a very robust and feasible technical program took shape.

At that time telephones either connected to a fixed point or to a vehicle on the move. Expensive over-weight transportable phones were still a novelty. The idea that everyone could be connected to the telephone network with a pocket phone and even more far-fetched was that people would exchange pictures. The submission had to address objections from sceptical evaluators.

In addition to outlining the technical challenge much explanation and study was required to justify that, by 2003, it would be possible for almost everyone to have a handheld phone. Moreover, it needed, to justify, that by 2003, more than 50% of telephone communication would take place between people not places. This was an essential tenant of the program as a scale of this order was fundamental to achieving affordability. The phrase “people want to talk to people rather than places” became the rallying call of those involved in the project. Even the RACE Mobile program Logo featured a stylised head high lighting mouth ears and eyes.

There were many views expressed in the 1980’s that it was unlikely that people would find it acceptable to make telephone calls in the street. But we know now that mobile phone behaviour in 1987 was a reflection of capability of systems and equipment not in response to societal imperatives. The change in mobile phone user behaviour over 15 years is remarkable. The submission also encapsulated the principal depicted in the early cartoons that a single device could replace a multitude of personal devices including paging and a camera.

The submission introduced the concept of successive generations of mobile services. Analogue systems such as the as AMPs, Germany’s MATS E and the Nordic NMT were considered as 1st Generation. GSM as a digital technology solution to provide Europe with a Pan European mobile telephone service where users could roam without complication amongst member states was considered as 2nd generation. UMTS with it “broadband” mass-market capability was represented as 3rd Generation.

The final UMTS submission to the RACE management team proposed a consortium of 25 partners for a £39 million 50% funded program.


Figure 5 – RACE Mobile Logo

Scandinavian companies had yet to join the common market but an agreement existed with the European Commission, which allowed them to participate as EFTA members but without funding’ Both Ericsson and Nokia played a fundamental part in the creation of the program and indeed their contribution to UMTS in the early days was key to the success of the program.


The Award

The UMTS submission team had every reason to be optimistic as the entries were analysed. They got feedback that the submission had gained recognition for its technical quality and leadership. They were optimistic that the submission would be recognized as having strategic importance in the context of European society and Industrial objectives.

The Group were stunned when a matter of days before the final decision in August 1987 rumours circulated that less than 5 million ECU (pre-Euro name to the European Currency Unit) had been ear-marked. An even worse rumour followed that the UMTS program was likely to be rejected entirely by the RACE Management Committee. Some Member States were concerned that the program would compromise the fledgling GSM initiative, not recognising that this UMTS research project was a program looking fifteen years ahead. Rather than threatening European industry it would provide protection for future industrial activity against a highly competitive mobile technical capability developing in Asia and the US. But the reality was that the knife was being wielded to get the programme expenditure to fit the available budget. The UMTS vision had nothing to do with the consensus vision of a fibre optic connection to every home. This made it an obvious target for the axe.

Members of the consortium were mobilized to lobby their national governments. The feedback was not good. The intentions of the RACE management committee members had been well telegraphed and the final vote within a day would merely underwrite the Commission decisions, on budgetary grounds, to axe the UMTS project. The position of Member States (represented on the Management Committee) was driven by many factors. For example the UK position was driven by a row behind the scenes between the Treasury (who did not want any EU money spent on R&D), Cabinet Office (who were trying to limit the scope of the program to limit its cost) and DTI (who were responding to industry pressures).

As a very last ditch effort an urgent meeting was sought with Roland Huber the Director DG XII who was responsible for the EU Research programs. But nobody knew him personally and it was exceptionally difficult to get meetings with such a very busy senior person. It was a secretary who came to the rescue. She simply picked up a phone and called the secretary of Roland Huber. Who knows what was said between them but a meeting was arranged at very short notice. Ed Candy and Rod Gibson were on the next plane to Brussels to try to convince Roland of the importance of the UMTS program and seek his intervention.

Ed gave the performance of his life to a sceptical Roland Huber…himself a passionate believer in the fibre to the home vision.  After a long and intensive debate Roland agreed that the UMTS inclusion in the program should be reconsidered.

The next day he agreed that, although the full funding could not be granted, there was a possibility of a last minute submission failure which would allow a first phase of 14 mECU to be funded. However that depended on Roland single-headedly altering the view of the RACE management committee before the vote later in the day. UMTS scraped through by a margin of two votes that afternoon.

The world owes much to that secretary…


RACE UMTS Project R1043 came into life

It was a hard won success. Roland Huber was good to his word and the program was funded to Euro 14 mECU, then 28 mECU the next year. The UMTS program continued as a flagship program in the following RACE II program and the validation program called ACTS. By 1996 over 200 mECU had been spent jointly by Member States and the industry on UMTS research and platform validation. The Member States were to get all of that money back from the 3G spectrum auctions that came later, a twist of fate that was less kind to the European manufacturing industry.



Coincidently with the creation of the UMTS Race research bid the International Telecommunications Union Radio (ITU-R) recommendation working group were taking recommendations on next generation mobile specifications under the Chairmanship of a Canadian Mike Callender. The program was titled Future Land Mobile public Telephone service (FLMPTS). It was primarily directed at identifying and producing recommendations for the harmonization of mobile spectrum allocations across the world. This meant that by the time the UMTS research phase some general principles of spectrum harmonization would be recognized by Spectrum administrator across the World.


Figure 6 – Diagram of Future Vision of Mobile Communication

 The ITU working groups were also working on the challenge of increasing the data through put of mobile systems whilst maintaining mobility.

The real work begins

By the end of 1987, the Commission contracts for the consortium members had been finalized under the guidance of Commission Official Spirious Konidarious. The Commission contract coordinator for R1043 was Adrian Melis. Key staff were selected by the consortium partners and the program the commenced with an inaugural meeting of representatives from each of the twenty five-member consortium in Cambridge at the Arundel House Hotel in January 1988

With the project underway Philips appointed Tom Parrot as Program Manager. Edwin Candy had moved on to take on a new role as Technical Director for the Telepoint Joint Venture between Philips, Barclays Bank, and Shell.

It was now down to the research engineers to work through each of the challenges and provide solutions. As well as individual technical tasks, an architecture or systems design work package had been established with Gerard MacNamee as its leader. As well as addressing some of the most complex systems issues it had the additional responsibility to ensure that technical solutions were compatible with the overall program.

Great progress was made by 1992 with successive enhancements to the program and increased funding granted at each stage.


Opposition continues

Detractors continued to argue against the program, but, as it remained in the research arena where results were highly valued, the opposition had little impact. The program gained credibility. Research deliverables, particularly in the radio area, were used to improve GSM including the early propagation studies into the 1800MHz band. This contributed directly to the development of the DTI’s successful ‘Phones on the Move’ initiative that led to the specification of DCS1800. Stephen Temple, Chairman of the ETSI Technical Assembly, ensured that this became part of the broader GSM specification. One of the by-products of the program was the transfer of technology and innovation to the strengthen GSM. Over the research period, the technical advances, which allowed for the possibility for UMTS, were used enhanced GSM terminals and network equipment alike. These advances played a part in GSM’s migration to a mass market and the almost universal adoption of the standard across the world.

Opposition however grew as the possibility of industrial exploitation drew closer. The great fear was that GSM would be displaced. In reality GSM would only be displaced by its own limits. The improvements in radio technology, allowing higher frequency bands to be used, would open up a vacuum for rival industrial initiatives to fill from other parts of the world. But those still struggling to get GSM off the ground could not see so far ahead.


Industrial Exploitation

With the completion of the RACE II UMTS research program in 1992 the Commission were keen to see the work progress toward industrial exploitation. The first step was platform validation. A UMTS validation program “FRAMES, under the ACTS program was commissioned to build two platforms using candidate multiplexing techniques one trialling Advanced Time Division Multiplexing, ATDMA and the other, Wideband Code Division Multiplexing WCDMA. Both techniques were advances of proven 2G narrow band-multiplexing systems.

Ultimately both systems performed to expectations so it was down political and industrial competition for the choice.


The UMTS Task Force

With the UMTS program drawing to a close and the final concertation seminars concluding, the process to bring UMTS to maturity was still unclear and the bridge from research to reality uncertain.

The issue was discussed following a concertation meeting in Brussels in March 1996 between Jo Da Silva from the Commission, Bosco Fernandes from Siemens, Edwin Candy who was now Technology Director at Orange and Robert Swain from British Telecom’s  Martlesham Research Laboratories. It was agreed that the stakeholders from the Mobile Industry needed to be brought together so that the spectrum, regulatory and standards processes could be set in progress. A task force was agreed and commenced in April 1996. Members were selected representing Manufacturers, the UMTS research program, Operators, Commission officials, industry bodies and the European standards body ETSI:


Name Organisation
K Birmqfti ETNO-FM
E Buitenwerf KPN
E Candy Hutchison Orange
A Geiss ERO
J Desplanque France Telecom
B Eylert DeTeMobil
B Femandes MPLA
F Hillebrand GSM-MoU
K Lorentzen K Lorentzen
J-Y Montfort ETO
M Nilsson Ericsson
P Olanders DECT Operations Group
J Rapeli ETST-SMG5
J da Silva DCXIII-B
R S Swain British Telecom
E Vallström Nokia Telecommunications

By August 1996 a task force report had been published with a timetable setting out the steps for commercial UMTS deployment in 2003, draft European council directives for spectrum outlined and a proposal for a UMTS Forum to drive the progress of UMTS across the mobile industry.


 Fig   7 – UMTS commercial launch timetable.

 The UMTS Task force report set out a series of recommendations for the establishment of UMTS networks across Europe:

  • The development and specification of the UMTS such that it offers true 3rd-Generation services and system.
  • UMTS standards must be open to global network operators and manufacturers
  • UMTS will offer a path from existing 2nd-generation digital systems, GSM900, DCSI800 and DECT.
  • Basic UMTS, for broad-band speeds up to 2Mbls, should be available in 2002.
  • Full UMTS services and systems for mass-market services in 2005.
  • GSM900, DCSl800 and DECT should be enhanced to achieve their full individual and combinational commercial potential.
  • UMTS regulatory framework (services and spectrum) must be defined by the end of 1997 to reduce the risks and uncertainties for the telecommunications industry and thereby stimulate the required investment.
  • Additional spectrum (estimated at 2×180 MHz) must be made available by 2008 to allow the UMTS vision to prosper in the mass market.

The formation of the UMTS Forum

In August 1994 the UMTS Forum, led by Ed Candy, was set-up. By December 1996 the Forum was established as a legal entity with secretariat funded by the membership.  A Management team representing Regulators, Operators, Market strategies, and Technologies with Edwin Candy elected as its first chairman.


Fig 8 – Signing of UMTS incorporation by the Inaugural chairman Ed candy

The forum went on to play a crucial part in the introduction of UMTS. The structure of the forum was unique. The close links between the representatives of governments across the EU and the UMTS forum with its representation across the entire industry and allowed issues to be resolved in a collaborative environment. Chris Whiley volunteered to be first secretary of the UMTS Forum.


 Fig 9 Photo Forum Incorporation chairman Ed candy and Chris Whiley Secretary

Figure 10 – Organisation of the UMTS Forum


Fig 11 – Representatives at the Inauguration of the UMTS forum.

The UMTS standards

The UMTS task force had recognized early on that standards for UMTS needed to be progresses promptly and ETSI was approached to do the job.  This would normally have involved setting up a new group for the task. However the apprehension that UMTS was a threat remained amongst many in the GSM community. The proposal to establish standards group for UMTS in ETSI was vigorously opposed. Some argued that the fledging GPRS packet evolution of GSM would be sufficient for data services and that UMTS would not be needed. Stephen Temple, the ETSI Technical Assembly Chairman, proposed a compromise that would place the further GSM standardisation work and the new work on the UMTS standard under the same SMG Chairman Philippe Dupuis. This allowed an early start to UMTS standardisation and cementing UMTS as a logical revolutionary progression from GSM.

Initially UMTS standards work was limited to the attachment of a UMTS radio Air interface to a GSM core but work was already underway to a strengthening of the GSM packet core network. Ultimately all the parts of the GSM network were redefined in such a way that platforms purchased as the GSM networks were upgraded to meet capacity would be equally able to support the functionality demanded by UMTS.


Industrial might

Europe was not alone in researching and developing wide band mobile systems, and a number of corporations held lucrative patent portfolios for mobile technology. Similarly Governments were realizing the economic benefits from a vibrant mobile manufacturing sector. Stakes in mobile were high. Digital GSM had deposed the analogue US AMPS as the preferred cellular system across the world. Japan was also looking to leverage its superiority in consumer electronics into the volume mobile sector.

This clash of interests led to a battle for the selection of the chosen radio technology for a global UMTS air-interface standard. Two dominant and viable technologies emerged from the UMTS program: ATMDA and WCDMA. In the end the selection became a political choice as Europe supported the ATDMA system, Japan supported WCDMA and the US supported a narrower version of WCDMA in an effort to leverage and promote their 2G CDMA system produced by Qualcomm as a wideband solution.

In an effort to secure a 3G UMTS world standard ETSI encouraged the formation of a Partnership Standards body (3GPP) to encompass standards interests wider than Europe and a series of inter government meetings between the US Japan and Europe (under the abbreviation FAMOUS) took place 1996 and 1997. Unfortunately the emerging consensus between Europe and Japan on a common Air interface standard was not supported by the US and the utopia of a world standard faltered

In recognition of the strength of Asian consumer electronics and the wish of European manufacturers to secure Asian markets a decision to adopt the WCDMA interface preferred by Japan was chosen by ETSI for UMTS. This was sufficient for it to be accepted by 3GPP. In an effort to sustain at least a continuing global dialogue on standards the 3GPP formed two specifications, one for the European-Japanese axis and the other for the US narrower-band version of CDMA. Ultimately these versions were merged in 2004 as WCDMA became the preferred solution.

Finally the first version of the UMTS specification emerged in 1999 as Release 1999 or R99 for short. This first version specified a radio data carrier rate of 384 kb/s. This fell well short of the original target of 2 Mb/s set out in the original vision, but at least a high bandwidth service had been specified and manufacturers were committed to supplying equipment.


A 2003 3G commercial launch

In March 2003 the first 3G UMTS WCDMA networks operated by the “3” Group owned by Hutchison Whampoa commenced commercial service in the UK and Italy. As had happened with Mannesmann and GSM, it fell to a new entrant to take a full share of the teething pains of bringing a revolutionary new technology to market. The Chief Technology Officer for the UK “3” mobile operator at this time was Ed Candy. He deserved more than anyone the satisfaction that the UMTS service had launched almost precisely to the date predicted at the conception in 1987 and again by the UMTS task force report in 1996. Whilst its data rate was only a third of the target of 2 Mb/s, advances in video processing and compression allowed the transmission of useful video services right from the date of launch. 3GPP grew in global stature as it relentlessly went on to enhance the packet service specification to plug this missing piece of the vision.  The High Speed Data Packet Access (HSDPA, and HSPA) very quickly followed pushing the gross carrier throughputs toward 7.2 Mb/s, then 14.4 Mb/s, 21.8 Mb/s and onwards.

By 2006 3G networks were rolling out the high-speed versions of HSPA and operators were offering data rates on mobile phones, which were comparable with rate available from domestic last mile fixed services at that time. It was all “just in time” to take the brunt of the user data explosion ignited by the arrival of the Apple iPhone in 2007.

As soon as user terminals provided universal and fast connection to the Internet data volumes across the mobile networks climbed spectacularly. Between January and December 2007 UK operator H3G saw their data throughput change from 90% Voice and l0% Data to 10% Voice and 90% Data and with a 15% increase of Voice. The data explosion had arrived. The world was soon crying out for the next mobile technology generation.



3G (or UMTS) was a revolution.  But it was not the only revolution. Economists had taken an interest in the value of radio spectrum. They persuaded Governments that auctioning the spectrum would not only raise for them a lot of money but came up with a theory that an auction would get spectrum into the hands of those who would make the most productive use of it. The 3G auctions spun out of control and not only created serious damage to Europe’s telecommunications sector but seriously set back the benefits of the 3G technology revolution. READ HOW THIS 3G AUCTION DISASTER HAPPENED…Click on this link