America Discovers New Ways to Communicate

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chapter 2

In 1985 American adults typically had one phone number for the house and one for work. By 2004, many techsavvy Americans had added such alternate communications as a cell phone, a fax line, an instant messaging account, an e-mail address for business, another for home, and still another to ward off spam. Communication has undeniably been one of the central motivations behind the technical strides that have taken place since the beginning of the cold war. The Internet was first conceived as a way of connecting computers for the purpose of communication, and e-mail was the first application to gain acceptance and widespread use on the Internet. In Spam: How It Is Hurting Email and Degrading Life on the Internet (Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project, October 2003), researcher Deborah Fallows reported that nearly thirty billion e-mails were flying across the Internet on a given day. When looking at what activities online Americans participate in the most on a daily basis, e-mail generally beats out every other activity two to one. That does not even take into account the nearly fifty-four million Americans who reported using instant messaging in 2003.

The Internet is not the only communications system to flourish. Since the early 1980s an entirely new phone system has sprung up across America as well. Table 2.1 reveals that the number of cellular sites in the United States grew from 5,616 sites to 139,338 sites between 1990 and 2002, and the amount of revenue brought in by the cellular phone system rose from $4.5 billion to $76.5 billion. The number of cell phone subscribers jumped from 5.3 million subscriptions in 1990 to 33 million in 1998 to approximately 140 million subscribers in 2002. In terms of percentage, the rise in cell phone customers outstripped the increase in Internet customers and was roughly equivalent to the rise in home computers since the early 1980s.

In some ways these new forms of communication have made life easier. Most Americans no longer have to hunt down a phone booth and dig for change when searching for that elusive restaurant. Nor do most travelers have to worry about being stranded on a deserted roadway miles from a phone. Using e-mail, online Americans can now easily stay in touch with anyone in any country around the world. At the same time, however, Americans now have to comb through offensive spam on a daily basis, concern themselves with unleashing viruses on the computer, and endure annoying cell phone chimes everywhere they go.


E-mail was the first of these new communications technologies to emerge. Not more than two years after the initial ARPANET test in 1969, Ray Tomlinson of ARPANET created the first e-mail program. Tomlinson got the idea from a program that had been floating around on time-share computers. These computers, prevalent in the early sixties, consisted of a number of remote terminals all connected to a central host computer where all the office files and programs were stored. The remote terminals, which were typically spread throughout the office building, consisted of little more than a screen and a keyboard, and the office workers shared the resources of the central computer. Programs were written for these systems wherein people could leave messages for one another within the core computer. Tomlinson simply adapted one of these static internal mail programs into a program that could send messages to other computers on the ARPANET. The first mass e-mail Tomlinson sent out with his program was a message to all ARPANET terminals informing them of the availability of "electronic mail." He told them to address one another using the following convention: "user's log-in name@host computer name." This same convention is still used today.

The first e-mail program was not very user-friendly. The e-mails did not have subject lines or date lines, they had to be opened in the order that they were received and


Cellular telecommunications industry, 1990–2002
[Calendar year data, except as noted (5,283 represents 5,283,000). Based on a survey mailed to all cellular, personal communications services, and enhanced special mobile radio (ESMR) systems. For 2002 data, the universe was 2,481 systems and the response rate was 87 percent. The number of operational systems beginning 2000 differs from that reported for previous periods as a result of the consolidated operation of ESMR systems in a broader service area instead of by a city-to-city basis.]
1The basic geographic unit of a wireless PCS or cellular system. A city or county is divided into smaller "cells," each of which is equipped with a low-powered radio transmitter/receiver. The cells can vary in size depending upon terrain, capacity demands, etc. By controlling the transmission power, the radio frequencies assigned to one cell can be limited to the boundaries of that cell. When a wireless PCS or cellular phone moves from one cell toward another, a computer at the switching office monitors the movement and at the proper time, transfers or hands off the phone call to the new cell and another radio frequency.
2Service revenue generated by subscribers' calls outside of their system areas.
3As of December 31.
source: "No. 1150. Cellular Telecommunications Industry: 1990 to 2002," in Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2003, U.S. Census Bureau, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, Spring 2003, (accessed October 25, 2004)
Cell sites1Number5,61622,66351,60065,88781,698104,288127,540139,338
Service revenueMil. dol.4,54819,08127,48633,13340,01852,46665,01676,508
Roamer revenue2Mil. dol.4562,5422,9743,5014,0853,8833,9363,896
Capital investmentMil. dol.6,28224,08046,05860,54371,26589,624105,030126,922
Average monthly bill3Dollars80.9051.0042.7839.4341.2445.2747.3748.40
Average length of call3Minutes2.202.152.312.392.382.562.742.73

they read as strings of continuous text. Despite these flaws, the e-mail application caught on in the ARPANET community quickly, and the talented computer scientists in the organization worked out most of the kinks. Within a couple of years, users could list messages by subject and date, delete selected messages, and forward messages to other users. E-mail soon became the most popular application for the busy researchers working at ARPANET. When communicating by e-mail, they did not have to worry about the formalities or the long delays inherent in letter writing. Unlike a phone conversation, no time was wasted on small talk, and a copy of the communication could be retained. Finally, people could send e-mails to one another at any time of day or night. By the late 1970s, e-mail discussion groups had formed within the ARPANET community. Two of the more popular were the science fiction group and a group that discussed the potential future social ramifications of e-mail.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, other networks began to develop, such as Usenet and BITNET, which consisted of mainframe computers that connected to one another over telephone lines. The central purpose of these networks was to connect universities and government agencies that were not on ARPANET. Some of these networks, such as Usenet, were set up for the express purpose of sending e-mail and posting messages on newsgroups. Usenet consisted of computers of various sizes all over the country. A relatively small number of large, powerful computers formed the backbone of the network, and a large number of smaller computers logged on to the network through the larger ones. To send an e-mail from Indiana to South Carolina, for instance, a person on a small computer in Indiana would first dial into and post an e-mail onto the nearest large computer. The person operating the large computer in Indiana would then pass the e-mail via modem along with other messages from the region to all the other large computers in the network, including those in or near South Carolina. When the recipient of the e-mail logged into the network through the nearest large computer, the e-mail would then automatically be downloaded.

By the late 1980s, e-mail was available commercially for home users to a limited extent. Such companies as Quantum Computer Services (now known as America Online, or AOL) and Prodigy set up chat room and e-mail services that could be enjoyed by people with home computers. Quantum Link, for instance, was a service compatible with the Commodore 64 computer. Home users dialed into local Quantum Link mainframes, which were located in most major cities around the country. The mainframes were interconnected via open phone lines, so that anyone using the service could e-mail or chat with anyone else logged onto the service across country. A member, however, could not contact someone on another commercial service or on the much larger Internet.

E-mail Becomes Widespread

The development of NSFInternet and the standardization of Internet protocols (TCP/IP) in the mid-1980s brought most of the smaller academic networks such as BITNET together, allowing people throughout academia and government agencies to communicate with one another via e-mail. The invention of the World Wide Web, Mosaic, and the widespread use of more powerful personal computers allowed home users access to Internet e-mail by the early 1990s. In 1994 AOL began offering people a limited service on the Web with the ability to send and receive e-mail. Within a year, all the established dial-up services such as CompuServe and Prodigy moved their e-mail subscribers onto the larger Internet.

Since the mid-1990s e-mail has become the most used application on the Internet. According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in 1996, fifty million adult Americans had used e-mail. A Pew/Internet survey in spring 2000 revealed that the number of Internet users who took advantage of e-mail leapt to seventy-eight million people. Still another Pew/Internet survey, conducted in June 2003, showed e-mail use among Americans was at 117 million people. Most people said that e-mail helped them to maintain social ties with friends, communicate better on their jobs, and interact more effectively with local governments.

Who Uses E-mail?

A December 2003 Pew/Internet study entitled America's Online Pursuits reported that different demographic groups incorporate e-mail into their lives to varying degrees. In 2002 95% of online women sent and received e-mail, while only 90% of men did so. Women also saw e-mail in a more positive light then men and were more likely to say they looked forward to checking their mail. Along racial lines, however, the differences were greater. Only 87% of online African-Americans used e-mail, compared with 93% of whites on the Internet. A higher percentage of English-speaking Hispanics in general sent and received e-mail than whites. However, 54% of whites used e-mail on a daily basis, compared with 39% of online Hispanics.

Trends for e-mail use by age do not reflect trends for general Internet use. Figure 2.1 shows that of all age groups online in December 2002, those over sixty-five years of age had embraced e-mail the most. A March 2004 Pew/Internet survey report entitled Older Americans and the Internet revealed that 94% of online seniors sent or received e-mail, compared with 91% of all Internet users. E-mail is by far the Internet activity that seniors engage in more than any other. E-mail use, just like Internet use, varies with wealth and education. Thirty-nine percent of high school graduates sent e-mail on a typical day according to the December 2003 Pew/Internet report of American's online activities. The same study revealed that some 61% of college graduates were e-mailing daily. Furthermore, only 37% of adult Americans making less than $30,000 per year used e-mail. In households with incomes of more than $75,000 per year, 58% of people sent and received e-mail.


By far the biggest problem facing e-mail today is spam, which is generally defined as unsolicited e-mail


sent in bulk. Many people, including Orson Swindle of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), believe that spam may be on the verge of making e-mail an impractical means of communication. In 2003 Fallows had reported in Spam: How It Is Hurting Email and Degrading Life on the Internet that spam had reached epidemic proportions. As noted in Spam, the research marketing firm Radicati Group found that nearly half of the thirty billion e-mails passing back and forth on the Internet each day consisted of spam. The spam most Internet users saw in their e-mail boxes was only a fraction of the total spam sent to them. MSN and AOL both reported that each day they trashed 2.4 billion spam messages that would have otherwise reached their customers' electronic mailboxes. For AOL customers, this amounted to about sixty-seven spam emails per inbox or 80% of e-mail traffic. As stated in the Pew/Internet report, the price to American businesses to deal with all this spam totaled between $10 billion and $87 billion annually as of 2003.

Spam means many things to many people. According Fallows in Spam, most people (92%) in 2003 agreed to the statement that spam is "unsolicited commercial e-mail from a sender they do not know or cannot identify." Beyond this basic definition, however, opinions varied widely. As Table 2.2 shows, some 78% of adults believed that unsolicited mail containing health, beauty, or medical offers was not


E-mail recipients' definition of spam, 2003
Sender or subject matter% who consider it spam
Notes: For items 1–5, N 624. For items 6–13, N 648. UCE is unsolicited commercial email. E-mailers' definition of spam depends on the sender and the subject matter of the message.
source: "What E-mailers Consider Spam," in Spam: How It Is Hurting E-mail and Degrading Life on the Internet, Pew Internet and American Life Project, October 22, 2003, (accessed October 25, 2004). Used by permission of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
Unsolicited commercial email (UCE) from a sender you don't know92%
UCE from a political or advocacy group74
UCE from a non-profit or charity65
UCE from a sender with whom you've done business32
UCE from a sender you have given permission to contact you11
UCE containing adult content92
UCE with investment deals, financial offers, moneymaking proposals89
UCE with product or service offers81
UCE with software offers78
UCE with health, beauty, or medical offers78
Unsolicited email with political messages76
Unsolicited email with religious information76
A personal or professional message from one you don't know74

spam. If the sender of the spam was promoting a nonprofit organization or charity, then only 65% of the recipients considered the e-mail spam. People were even less judgmental toward organizations with which they conducted business. Only 32% of e-mailers agreed that unsolicited emails sent from someone they did business with is spam. On the other hand, there were those (11%) who believed that an unsolicited e-mail from someone who was given permission to contact them was still spam.

Figure 2.2 shows a breakdown of the percentage of people's daily e-mail that was made of spam in 2003. Roughly a third (34%) of the e-mailing population said their e-mail consisted of 25% spam or less, and another third (35%) replied that their e-mail was made of 60% spam or more. As to the amount of time people spent on spam, Figure 2.3 reveals that 35% of e-mailers took less than five minutes a day clearing out the spam in 2003. Some 13% said they spent between fifteen minutes and thirty minutes on spam, and 15% said they spent over a half-hour or more. Overall, spam affected people's private accounts more than their work accounts. A third of people said their personal e-mails received more than 80% spam on a typical day, compared with 5% of people who responded that their work e-mail received this much spam. Only 7% of people said they received no spam in their personal e-mail inboxes, and nearly 40% said they received no spam in their work e-mail inboxes.

The vast majority of adults who received spam did not like it. Twenty-seven percent of people surveyed in the 2003 Pew/Internet study agreed spam is a "big problem." Most people (59%) said spam was "annoying, but not a


big problem," and only a small number of people (14%) responded that it was not a problem at all. Table 2.3 shows the single biggest objection people had to spam was that it was unsolicited. They were also upset at the volume of spam, its offensive and oftentimes obscene nature, and the fact that spam took time to deal with. Nearly one-third of all adult e-mailers expressed concern that in an attempt to cope with spam, either they or their service provider's e-mail filters were accidentally deleting legitimate e-mails. Still other people claimed that they miss out on e-mail because spam clogs their e-mail accounts to the point where they cannot receive any more mail. All of this amounts to a continued erosion of trust in e-mail. If spam volume continues to grow, it could eventually become heavy enough to jeopardize the system itself.

The problem is that sending out spam costs next to nothing per message sent. Even if 1% of people respond to a spam attack, be it for a legitimate digital cable filter or a fraudulent credit card scam, the spammer stands to make a lot of money or bring in a lot of credit card numbers. The October 2003 Pew/Internet report on spam revealed that 7% of people said they occasionally responded to spam ads. Bringing this number down to zero would likely be impossible. Until an effective law is put into place, the lucrative spam industry will probably continue to thrive. People will still get paid to build and sell huge lists of e-mail addresses. Software makers will continue to make money putting together programs that generate random lists of e-mail addresses and programs


that help spammers find easily exploitable e-mail servers with lists of e-mail accounts.

A group of some of computer scientists and engineers met at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the spring of 2003 to begin researching technologies that can stop spam. In addition, representatives from AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft met to share intelligence on blocking spam in 2003.

anti-spam legislation. The federal government has also become involved in limiting spam. On January 1, 2004, the "Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003" (CAN-SPAM Act) went into effect. This Congressional act, enforced by the FTC and the states' attorneys general, lays out a number of provisions that commercial e-mail senders (spammers) must follow. One provision states that commercial e-mail senders must clearly identify unsolicited e-mail as solicitations or advertisements for products and services. Commercial e-mail senders must also provide a way for the recipient of the mail to opt out of receiving any more e-mails from them, and all e-mails must contain a legitimate address and use honest subject lines. While these provisions address the issue of spam, enforcement has been very difficult. Creating a false identity on the Internet is easy, and once spammers know someone is tracking them down, they can easily relocate their operations to a different state or country. As of October 13, 2004,, one of the premier Web sites devoted to Internet marketing, reported that the level of compliance of CAN-SPAM has only managed to reach the 4% mark.


Aspects of spam that bother e-mail recipients, 2003
Bothersome aspects of spam%e-mailers bothered
N = 1,272.
source: "Aspects of Spam That Bother E-mailers," in Spam: How It Is Hurting E-mail and Degrading Life on the Internet, Pew Internet and American Life Project, October 22, 2003, (accessed October 25, 2004). Used by permission of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
Unsolicited nature of spam84%
Deceptive or dishonest content80
Potential damage to computer79
Volume of spam77
Offensive or obscene content76
Compromise to privacy76
Can't stop it75
Time it takes to deal with it69


Instant messaging (IM) is a tool that allows people to communicate via text messages in near real time over the Internet, and it is typically available on personal computers and on selected cell phones. How Americans Use Instant Messaging (Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project, September 2004) revealed that roughly fifty-four million people (42% of online, adult Americans) used instant messaging. In 2000 IM only had forty-one million users. Some 36% of these IM users reported that they use IM every day, and 63% used it several times a week. Twenty-four percent of those who used IM spent more time on IM than on e-mail. Table 2.4 shows the IM services people used the most in July 2004 and where they liked to use it. AOL was the most popular service, followed by Yahoo and Microsoft.

Generally, most instant messaging programs allow a user to block instant messages from anyone but the people the user wishes to converse with on a regular basis. Those who used instant messaging typically only used it to stay in touch with people they knew well. The September 2004 Pew/Internet report stated that two-thirds of IM users (66%) regularly used the service to communicate with between one and five people, and only roughly one-tenth (9%) contacted more than ten people regularly with IM. In addition, most people preferred to do their instant messaging at home for quick, one-on-one conversations. Seventy-seven percent of the IM community used IM at home, as opposed to 21% at work. Only 22% of IM enthusiasts in 2004 typically sent and received instant messages for more than an hour a day, and 47% percent said their typical IM sessions lasted for less than fifteen minutes.

IM provided people some unique advantages that other communication devices did not. Because of its compact size on the computer screen and its instant nature,


Instant messaging (IM) users and the most popular applications, July 2004
All locationsHomeWorkUniversity
Unique visitors (000)% reach among internet usersUnique visitors (000)%reachUnique visitors (000)%reachUnique visitors (000)%reach
source: "July Data on IM Users and the Most Popular Applications," in How Americans Use Instant Messaging, Pew Internet and American Life Project, September 1, 2004, (accessed October 25, 2004). Used by permission of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
Unduplicated total67,92143.353,36038.814,39128.95,75449.2
AOL Instant Message (proprietary service)25,09016.021,23615.53,1716.41,88816.1
Yahoo! Messenger22,13514.117,56412.84,5829.21,33811.4
AOL Instant Messenger (AiM service)21,36313.616,60012.14,2348.52,49121.3
MSN Messenger applications17,16710.913,3079.74,1328.31,36111.6

people reported that IM was easy to use while multitasking. Thirty percent of adult Americans said that they multitask while using IM. Instant messaging also has a clandestine aspect to it. A person can type a message without anyone knowing what he or she is doing. Nearly a quarter of all IM users said they use IM to converse with someone they were in close proximity to—typically because a class or meeting was in progress.

Table 2.5 shows that IM users in 2004 did not fall along the same demographic lines as Internet users. A higher percentage of African-Americans than whites used instant messaging, and English-speaking Hispanics used IM at the highest rate. Over half of online adult Americans with incomes less than $30,000 reported using IM. Forty-nine percent of those online adults with less than a high school degree took part in instant messaging, which was more than any other educational group. Unlike almost all Internet activities, years of experience on the Internet did not seem to matter when it came to IM. Of course, some of these trends, such as income and Internet experience, were likely due to the age of people who preferred IM. Instant messaging appealed to 62% of Internet users aged eighteen to twenty-seven. In fact, 57% of that age group actually used instant messaging more than e-mail. IM use then dropped off sharply with those aged twenty-eight to thirty-nine and stayed low through retirees.


Another type of Internet communications technology emerging in the early years of the twenty-first century is voice over Internet protocol (VoIP). VoIP is an application that allows the user to make phone calls over the Internet. The user attaches the phone to an adapter that sits between the phone and the computer. When a call is in progress, the adapter breaks down the voice stream into data packets that can then be routed over the Internet just like e-mail to their destination. (Regular phone conversations typically travel as streams of continuous data over a dedicated phone line that connects two people directly.) If the person on the other end of the call is also equipped with VoIP, then the entire conversation is treated by the Internet as nothing more than an instant message or an e-mail. If the person using VoIP, however, dials to a traditional phone, then the call must be converted into a continuous voice stream by a telecom company before the call reaches its destination.

VoIP is likely to become a technology that gains wide acceptance with little fanfare. In "Talk Becomes Cheap" (Popular Science, August 2004), Nicole Davis stated that four million people worldwide are already making calls on VoIP. According to a June 2004 Pew/Internet and New Millennium Research Council data memo, technology research firm Gartner Inc. reported that 150,000 Americans subscribed to VoIP in 2003. This number would grow to one million by the end of 2004 and reach six million by 2005. The same Pew/Internet memo revealed that approximately thirty-four million people (17% of all Americans) had heard of VoIP, and nearly fourteen million Americans had used VoIP at some point in their lives.

According to Davis in Popular Science, VoIP will have to overcome a few obstacles in order to become mainstream. Most important, the user of the service is required to have broadband, which as of late 2004 was installed in roughly only 30% of American homes. Second, not all telecommunications companies have installed gateways to convert VoIP to voice stream and back again on all their phone systems, so some normal phones with local area codes cannot take VoIP calls. Not all providers accept 911 calls over VoIP either. Finally, VoIP shuts down when the power dies, which could prove disastrous in a hurricane, earthquake, or other massive power outage.


Instant messaging (IM) users by selected characteristics, May–June 2004
The percent of internet users in each group who are IM users (e.g. 42% of online men are IM users)The proportion of the IM population each group makes up (e.g. 50% of all IM-ers are men)
N = 1,399. The percentages in the right column do not at times add up to 100 because of rounding.
source: "Who Uses Instant Messaging," in How Americans Use Instant Messaging, Pew Internet and American Life Project, September 1, 2004, (accessed October 25, 2004). Used by permission of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
Gen Y (ages 18–27)62%31%
Gen X (ages 28–39)3728
Trailing boomers (ages 40–49)3320
Leading boomers (ages 50–58)2912
Matures (ages 59–68)257
After work (age 69+)293
Household income
Less than $30,00053%31%
Educational attainment
Did not graduate from HS49%8%
High school grad4431
Some college4832
College degree +3429
Community type
Type of internet connection at home


The cell phone is the only information technology present since the mid-1980s that has outpaced the Internet in terms of use. The development of the modern cell phone began in the mid-1940s, nearly twenty years before scientists even conceived of an Internet. In 1946 the Bell System introduced the first commercial radio-telephone service in St. Louis, Missouri. The radio-telephone, typically mounted under the front dashboard of a car or truck, received incoming telephone calls via radio waves transmitted from a large tower planted on a downtown building. A bell rang and a light went off on the radio-telephone to signify an incoming call. When the person using the radiotelephone answered, his or her side of the conversation was transmitted to one of several receiving stations around the city that were all open to the same frequencies. Both the incoming and outgoing signals were relayed through a switchboard and routed into the national phone system. From the start, this system had a number of limitations. Calls had to be routed through a live switchboard operator, both parties involved in a conversation could not talk at once, and only three conversations could take place citywide at any given time with the bandwidth restrictions.

History and Development

The idea for the modern mobile cellular phone network was first posited in 1947 by D. H. Ring at Bell Laboratories in an internal memorandum. The memo proposed a system that would overcome many of the flaws inherent in the radio-telephone. The plan called for a network of low-powered cellular towers that could receive and transmit telephone calls via radio waves to and from mobile phones. Each tower would have a three-mile broadcast radius. As the user of the mobile phone traveled across these cells, the call was to be automatically routed from one tower to the next and the phone would switch frequencies. To accommodate more customers using a limited number of frequencies, towers that were out of range of one another were to send and receive radio signals of the same frequency. That way two people three miles apart or more could carry on separate conversations using the same frequency without interfering with one another's reception.

In order to implement this vision on a large scale and make a profit, AT&T would require more frequencies on the radio spectrum than the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) then allowed for two-way radio communications. The radio spectrum is essentially a long ribbon of frequencies that stretch from 3 kilohertz to 300 gigahertz. Only one device in an area, be it a radio station or a television station, can use a particular part of this ribbon to broadcast or else interference will arise. The FCC regulates what type of devices can operate over various sections of the radio spectrum. Cell phones generally eat up a big part of each spectrum because each cell phone requires two signals at two different frequencies—one signal for the incoming signal and one for the outgoing signal. With the limits the FCC imposed in 1947, only twenty-seven cellular phone conversations could take place in a metropolitan area equipped with Bell Lab's proposed cellular system. When AT&T approached the FCC and asked them for additional room on the radio spectrum, the FCC held fast and did not grant them additional frequencies.

Over the next twenty years, mobile phone technology did not show rapid advances. The Richmond Radiotelephone Company in 1948 implemented the first automated radio-telephone service that did not require a live switchboard operator. In 1964 the Bell System rolled out the Improved Mobile Telephone Service to replace their aging radio-telephone network. This system allowed for both people to talk at once during a call. The bandwidth each phone occupied on the radio spectrum was narrowed, so more than a few people in a city could use it.

Technological Developments after 1960

AT&T once again approached the FCC in 1958, this time asking for 75 megahertz of spectrum located in the 800 megahertz range of the radio spectrum. At the time, hardly anyone in the United States used this part of the spectrum for broadcasting. The FCC did not review the proposal until 1968. They then considered it for two years and made a tentative decision to let AT&T use that part of spectrum for two-way radio in 1970. Meanwhile, the Bell System, Motorola, and several other companies began engineering the technologies necessary for the cell phone network. In 1969 the Bell System installed the first cell phone system aboard a train. The system consisted of a set of payphones placed on the Metroliner trains that ran between New York City and Washington, D.C. Cell phone towers were set up along the track. As the train sped along, telephone conversations were routed from tower to tower just as described in the 1947 memo. Four years after this first cellular phone went into use, Martin Cooper at Motorola developed the first personal, handheld cellular phone. Motorola erected a single prototype cellular tower in New York to test the phone. Cooper made his first call to his rival at Bell Labs, who was attempting to create a similar device.

In 1978 the FCC allowed AT&T to test an analog cellular telephone service. AT&T chose Chicago, Illinois, for their trial run, and set up ten cellular towers, which covered 21,000 square miles of the Chicagoland area. Customers who wanted to use the service leased large, car-mounted telephones. The trial run was a success, and Ameritech, the regional Bell in metropolitan Chicago, launched the first commercial cellular service in 1983. Two months after Ameritech began service, Motorola offered service as well in the Washington-Baltimore area. Most people had carmounted phones. The alternatives were large portable phones that were so big they had to be carried around in a suitcase. At first, none of the cellular systems being put in place were compatible with one another and roaming outside of the calling area was not a possibility.

In the late 1980s the Telecommunications Industry Association established some basic standards for cell-phone companies. The standards paved the way for a continuous, cross-country network that everyone could use regardless of which company was providing the service (often times with extra roaming charges). The first standard was for analog phones. Analog phones process signals in much the same way as car radios or traditional phones do. When a person speaks into the cell phone, the microphone turns the signal into a continuous stream of electrical impulses, which travels out from the phone's antennae and to the cellular tower. Both these outgoing signals and the incoming signals on modern analog phones take up 30 kilohertz of space on the radio wave spectrum.

Modern Cell-Phone Networks

By 1990 the number of people using cell phones increased dramatically to over five million subscribers, according to the U.S. Census. (See Table 2.1.) With the analog standard and the frequency limitations imposed by the FCC, less than one hundred people in each network were able to use one cellular tower at once. If the number of cell phones maintained the same rate of growth, then cell-phone companies would soon require new technologies that allowed more cell-phone conversations to take place in a given area. The cell-phone companies' solution was to adopt digital technology.

A digital signal is a signal that is broken down into impulses representing ones and zeros. When a digital cell phone receives a digital signal, a chip inside the phone known as a digital signal processor (DSP) reads these ones and zeros and then constructs an analog signal that travels to the phone's speaker. Conversely, the DSP also processes analog signals coming from the phone's microphone, converting them into ones and zeros, before sending the signal to a cell tower. By breaking down the signal into ones and zeros, more telephone calls can be handled by one frequency. The process is analogous to breaking down and cutting up boxes to allow more to fit inside a trash can. The first digital system widely used by the cell phone companies was the time division multiple access (TDMA) method. Figure 2.4 and Figure 2.5 show the difference between the older, frequency division multiple access (FDMA) and TDMA. FDMA requires each phone to use a different frequency. TDMA allows three cell-phone conversations to be contained in the same thirty-kilohertz-wide band that held only one analog conversation. By the early 1990s cellular companies were erecting digital cellular towers enabled with TDMA across the country.

By 1995 the number of cell-phone users had grown to nearly thirty-four million people by U.S. Census estimates, and the TDMA systems were looking as if they might hit capacity as well. In response, the FCC auctioned off more frequency bands in the radio wave spectrum in the 1850 megahertz to the 1900 megahertz range. Services set up on these bands were known as personal communications services (PCS). PCS networks were designed for handheld mobile phones instead of car phones and had smaller cells than the original cellular network. The PCS networks also employed an updated version of TDMA and a newer technology known as code division multiple access (CDMA). Both could pack up to eight calls into one frequency band. With so many bands available, cell-phone companies introduced a multitude of features standard into their phones, such as the ability to send instant messages, surf the Web, play games, send e-mail, and check the identity of callers.

Issues and Concerns

Though cell phones have brought a great deal of convenience to modern life, they have become a source of trouble as well. Many believe that cell phones contribute to automobile accidents because drivers cannot concentrate on the road appropriately while speaking on a cell phone. While Congress continued to debate whether or not to institute a nationwide ban of handheld cell-phone use in automobiles, many states already had laws in place by late 2004. Figure 2.6 displays the states that had instituted cell phone driving laws as of July 2004. As can be seen, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and New York all had full bans on the use of handheld cell phones while driving. Maine banned teen drivers from talking on cell phones while driving. Seven states banned cell phones just for drivers of school buses. In addition, cell-phone restrictions for drivers were being considered by the legislatures of Iowa, Hawaii, Louisiana, and North Carolina in 2004.

As cell-phone makers add such features as Internet access and video games, many believe cell phones are also becoming a bigger distraction and a source of potential trouble for children. In "Cell Phones and Kids: Do They Mix?," an MSNBC article published August 20, 2004, Bob Sullivan outlined some of the concerns parents face with regards to kids and cell phones. While parents have a fairly easy time monitoring what children do on the computer, cell phones are a different story. Given the portable nature of cell phones, children can easily play games or surf the Internet from any location, without their parents' knowledge. In addition, cell-phone Internet browsers have no parental controls, and cell-phone games do not have content ratings. The best way to monitor children's cell-phone use, Sullivan concluded, is to check the activity reported on monthly bills.

Finally, some health concerns associated with cell-phone use emerged at the beginning of the twenty-first century. In "Nerve Cell Damage in Mammalian Brain after Exposure to Microwaves from GSM Mobile Phones" (Environmental Health Perspectives, June 2003), Lief Salford and his colleagues at Lund University in Sweden demonstrated that cell-phone radiation caused brain damage in rats. The scientists mounted a European cell phone to the side of the rats' cage for two hours a day for fifty days to emulate the amount of exposure a habitual cell-phone user would receive. The rats' brains showed significant blood vessel leakage as well as areas of damaged neurons.


Integration is likely to be the future of communications technology. As of 2004 many people were using BlackBerry devices that combine Internet and cellular


technology. A BlackBerry is a wireless, handheld device that downloads e-mail on the Web by dialing into a cell-phone network and then connecting to the Internet. Black-Berry devices also have personal organizer capabilities, including an address book and planner. As of late 2004, many companies offered BlackBerry–cell phone hybrids with a cell phone built into the BlackBerry device, so that both e-mail and cell-phone calls could be received on the same device.

The third generation of wireless technology, commonly referred to as 3G, should allow for even more integration of Internet technologies into cell phones. As of 2004, 3G was being set up for commercial use in the United States. An advanced form of CDMA, 3G will allow more people to share a broader bandwidth of frequencies on the current cell-phone networks. The FCC is working to free up more of the radio frequency spectrum for this new network. The additional bandwidth should dramatically increase the amount of information that can flow between the phone and the cellular tower, making broadband Internet access and streaming video possible on cell phones. With the new system in place, Americans will likely be using their cell phones to download and play music and movie files, watch newscasts, and shop online. Continued development of smaller electronics and display screens should bring even higher quality cameras, video games systems, and Web cameras to cell phones.

The biggest technological issue facing cell-phone makers in the first decade of the twenty-first century is limited battery life. The more features phones have, the more energy they need to run. According to Steve Morgenstern in "Got Juice?" (Popular Science, October 2004), battery energy density since 1990 has tripled, whereas processor speeds, display screens, and memory have increased in complexity hundreds of times. The more complex an electronics device becomes, the more power it needs to run. Unless battery technology increases dramatically, batteries may soon set the limit for how many features can be packed into a cell phone.

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America Discovers New Ways to Communicate

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