5 x 15 minute episodes
MPEG-1 Layer 3
Stephen Fry traces the evolution of the mobile phone, from hefty executive bricks that required a separate briefcase to carry the battery to the smart little devices of today
Creating the Network
Stephen Fry on the Phone Episode 1 of 5
In the first episode, Stephen Fry meets the men who first dreamt of creating a cellular network. Back in the sixties, two Bell Labs engineers in the US thought perhaps a maximum of 50,000 people might use a cellular phone network. Now, there are billions of phones in the world, all of them dependent on the networks based on their design. It was an enormous technical challenge that took decades to complete; but the main problems were political. Motorola, for example, argued that phone calls were a frivolous waste of radio spectrum compared to more worthy causes like television.
From Car Phone to Executive Brick
Stephen Fry on the Phone Episode 2 of 5
In episode two, Stephen Fry meets the men who brought mobile phones to Britain. Thanks to Margaret Thatcher opening up the airwaves, Britain became a world leader in mobile phone technology in the eighties. Vodafone (short for voice-data-phone) competed fiercely with the BT's mobile baby, Cellnet (short for cellular network), to create the first mobile phone network in the UK which was launched to great fanfare on Christmas Day 1985. Coverage was truly patchy, handsets were seriously hefty and calls cost a fortune, but mobile phones quickly replaced car phones as the ultimate yuppie accessory. Voicemail, incidentally, was a good excuse to charge customers yet more for a service that was, in reality, rather poor..
The Accidental Discovery of Text
Stephen Fry on the Phone Episode 3 of 5
Stephen Fry meets the men who created the first texting facility, as well as other less commercially successful products like taxifones, payphones on trains and in-car fax machines. He hears how texting triumphed unexpectedly when paging was all the rage, partly because paging services never seemed to work on Friday afternoon. On the earliest handsets there was no way of replying to a text. Later, just in case someone might want to reply, they included a short list of possible pre-set answers: yes, no and later. In the mid 90s texting was just one of countless facilities embedded within the new digital mobile phones: no one thought it that important. In 2010 alone, a staggering 6.1 trillion text messages were sent. And most of them received a reply.
Shrinking the Handset
Stephen Fry on the Phone Episode 4 of 5
In the fourth episode, Stephen Fry talk to the engineers who turned mobile phones from hefty executive bricks into svelte fashion accessories. One man at Motorola dreamt of a mobile phone small enough to fit in a shirt pocket but it was Nokia , once more famous for making loo paper and wellies, that cornered the global market. In the early nineties, Nokia was on the brink of collapse. But the new chief executive, brought in to save the company from bankruptcy, made a bold decision to ditch the wellies and focus solely on mobile phones. Soon the iconic Nokia ringtone (extracted incidentally from a piece for classical guitar composed in 1902) was inescapable.
The Chips Inside Smartphones
Stephen Fry on the Phone Episode 5 of 5
All mobile phones rely on hyper-intelligent silicon chips to run them. And the astonishing thing is 85% of the silicon chips inside all mobile phones are designed by one Cambridge-based company, ARM. Stephen Fry talks to the pioneers who designed these chips. They needed some micro-processors to build a better home computer, but didn't like what they saw and decided to make their own. Strapped for cash, they designed chips that were small, cheap and exceptionally low power and, quite by chance, ideally suited to the next generation of pocket-sized mobile phones. Not to mention today's power-hungry smartphones.
Producer: Anna Buckley.