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TIMELINE: Gabbing On The Go

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A Timeline of Mobile Devices

The United States has seen an almost exponential increase in mobile phone use since the devices first went commercial in 1983, and today there are more than 229 million wireless subscribers, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission and CTIA: The Wireless Association. Yet anyone out of college can remember keeping a stash of quarters in the car for that emergency mini-mart payphone call (or, better yet, calling collect).

The shift in communications patterns didn’t exactly happen overnight. Texting, long popular in Europe and Asia, didn’t become fashionable here until well into this decade. The total number of cell phones didn’t overtake traditional wired telephone or "land" lines until sometime in 2004. Yet some experts are predicting that text messaging could soon be replaced by instant messaging services—the Yahoo! Messengers and the Google Talks with their graphical emoticons and lack of usage fees—as they become more accessible on handheld devices.

Change is coming fast, and it seems ever more the case that the only reliable constant for this generation or the next is change itself.

So just how fast is fast? Take a look at this visual timeline to see some of the historic moments in the history of mobile communications, and watch as wireless devices overtake their tethered counterparts. Then keep reading below for some interesting factoids.


Graphic by Brian Frank and Steve Proffitt

Just The Facts:

• Wireless service was once projected to be a niche market appealing to a maximum of 900,000 by the year 2000.

• Wireless minutes of use have increased almost 5000% from 17 billion in early 1995 to more than 857 billion in the first half of 2006.

• In that same period, subscribership has grown by more than 679%.

• The FCC has reported that "the United States continues to lead the world in average minutes of use per subscriber"—individual customers in the U.S. use five times the number of minutes as the average European subscriber.

• Market research has attributed 52% of mobile content consumption in the U.S. to Hispanic wireless users.

• There are more than 2.3 billion mobile subscribers worldwide.

• More than 8% of households in the United States are wireless-only, having "cut the cord" and disposed of their landline telephones.

• According to M:Metrics, 15% of all U.S. wireless customers sent photo messages in October 2006.

• Also according to M:Metrics, almost 75 million U.S. wireless customers sent text messages in October 2006.

• As per the NPD Group, by mid-2006, 42% of all wireless subscribers used their wireless phone as their primary phone.

• By mid-2006, almost half of wireless customers in the U.S. were using some form of wireless data—surfing the wireless web, sending text and photo-messages, or downloading and playing games, ringtones or music files.

Source: CTIA: The Wireless Association

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