"Cell Phone" redirects here. For the film, see Cell Phone (film).
"Handphone" redirects here. For the film, see Handphone (film).
For the mobile personal computer, see Smartphone.
A mobile phone, known as a cell phone in North America, is a portable telephone that can make and receive calls over a radio frequency link while the user is moving within a telephone service area. The radio frequency link establishes a connection to the switching systems of a mobile phone operator, which provides access to the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Modern mobile telephone services use a cellular network architecture, and, therefore, mobile telephones are called cellular telephones or cell phones, in North America. In addition to telephony, 2000s-era mobile phones support a variety of other services, such as text messaging, MMS, email, Internet access, short-range wireless communications (infrared, Bluetooth), business applications, video games, and digital photography. Mobile phones offering only those capabilities are known as feature phones; mobile phones which offer greatly advanced computing capabilities are referred to as smartphones.
The first handheld mobile phone was demonstrated by John F. Mitchell and Martin Cooper of Motorola in 1973, using a handset weighing c. 2 kilograms (4.4 lbs). In 1979, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) launched the world's first cellular network in Japan. In 1983, the DynaTAC 8000x was the first commercially available handheld mobile phone. From 1983 to 2014, worldwide mobile phone subscriptions grew to over seven billion, penetrating virtually 100% of the global population and reaching even the bottom of the economic pyramid. In first quarter of 2016, the top smartphone developers worldwide were Samsung, Apple, and Huawei (and "[s]martphone sales represented 78 percent of total mobile phone sales"). For feature phones (or "dumbphones") as of 2016, the largest were Samsung, Nokia, and Alcatel.
Main article: History of mobile phones
A handheld mobile radio telephone service was envisioned in the early stages of radio engineering. In 1917, Finnish inventor Eric Tigerstedt filed a patent for a "pocket-size folding telephone with a very thin carbon microphone". Early predecessors of cellular phones included analog radio communications from ships and trains. The race to create truly portable telephone devices began after World War II, with developments taking place in many countries. The advances in mobile telephony have been traced in successive "generations", starting with the early zeroth-generation (0G) services, such as Bell System's Mobile Telephone Service and its successor, the Improved Mobile Telephone Service. These 0G systems were not cellular, supported few simultaneous calls, and were very expensive.
The first handheld cellular mobile phone was demonstrated by John F. Mitchell and Martin Cooper of Motorola in 1973, using a handset weighing c. 4.4 lbs (2 kg). The first commercial automated cellular network was launched in Japan by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone in 1979. This was followed in 1981 by the simultaneous launch of the Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) system in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Several other countries then followed in the early to mid-1980s. These first-generation (1G) systems could support far more simultaneous calls but still used analog cellular technology. In 1983, the DynaTAC 8000x was the first commercially available handheld mobile phone.
In 1991, the second-generation (2G) digital cellular technology was launched in Finland by Radiolinja on the GSM standard. This sparked competition in the sector as the new operators challenged the incumbent 1G network operators.
Ten years later, in 2001, the third generation (3G) was launched in Japan by NTT DoCoMo on the WCDMA standard. This was followed by 3.5G, 3G+ or turbo 3G enhancements based on the high-speed packet access (HSPA) family, allowing UMTS networks to have higher data transfer speeds and capacity.
By 2009, it had become clear that, at some point, 3G networks would be overwhelmed by the growth of bandwidth-intensive applications, such as streaming media. Consequently, the industry began looking to data-optimized fourth-generation technologies, with the promise of speed improvements up to ten-fold over existing 3G technologies. The first two commercially available technologies billed as 4G were the WiMAX standard, offered in North America by Sprint, and the LTE standard, first offered in Scandinavia by TeliaSonera.
Main article: Smartphone
Smartphones have a number of distinguishing features. The International Telecommunication Union measures those with Internet connection, which it calls Active Mobile-Broadband subscriptions (which includes tablets, etc.). In the developed world, smartphones have now overtaken the usage of earlier mobile systems. However, in the developing world, they account for around 50% of mobile telephony.
Main article: Feature phone
Feature phone is a term typically used as a retronym to describe mobile phones which are limited in capabilities in contrast to a modern smartphone. Feature phones typically provide voice calling and text messaging functionality, in addition to basic multimedia and Internet capabilities, and other services offered by the user's wireless service provider. A feature phone has additional functions over and above a basic mobile phone which is only capable of voice calling and text messaging. Feature phones and basic mobile phones tend to use a proprietary, custom-designed software and user interface. By contrast, smartphones generally use a mobile operating system that often shares common traits across devices.
- Kosher phone
There are Orthodox Jewish religious restrictions which, by some interpretations, standard mobile telephones overstep. To deal with this problem, some rabbinical organizations have recommended that phones with text-messaging capability not be used by children.Phones with restricted features are known as kosher phones and have rabbinical approval for use in Israel and elsewhere by observant Orthodox Jews. Although these phones are intended to prevent immodesty, some vendors report good sales to adults who prefer the simplicity of the devices. Some phones are approved for use by essential workers (such as health, security, and public service workers) on the sabbath, even though the use of any electrical device is generally prohibited during this time.
Main article: Mobile phone features
The common components found on all phones are:
- A battery, providing the power source for the phone functions.
- An input mechanism to allow the user to interact with the phone. These are a keypad for feature phones and touch screens for most smartphones.
- A screen which echoes the user's typing displays text messages, contacts, and more.
- Basic mobile phone services to allow users to make calls and send text messages.
- All GSM phones use a SIM card to allow an account to be swapped among devices. Some CDMA devices also have a similar card called an R-UIM.
- Individual GSM, WCDMA, iDEN and some satellite phone devices are uniquely identified by an International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number.
Low-end mobile phones are often referred to as feature phones and offer basic telephony. Handsets with more advanced computing ability through the use of native software applications are known as smartphones.
In sound, smartphones and feature phones vary little. Some audio-quality enhancing features, such as Voice over LTE and HD Voice, have appeared and are often available on newer smartphones. Sound quality can remain a problem due to the design of the phone, the quality of the cellular network and compression algorithms used in long distance calls. Audio quality can be improved using a VoIP application over WiFi. Cellphones have small speakers so that the user can use a speakerphone feature and talk to a person on the phone without holding it to their ear. The small speakers can also be used to listen to digital audio files of music or speech or watch videos with an audio component, without holding the phone close to the ear.
Main articles: Subscriber Identity Module and Removable User Identity Module
GSMfeature phones require a small microchip called a Subscriber Identity Module or SIM card, in order to function. The SIM card is approximately the size of a small postage stamp and is usually placed underneath the battery in the rear of the unit. The SIM securely stores the service-subscriber key (IMSI) and the Ki used to identify and authenticate the user of the mobile phone. The SIM card allows users to change phones by simply removing the SIM card from one mobile phone and inserting it into another mobile phone or broadband telephony device, provided that this is not prevented by a SIM lock. The first SIM card was made in 1991 by Munich smart card maker Giesecke & Devrient for the Finnish wireless network operator Radiolinja.
A hybrid mobile phone can hold up to four SIM cards. SIM and R-UIM cards may be mixed together to allow both GSM and CDMA networks to be accessed. From 2010 onwards, such phones became popular in emerging markets, and this was attributed to the desire to obtain the lowest on-net calling rate.
Main articles: Cellular network and WiFi
Mobile phones communicate with cell towers that are placed to give coverage across a telephone service area which is divided up into 'cells'. Each cell uses a different set of frequencies from neighbouring cells, and will typically be covered by 3 towers placed at different locations. The cell towers are usually interconnected to each other and the phone network and the internet by wired connections. Due to bandwidth limitations each cell will have a maximum number of cell phones it can handle at once. The cells are therefore sized depending on the expected usage density, and may be much smaller in cities. In that case much lower transmitter powers are used to avoid broadcasting beyond the cell.
As a phone moves around, a phone will "hand off"- automatically disconnect and reconnect to the tower that gives the best reception.
Additionally, short-range Wi-Fi infrastructure is often used by smartphones as much as possible as it offloads traffic from cell networks on to local area networks.
Main article: SMS
A common data application on mobile phones is Short Message Service (SMS) text messaging. The first SMS message was sent from a computer to a mobile phone in 1992 in the UK while the first person-to-person SMS from phone to phone was sent in Finland in 1993. The first mobile news service, delivered via SMS, was launched in Finland in 2000, and subsequently many organizations provided "on-demand" and "instant" news services by SMS. Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) was introduced in 2001.
See also: List of best-selling mobile phones and List of mobile phone makers by country
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From 1983 to 1998, Motorola was market leader in mobile phones. Nokia was the market leader in mobile phones from 1998 to 2012. In Q1 2012, Samsung surpassed Nokia, selling 93.5 million units as against Nokia's 82.7 million units. Samsung has retained its top position since then. In Q2 2016, the top five manufacturers were Samsung (22.3%), Apple (12.9%), Huawei (8.9%), Oppo (5.4%), and Xiaomi (4.5%).
By mobile phone operator
Main article: Mobile phone operator
The world's largest individual mobile operator by number of subscribers is China Mobile, which has over 500 million mobile phone subscribers. Over 50 mobile operators have over ten million subscribers each, and over 150 mobile operators had at least one million subscribers by the end of 2009. In 2014, there were more than seven billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide, a number that is expected to keep growing.
Mobile phones are used for a variety of purposes, such as keeping in touch with family members, for conducting business, and in order to have access to a telephone in the event of an emergency. Some people carry more than one mobile phone for different purposes, such as for business and personal use. Multiple SIM cards may be used to take advantage of the benefits of different calling plans. For example, a particular plan might provide for cheaper local calls, long-distance calls, international calls, or roaming.
The mobile phone has been used in a variety of diverse contexts in society. For example:
- A study by Motorola found that one in ten mobile phone subscribers have a second phone that is often kept secret from other family members. These phones may be used to engage in such activities as extramarital affairs or clandestine business dealings.
- Some organizations assist victims of domestic violence by providing mobile phones for use in emergencies. These are often refurbished phones.
- The advent of widespread text-messaging has resulted in the cell phone novel, the first literary genre to emerge from the cellular age, via text messaging to a website that collects the novels as a whole.
- Mobile telephony also facilitates activism and public journalism being explored by Reuters and Yahoo! and small independent news companies such as Jasmine News in Sri Lanka.
- The United Nations reported that mobile phones have spread faster than any other form of technology and can improve the livelihood of the poorest people in developing countries, by providing access to information in places where landlines or the Internet are not available, especially in the least developed countries. Use of mobile phones also spawns a wealth of micro-enterprises, by providing such work as selling airtime on the streets and repairing or refurbishing handsets.
- In Mali and other African countries, people used to travel from village to village to let friends and relatives know about weddings, births, and other events. This can now be avoided in areas with mobile phone coverage, which are usually more extensive than areas with just land-line penetration.
- The TV industry has recently started using mobile phones to drive live TV viewing through mobile apps, advertising, social TV, and mobile TV. It is estimated that 86% of Americans use their mobile phone while watching TV.
- In some parts of the world, mobile phone sharing is common. Cell phone sharing is prevalent in urban India, as families and groups of friends often share one or more mobile phones among their members. There are obvious economic benefits, but often familial customs and traditional gender roles play a part. It is common for a village to have access to only one mobile phone, perhaps owned by a teacher or missionary, which is available to all members of the village for necessary calls.
In 1998, one of the first examples of distributing and selling media content through the mobile phone was the sale of ringtones by Radiolinja in Finland. Soon afterwards, other media content appeared, such as news, video games, jokes, horoscopes, TV content and advertising. Most early content for mobile phones tended to be copies of legacy media, such as banner advertisements or TV news highlight video clips. Recently, unique content for mobile phones has been emerging, from ringtones and ringback tones to mobisodes, video content that has been produced exclusively for mobile phones.
Mobile banking and payment
Main articles: Mobile banking and Mobile payment
See also: Branchless banking and Contactless payment
In many countries, mobile phones are used to provide mobile banking services, which may include the ability to transfer cash payments by secure SMS text message. Kenya's M-PESA mobile banking service, for example, allows customers of the mobile phone operator Safaricom to hold cash balances which are recorded on their SIM cards. Cash can be deposited or withdrawn from M-PESA accounts at Safaricom retail outlets located throughout the country and can be transferred electronically from person to person and used to pay bills to companies.
Branchless banking has also been successful in South Africa and the Philippines. A pilot project in Bali was launched in 2011 by the International Finance Corporation and an Indonesian bank, Bank Mandiri.
Another application of mobile banking technology is Zidisha, a US-based nonprofit micro-lending platform that allows residents of developing countries to raise small business loans from Web users worldwide. Zidisha uses mobile banking for loan disbursements and repayments, transferring funds from lenders in the United States to borrowers in rural Africa who have mobile phones and can use the Internet.
Mobile payments were first trialled in Finland in 1998 when two Coca-Cola vending machines in Espoo were enabled to work with SMS payments. Eventually, the idea spread and in 1999, the Philippines launched the country's first commercial mobile payments systems with mobile operators Globe and Smart.
Some mobile phones can make mobile payments via direct mobile billing schemes, or through contactless payments if the phone and the point of sale support near field communication (NFC). Enabling contactless payments through NFC-equipped mobile phones requires the co-operation of manufacturers, network operators, and retail merchants.
See also: Cellphone surveillance and Mobile phone tracking
Mobile phones are commonly used to collect location data. While the phone is turned on, the geographical location of a mobile phone can be determined easily (whether it is being used or not) using a technique known as multilateration to calculate the differences in time for a signal to travel from the mobile phone to each of several cell towers near the owner of the phone.
The movements of a mobile phone user can be tracked by their service provider and if desired, by law enforcement agencies and their governments. Both the SIM card and the handset can be tracked.
China has proposed using this technology to track the commuting patterns of Beijing city residents. In the UK and US, law enforcement and intelligence services use mobile phones to perform surveillance operations. They possess technology that enables them to activate the microphones in mobile phones remotely in order to listen to conversations which take place near the phone.
Hackers are able to track a phone's location, read messages, and record calls, just by knowing the phone number.
Main articles: Mobile phones and driving safety and Texting while driving
Mobile phone use while driving, including talking on the phone, texting, or operating other phone features, is common but controversial. It is widely considered dangerous due to distracted driving. Being distracted while operating a motor vehicle has been shown to increase the risk of accidents. In September 2010, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 995 people were killed by drivers distracted by cell phones. In March 2011, a U.S. insurance company, State Farm Insurance, announced the results of a study which showed 19% of drivers surveyed accessed the Internet on a smartphone while driving. Many jurisdictions prohibit the use of mobile phones while driving. In Egypt, Israel, Japan, Portugal, and Singapore, both handheld and hands-free use of a mobile phone (which uses a speakerphone) is banned. In other countries, including the UK and France and in many U.S. states, only handheld phone use is banned while hands-free use is permitted.
A 2011 study reported that over 90% of college students surveyed text (initiate, reply or read) while driving. The scientific literature on the dangers of driving while sending a text message from a mobile phone, or texting while driving, is limited. A simulation study at the University of Utah found a sixfold increase in distraction-related accidents when texting.
Due to the increasing complexity of mobile phones, they are often more like mobile computers in their available uses. This has introduced additional difficulties for law enforcement officials when attempting to distinguish one usage from another in drivers using their devices. This is more apparent in countries which ban both handheld and hands-free usage, rather than those which ban handheld use only, as officials cannot easily tell which function of the mobile phone is being used simply by looking at the driver. This can lead to drivers being stopped for using their device illegally for a phone call when, in fact, they were using the device legally, for example, when using the phone's incorporated controls for car stereo, GPS or satnav.
A 2010 study reviewed the incidence of mobile phone use while cycling and its effects on behaviour and safety. In 2013, a national survey in the US reported the number of drivers who reported using their cellphones to access the Internet while driving had risen to nearly one of four. A study conducted by the University of Vienna examined approaches for reducing inappropriate and problematic use of mobile phones, such as using mobile phones while driving.
Accidents involving a driver being distracted by talking on a mobile phone have begun to be prosecuted as negligence similar to speeding. In the United Kingdom, from 27 February 2007, motorists who are caught using a hand-held mobile phone while driving will have three penalty points added to their license in addition to the fine of £60. This increase was introduced to try to stem the increase in drivers ignoring the law.Japan prohibits all mobile phone use while driving, including use of hands-free devices. New Zealand has banned hand-held cell phone use since 1 November 2009. Many states in the United States have banned texting on cell phones while driving. Illinois became the 17th American state to enforce this law. As of July 2010, 30 states had banned texting while driving, with Kentucky becoming the most recent addition on July 15.
Public Health Law Research maintains a list of distracted driving laws in the United States. This database of laws provides a comprehensive view of the provisions of laws that restrict the use of mobile communication devices while driving for all 50 states and the District of Columbia between 1992 when first law was passed, through December 1, 2010. The dataset contains information on 22 dichotomous, continuous or categorical variables including, for example, activities regulated (e.g., texting versus talking, hands-free versus handheld), targeted populations, and exemptions.
In 2010, an estimated 1500 pedestrians were injured in the US while using a cellphone and some jurisdictions have attempted to ban pedestrians from using their cellphones.
Main article: Mobile phone radiation and health
See also: Nomophobia and Mobile phone overuse
The effect of mobile phone radiation on human health is the subject of recent[when?] interest and study, as a result of the enormous increase in mobile phone usage throughout the world. Mobile phones use electromagnetic radiation in the microwave range, which some believe may be harmful to human health. A large body of research exists, both epidemiological and experimental, in non-human animals and in humans. The majority of this research shows no definite causative relationship between exposure to mobile phones and harmful biological effects in humans. This is often paraphrased simply as the balance of evidence showing no harm to humans from mobile phones, although a significant number of individual studies do suggest such a relationship, or are inconclusive. Other digital wireless systems, such as data communication networks, produce similar radiation.
On 31 May 2011, the World Health Organization stated that mobile phone use may possibly represent a long-term health risk, classifying mobile phone radiation as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" after a team of scientists reviewed studies on mobile phone safety. The mobile phone is in category 2B, which ranks it alongside coffee and other possibly carcinogenic substances.
Some recent[when?] studies have found an association between mobile phone use and certain kinds of brain and salivary gland tumors. Lennart Hardell and other authors of a 2009 meta-analysis of 11 studies from peer-reviewed journals concluded that cell phone usage for at least ten years "approximately doubles the risk of being diagnosed with a brain tumor on the same ('ipsilateral') side of the head as that preferred for cell phone use".
One study of past mobile phone use cited in the report showed a "40% increased risk for gliomas (brain cancer) in the highest category of heavy users (reported average: 30 minutes per day over a 10‐year period)". This is a reversal of the study's prior position that cancer was unlikely to be caused by cellular phones or their base stations and that reviews had found no convincing evidence for other health effects. However, a study published 24 March 2012, in the British Medical Journal questioned these estimates because the increase in brain cancers has not paralleled the increase in mobile phone use. Certain countries, including France, have warned against the use of mobile phones by minors in particular, due to health risk uncertainties. Mobile pollution by transmitting electromagnetic waves can be decreased up to 90% by adopting the circuit as designed in mobile phone and mobile exchange.
In May 2016, preliminary findings of a long-term study by the U.S. government suggested that radio-frequency (RF) radiation, the type emitted by cell phones, can cause cancer.
See also: Mobile phone use in schools
A study by the London School of Economics found that banning mobile phones in schools could increase pupils' academic performance, providing benefits equal to one extra week of schooling per year.
Electronic waste regulation
See also: Mobile phone recycling
Studies have shown that around 40-50% of the environmental impact of mobile phones occurs during the manufacture of their printed wiring boards and integrated circuits.
The average user replaces their mobile phone every 11 to 18 months, and the discarded phones then contribute to electronic waste. Mobile phone manufacturers within Europe are subject to the WEEE directive, and Australia has introduced a mobile phone recycling scheme.
Apple Inc. had an advanced robotic disassembler and sorter called Liam specifically for recycling outdated or broken iPhones. 
According to the Federal Communications Commission, one out of three robberies involve the theft of a cellular phone. Police data in San Francisco show that half of all robberies in 2012 were thefts of cellular phones. An online petition on Change.org, called Secure our Smartphones, urged smartphone manufacturers to install kill switches in their devices to make them unusable if stolen. The petition is part of a joint effort by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and was directed to the CEOs of the major smartphone manufacturers and telecommunication carriers. On Monday, 10 June 2013, Apple announced that it would install a "kill switch" on its next iPhone operating system, due to debut in October 2013.
All mobile phones have a unique identifier called IMEI. Anyone can report their phone as lost or stolen with their Telecom Carrier, and the IMEI would be blacklisted with a central registry. Telecom carriers, depending upon local regulation can or must implement blocking of blacklisted phones in their network. There are, however, a number of ways to circumvent a blacklist. One method is to send the phone to a country where the telecom carriers are not required to implement the blacklisting and sell it there, another involves altering the phone's IMEI number. Even so, blacklisted phones typically have less value on the second-hand market if the phones original IMEI is blacklisted.
Main article: 5G
5G is a technology and term used in research papers and projects to denote the next major phase in mobile telecommunication standards beyond the 4G/IMT-Advanced standards. The term 5G is not officially used in any specification or official document yet made public by telecommunication companies or standardization bodies such as 3GPP, WiMAX Forum or ITU-R. New standards beyond 4G are currently being developed by standardization bodies, but they are at this time seen as under the 4G umbrella, not for a new mobile generation.
See also: Conflict minerals
Demand for metals used in mobile phones and other electronics fuelled the Second Congo War, which claimed almost 5.5 million lives. In a 2012 news story, The Guardian reported: "In unsafe mines deep underground in eastern Congo, children are working to extract minerals essential for the electronics industry. The profits from the minerals finance the bloodiest conflict since the second world war; the war has lasted nearly 20 years and has recently flared up again. ... For the last 15 years, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been a major source of natural resources for the mobile phone industry." The company Fairphone has worked to develop a mobile phone that does not contain conflict minerals.
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Introduction and background
Wireless communication has emerged as one of the fastest diffusing mediums on the planet,fueling an emergent “mobile youth culture” that speaks as much with thumbs as it does with tongues. At one of our focus groups a teen boy gushed, “I have unlimited texts . . . which is like the greatest invention of mankind.” His enthusiasm was hardly unique. Cell phone use and, in particular, the rise of texting has become a central part of teens’ lives. They are using their phones to stay in touch with friends and parents. They are using them to share stories and photos. They are using them to entertain themselves when they are bored. They are using them to micro-coordinate their schedules and face-to-face gatherings. And some are using their phones to go online to browse, to participate in social networks, and check their emails. This is the sunny side of the story. Teens are also using mobile phones to cheat on tests and to skirt rules at school and with their parents. Some are using their phones to send sexts, others are sleeping with buzzing phones under their pillows, and some are using their phones to place calls and text while driving.
While a small number of children get a cell phone in elementary school, the real tipping point for ownership is in middle school. About six in ten (66%) of all children in our sample had a cell phone before they turned 14. Slightly less than 75% of all high school students had a cell phone.
This report particularly highlights the rapid rise of text messaging in recent months. Some 72% of all US teens are now text message users, up from 51% in 2006. Among them, the typical texter sends and receives 50 texts a day, or 1500 per month. By way of comparison a Korean, Danish or a Norwegian teen might send 15 – 20 a day and receives as many. Changes in subscription packages have encouraged widespread texting among US teens and has made them into world class texters. As a result, teens in America have integrated texting into their everyday routines. It is a way to keep in touch with peers even while they are engaged in other social activities. Often this is done discreetly and with little fuss. In other cases, it interrupts in-person encounters or can cause dangerous situations.
To understand the role that cell phones play in teens’ lives, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Michigan’s Department of Communication Studies conducted a survey and focus groups in the latter part of 2009. The phone survey was conducted on landline and cell phones and included 800 youth ages 12-17 and one of their parents. It was administered from June 26-September 24, 2009. The overall survey has a margin of error of 4 percentage points; the portion dealing with teen cell owners involved 625 teens in the sample and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points; the portion dealing with teen texters involved 552 teens in the sample and has a margin of error of 5 percentage points.
A brief history of the mobile phone as a technology
The idea for cellular telephony originated in the US. The first cellular call and the first call from a hand held cellular device also were placed in the US.
The cell phone merges the landline telephony system with wireless communication. The landline telephone was first patented in 1876. Mobile radio systems have been used since the early 1900’s in the form of ship to shore radio, and were installed in some police cars in Detroit starting in 1921. The blending of landline telephone and radio communication came after the Second World War. The first commercially available “mobile radiophone service” that allowed calls from fixed to mobile telephones was offered in St. Louis in 1946. By 1964 there were 1.5 million mobile phone users in the US. This was a non-cellular system that made relatively inefficient use of the radio bandwidth. In addition, the telephones were large, energy intensive car-mounted devices. According to communications scholar Thomas Farley, the headlights of a car would noticeably dim when the user was transmitting a call.
In the drive to produce a more efficient mobile telephone system, researchers W. Rae Young and Douglas Ring of Bell Labs developed the idea of cellular telephony, in which geographical areas are divided into a mesh of cells, each with its own cell tower. This allowed a far more efficient use of the radio spectrum and the “cell” phones needed less power to send and receive a signal. The first installation was in 1969 on the Amtrak Metroliner that traveled between New York City and Washington. Four years later Martin Cooper of Motorola made the first cellular call from a prototype handheld cell phone.
Regulation around mobile phones
After the inauguration of mobile phone service in the US, a regulatory environment that allowed multiple mobile-calling standards stifled mobile communication development and expansion in the US for several years. Indeed, the growth of the GSM standard in Europe and the rise of DoCoMo in Japan meant that the dramatic developments in the cell phone industry were taking place abroad. In the US, small license areas for mobile phone companies meant that users were constantly roaming outside their core area. A user in Denver would have to pay roaming charges if he or she made or received a call in Ft. Collins, Colorado Springs or Vail. To the degree that texting was available, users could only text to users in their home network.
In the late 1980’s industry consolidation eliminated the small local areas and by the turn of the millennium, interoperability between operators became standard, and the cost of calling plans and the price of handsets fell. Rather than being a yuppie accessory, the cell phone became widely-used by everyone from the captains of industry and finance to the people who shined their shoes and walked their dogs.
As cell phones have become more available, they are increasingly owned and used by children and teens. Further, as handsets become more loaded with capabilities ranging from video recording and sharing, to music playing and internet access, teens and young adults have an ever-increasing repertoire of use. Indeed, we are moving into an era when mobile devices are not just for talking and texting, but can also access the internet and all it has to offer. This connectivity with others and with content has directed the regulator’s lens onto mobile safety practices. It has also prompted the beginning of a cultural conversation about how to ensure that parents have the tools to regulate their child’s mobile use, should they choose to. Understanding how youth use mobile phones is vital to creating effective policy based on the reality of how the technology is used. It is also important to understand how telecommunications company policies and pricing affect how teens and parents use their phones.
Previous research on cell phones and teens
This report tries to expand a tradition of cell phone research that extends into the early 1990s, and work on landline telephony as far back as the 1970s. The first studies to examine the social consequences of the mobile phone came in the early 1990s when researchers examined its impact on residential markets. One of the earliest papers on cell phones examined it through the lens of gender; in 1993, Lana Rakow and Vija Navarro wrote about the cell phone and what they called “remote mothering.” Starting in the mid 1990s in Europe there was the beginning of more extended scholarship on cellular communication, and by 2000 work was being done in the US that evolved from a small number of articles to edited books and eventually to both popular and more scholarly books on mobile communication.
Several themes have been central in these analyses. One is the use of cell phones in the “micro-coordination” of daily interaction. As the name implies, this line of research examines how the cell phone allows for a more nuanced form of coordination. Instead of having to agree on a time and place beforehand, individuals can negotiate the location and the timing of meetings as a situation clarifies itself. Micro-coordination can be used to organize get-togethers and it can be used to sort out the logistics of daily life (e.g. sending reminders to one another or exchanging information on the fly). Extending this concept further, the cell phone can be used to coordinate so called “flash mobs” as well as different kinds of protests.
While micro-coordination describes an instrumental type of interaction, another line of research has examined how the cell phone can be used for expressive interaction. Since the device provides us direct access to one another, it allows us to maintain ongoing interaction with family and friends. This, in turn provides the basis for the enhancement of social cohesion. In this vein, some researchers have examined how the cell phone affects our sense of safety and security. The cell phone can be used to summon help when accidents have happened and they can be seen as a type of insurance in case something bad occurs. Others have examined how teens, as well as others, see the mobile phone as a form of self-expression. Having a cell phone is a status symbol and having a particularly sought after model can enhance our standing among peers.
Finally, focusing directly on teens, there has been considerable research on the role of the cell phone as part of the emancipation process. Up to this point, however, there has been little quantitative analysis of teens in the US on this topic. Indeed this is one of the main questions considered in this report. Before the cell phone, there were often discussions in the home as to whether a teen could have a landline extension in her room. Teens’ push to have their own landline phone underscored their drive to control contact with their peers. The rise of the cell phone has changed the dimensions of this discussion. The cell phone has provided teens with their own communication channel. This access can be used to plan and to organize daily life and it can be used to exchange jokes and endearments. It can also be used to plan mischief of varying caliber, and it can be used to exchange photos that are – literally – the picture of innocence or of depravity.
The organization of the report
This report is the fruit of a collaboration between the University of Michigan and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in an attempt to broadly capture the current state of mobile phone ownership and use among American youth and their families today. From June through September 2009, the Pew Internet Project fielded a random digit-dial telephone survey among a nationally representative sample of 800 teens ages 12-17 and one of their parents or a guardian (the teen and their parent/guardian were interviewed independently). In addition to the telephone survey, the University of Michigan fielded 9 focus groups among teens ages 12-18 in four cities in June and October of 2009. The focus groups queried teens more deeply about attitudes toward and practices around their mobile phone.
The study has been guided by a desire to measure the state of affairs around mobile phones and youth in the US – how many, how much, how often, with whom? – and to better understand how mobile phones fit into and enhance (or detract from) friendships and family relationships.
The report is organized into five chapters. The first chapter covers many of the basic measurements around mobile phones, the demographic variations around their use, and different models of phone ownership. This chapter also explores the economics of teens’ phone use, including payments, and calling and texting plan structures.
The second chapter of the report looks in depth at text messaging and voice calling, and compares the two modes of communication. It then places both of those activities in the broader context of teens’ overall communications practices as well as in the context of all the activities that teens can and do engage in on their mobile phone handsets, such as listening to music, sending email, looking up websites online and taking and sharing photos and videos.
The third chapter examines parents’ and teens’ attitudes towards their cell phones, and the ways the devices enhance and disrupt their lives. It details how families and teens feel about safety and the phone, and the ways in which the phone has become a social and entertainment hub. This chapter also explores how the phone has become an electronic tether between parents and children, and teens and friends, one so potent that teens frequently sleep with their phone under their pillows.
Chapter four examines the ways in which parents and schools regulate and monitor teens’ mobile phone use and how those actions may relate to teen cell phone-related behaviors.
The fifth chapter looks at teens, cell phones and “adverse behaviors.” It recaps some of our previous research on sexting and distracted driving, and presents new research on harassment through the mobile phone, as well as teens’ experiences with spam and the sending of regrettable text messages.
The last section of the report details the full set of methods that we used to conduct the research that undergirds this report.