Father of the cell phone

>> Sunday, June 7, 2009

Jun 4th 2009
From The Economist print edition

Marty Cooper, the pioneer of mobile telephony, has spent his entire career pushing wireless communications to new heights

Illustration by Andy PottsUNLESS you work in the telecoms industry, you are unlikely to have heard of Marty Cooper. He is hardly a household name. But his influence has been felt across the world, because he is the engineer who took the cellular technology used in the carphones of the 1970s and decided that phones ought to be small enough to be portable. His determination led to the first prototype, in 1973, and then to the first commercial mobile phone in 1983. “Marty is the most influential person no one has ever heard of,” says Robert McDowell, a commissioner with the Federal Communications Commission, America’s telecoms regulator.

The son of Ukrainian immigrants, Mr Cooper spent much of his youth in Depression-era Chicago. He says he never went hungry, but his parents made only a modest living selling merchandise door-to-door, on instalment plans. To finance his education at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Mr Cooper joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and ended up on a navy destroyer, blowing up railway tracks along the North Korean coast during the Korean war. Mr Cooper later switched to submarines and spent a year and a half stationed in Hawaii. There he picked up scuba diving, one of his many athletic pastimes. He enjoyed the navy very much, but he wanted to settle down, so he took a job at Teletype, a subsidiary of Western Electric. He started working at Motorola in 1954 and had earned his masters in electrical engineering at night school by 1957, again at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Mr Cooper credits his family for his subsequent success. “My resourcefulness and persistence come from watching my folks digging in,” he says. “My mother was a dynamo. She would talk to anyone. She never walked slowly. And I am always leaning forward into the wind.”

It’s an apt image for Mr Cooper’s career, during which he has repeatedly spotted what lies ahead and led others towards the creation of new industries. In the 1960s he was instrumental in the establishment of the high-capacity paging market, for example, turning paging from a technology used in single buildings to one that could stretch across cities. He also helped popularise the quartz watch, by fixing a flaw in the crystals Motorola made for its radios, and then encouraging the firm to mass-produce the first crystals for use in watches. “Marty can see over the horizon and see how things should be,” says Tom Wheeler, a managing director at Core Capital Partners, a venture-capital firm. “And then he makes them happen.”

The idea for the mobile phone first occurred to Mr Cooper in the early 1970s, at a time when cellular phones were unwieldy devices built into car dashboards and attached to a box of equipment—a two-way radio and a power supply—in the car’s boot. There were only a few radio channels available on which to make calls, and users often had to wait a long time for one to become free.

Carried away
But once Motorola put Mr Cooper in charge of its carphone division, he decided that such products should not merely be able to move around in cars, but should be small and light enough to be carried around the rest of the time. “I became a zealot for products being portable,” he says. From idea to prototype took 90 days in 1972 as Mr Cooper sponsored a design contest among Motorola engineers—many from divisions he did not run. At a dinner he held that December, each engineer presented his own prototype. “We ended up picking the least glamorous phone,” says Mr Cooper. “It was the simplest.”

That device lead to the famous phone call on April 3rd 1973 after Motorola had hosted a press conference to introduce the phone at the Hilton hotel on the Avenue of the Americas in New York. Although the device had already been tested and made successful calls, Mr Cooper’s decision to take it—and a journalist—onto the street to make a demonstration call was a stroke of marketing genius. He cannot remember the journalist’s name, and Joel Engel, the rival engineer whom Mr Cooper called at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories that day, says he does not remember taking the call. But it was the first public call on a hand-held mobile phone. “I was talking and stepped into the street and almost got hit by a car,” Mr Cooper recalls with an impish grin—the first hint of mobile telecommunications’ distracting downside.

The handset, called a DynaTAC, had 35 minutes of talk time and weighed one kilogram (2.2 pounds). Four iterations later Mr Cooper’s team had reduced the DynaTAC’s weight by half, and it was finally launched in 1983 with a list price of about $4,000. By this time Mr Cooper had fought for a decade with Motorola’s bean-counters, who kept asking him when he was going to stop spending so much money on his pet project—he had become Motorola’s head of research and development in 1976—and start generating revenue. “It cost so much and took so long,” admits Mr Cooper. “But my focus has always been on the long-term technology vision.”

Today over half the world’s population has a mobile phone, and it seems obvious that the idea would succeed. But many people within Motorola in the early 1970s wanted to focus instead on expanding the existing market for business-oriented carphones. “But Marty said ‘We’ll get this thing down to the size of the palm of your hand’,” says Travis Marshall, a retired Motorola executive who worked with Mr Cooper. Most people at the time, he says, thought cellular phones would only ever be business tools, because of their high cost. “Marty kept preaching that the cost would come down and that it would become a consumer product,” he recalls. “He hypnotised everyone at Motorola to follow him,” says Sean Maloney, a senior executive at Intel, the world’s biggest chipmaker, who has himself spent several years championing WiMAX, an emerging mobile-broadband technology.

But by the time Motorola started selling the world’s first hand-held mobile phone to consumers, Mr Cooper had already left the company to launch a new firm that provided billing systems for cellular operators. In 1986 he and his partners sold this company, Cellular Business Systems, to Cincinnati Bell for $23m. A few years later Mr Cooper got a call from Richard Roy, a researcher at Stanford University who had an idea to make mobile telecoms more efficient: smart antennas.

By precisely steering radio waves from a base-station towards a mobile device, it is possible to establish a faster, more reliable link—and to support more users at once, by sending different beams to users in different directions using the same radio frequencies. Mr Cooper gets a call or two every week from someone with a business-development idea, so Mr Roy had to be persistent. He finally got to spend some time with Mr Cooper by jogging with him while the two attended an industry convention. Inspired by Mr Roy’s ideas, Mr Cooper agreed to lead a new company, ArrayComm, set up in 1992.

While leading this smart-antenna company, where he is now the chairman, Mr Cooper coined Cooper’s law, which notes that spectral efficiency—the amount of information that can be crammed into a given slice of radio spectrum—has doubled every 30 months since Guglielmo Marconi patented the wireless telegraph in 1897. Modern devices have a spectral efficiency more than one trillion times greater than Marconi’s original device did 112 years ago (it broadcast in Morse code over a very wide frequency range). Smart antennas, Mr Cooper believes, will help to ensure that this progress continues, and his law continues to hold.

But ArrayComm has had only limited success. Having developed its own wireless-broadband system, it now focuses on providing smart-antenna technology to other equipment-makers, for use in cellular and WiMAX networks. “ArrayComm has the same problem as many technology companies,” says Arthur Lipper, a Wall Street veteran who plays tennis with Mr Cooper. “They are ahead of the market, and this is an expensive place to be.” It is Mr Cooper’s strength, but it can also be a weakness. As Mr Cooper himself puts it, “You could say I was visionary. Or you could say I was too far ahead.”

Unusually for a technology visionary, however, Mr Cooper manages to keep the needs of users in mind, rather than becoming enamoured with technology for the sake of it. He recognised early on that mobile phones would offer people greater freedom and flexibility in their working and personal lives—unlike fixed-line phones, which are tethered to one place, or carphones, which cannot be taken everywhere. A further example is provided by the Jitterbug, a handset designed by his wife, Arlene Harris, which Mr Cooper helped bring to market. This handset, which is now sold by Samsung, has big buttons and basic features and is designed for elderly consumers. As handset-makers crammed more and more features into their phones, Mr Cooper and his wife realised that for some people, less is more.

Beyond the mobile phone
Now 80, Mr Cooper’s vigour is undimmed. Getting time on his schedule may require donning skis or tennis shoes. “Marty scampers around the tennis court like a 17-year-old,” says Mr Lipper. Despite his achievements, he retains an endearing sense of graciousness and humility. He makes a point of replying to the many children who contact him for comments for use in their school reports.

Perhaps surprisingly, Mr Cooper thinks the real impact of mobile communications is yet to come. Things will get really interesting, he thinks, when consumers “get away from the concept of the cell phone—that implies talk and listen” and new applications, based on sending data to and from mobile devices, take hold. There are already glimpses of the potential for mobile data in the success of the BlackBerry e-mail device and the iPhone, with its vast selection of downloadable software. But Mr Cooper feels strongly that such applications will be more likely to flourish if the world’s mobile networks, and the applications that run over them, are developed and managed by different companies, in an open model that mimics the internet. This is yet another idea that Mr Cooper has been pushing for years, says Eric Zimits of Granite Ventures, a venture-capital firm. “He is way ahead in this notion of a mobile internet,” he says.

Once mobile operators focus on providing the network—while leaving application development to the open market—competition will flourish, “so that consumers’ lives are improved,” says Mr Cooper. Open access, he believes, “is just good business”. There are certainly signs that things are heading this way, despite the efforts of operators to avoid being reduced to mere “dumb pipes”. It may be another case where Mr Cooper has correctly identified the outcome, but it takes longer than expected to materialise.

But that seems to be his role. “Marty created the wireless industry,” says Tim McDonald, a former fund manager at Merrill Lynch and one-time board member at ArrayComm. “His greatest strength is his ability to inspire the vision for where the wireless industry can go.”


Interior Bloggers Use Blogs As a Platform To Instill Hatred Against The Government.

>> Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Keningau: Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) President Tan Sri Joseph Kurup criticised certain bloggers who continue to use the blogs as a platform to instil hatred against the Government.

He said it was saddening that some of these bloggers were educated and had received assistance from the Government, including scholarship for further studies.

"For example, there are blogs in the interior areas that accuse the Government of not bringing development to the people, but at the same time, the bloggers are enjoying the facilities and infrastructure provided by the Government.

"In fact, some of them are in government service. These people are ungrateful. Their intention is merely to instil hatred and create enmity between the people and government," he said at a function in Kampong Bombay, here, Monday.

Kurup, who is also the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, said the blogs should be utilised to create a community of quality through constructive writing.

Meanwhile, PBRS Vice-President, Cyril Yansalang, proposed that the Kaamatan Festival celebrations at the State and Federal level be held simultaneously on May 31 next year.

He said the move would not only raise the status of the Pesta Kaamatan as a prestigious celebration but would also reduce the cost of organising it.

Usually, the climax of the Kaamatan Festival at the State-level would be held for two days on May 30 and 31 at the Dewan KDCA each year.

"It will be better if the State-level celebration next year is held on May 30 and the national-level on May 31 at the same venue," he said here.

Welcoming the decision of the Federal Government through the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture to hold the national-level Kaamatan Festival at Padang Merdeka, near here, on June 7 with the cooperation of the State Government, Yansalang said it reflected the commitment and seriousness of the Government to place the Kaamatan Festival as a major cultural festival in the country.

Sources: Daily Express.(01/06/20090


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