Mobile telecommunications “come of age” in Australia

Tomorrow, mobile phones come of age in Australia. On that day 21 years ago, the first mobile phones were introduced in Australia.

At 10.42am on February 23, 1987, the then Minister for Communications, Michael Duffy, made the first official call using an analogue mobile phone.

They were big and bulky, weighing more than half a kilogram. They were disparagingly dubbed “bricks”, offered voice only services and cost more than $4000 each.

In the ensuing 21 years there has been a rapid evolution resulting in a quantum shift in mobile phone technology. They have been transformed into digital, slim-line, pocket-sized, hand-held mini-computers capable of anywhere, anytime connectivity.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, Chris Althaus, said the convergence of telecommunications, media and information technology was now mainstream in the form of third generation (3G) services offered by the industry.

“The latest technology provides access across multi-media functions such as the internet, music, video, email, SMS, instant messaging, photography, mobile office, mobile TV as well as the all-important voice telephony functions,” he said.

“3G is providing consumers with the latest mobile telecommunications functionality and further opportunities for business to boost productivity by allowing streamlined business processes, enhanced customer service and increased efficiency,” he said.

Mr Althaus said the growth of mobile phones had been spectacular over the past two decades and the mobile telecommunications industry had a greater impact on the Australian economy than the free-to-air television industry and the newspaper printing and publishing industry.

“Behind the success of our industry, there are people, and mobile phone telephony has had a profound impact on their everyday lives – their lifestyle, their productivity and the ways they interact with their family, friends and their workplaces,” he said.

Industry facts:

Today there are more than 20 million mobile phone services in Australia. A decade and a half ago there were 635,000 mobile phones in Australia.

Today mobile services in operation as a proportion of the Australian population is nearly 100%. Fifteen years ago fewer than 4% of people had one.

In 2006, there were 10.2 billion text messages sent in Australia. In 1987 there were none. Seven years ago when text messaging started there were only 642 million sent in 2000-01.

The direct contribution the mobile phone industry makes to the Australian economy is $5.8 billion in 2006, according to Access Economics. However, it indirect or spillover impact on the broader Gross Domestic Product is estimated to be $6.4 billion – greater than the direct economic impact. Access says mobile telecommunications “punches above its weight” because of its ability to drive productivity gains throughout the Australian economy.