First mobile phone call made thirty years ago in London

The UK’s first mobile phone call was made just over 30 years ago on January 1st, 1985, from Parliament Square in London. Fledgling telecom firm Vodafone made the call – it was the first company to have a network.

The call was made by Michael Harrison, son of Sir Earnest Harrison, the former chairman of Vodafone. He used the Transportable Vodafone VT1, just beating BT Cellnet in making history.

According to the London-based multinational telecommunications giant, Mr. Harrison left his family home secretly a few minutes before midnight. He intended to surprise his dad with the call, which he made from Parliament Square.

Sir Ernest heard his landline ringing and picked it up. Michael said “Hi Dad. It’s Mike. This is the first-ever call made on a UK commercial mobile network.”

Transportable Vodafone VT1

The Transportable Vodafone VT1 weighed 11lb (5kg) and had about 30-minutes of talk time. (Photo: Vodafone)

At the other end of the line champagne corks popped and the historic moment was captured by photographers. According to Vodafone, it had been the culmination of three years of hard work since the bid to win the license was made in 1982.

Within a few days, the late Ernie Wise, a well-known British comedian, made the first public mobile phone call at St. Katherine’s Dock in London in front of a large crowd.

Mr. Wise took the same, chunky (for people today) Transportable device to St. Katherine’s Dock in a 19th century mail coach. The aim was to contrast the oldest form of communication – sending a letter by mail coach – with the speed and convenience of making a call with a mobile phone.

Ernie Wise first mobile call

Ernie Wise places one of the first mobile calls in January 1985. (Photo: Vodafone)

Mr. Wise’s call was made to Vodafone’s original headquarters, which was just an office above an Indian restaurant in Newbury, Berkshire.

From January 1st to 10th, 1985, Vodafone was the only company in the UK with a mobile network.

The first generation of mobile phones, heavy and cumbersome machines, were sold in the UK from 1984. They went on the market before the network became operational. By the time Mr. Harrison made that historic call, Vodafone had clocked up over 2,000 orders. More than 12,000 phones were sold by the end of 1985.

The Transportable Vodafone VT1 sold for £2,000 (about £5,000 in today’s money). Symbolizing a revolution in communications, the early mobile phones became extremely popular with the emerging “yuppie” set (young upwardly-mobile professionals).

Full-page ads pushed the message “You can be in when you’re out.”

First mobile call Jan 1 1985

Michael Harrison making the first mobile telephone call from Parliament Sq. to his father on Jan 1, 1985.

Vodafone grew from an office above a restaurant with a handful of employees to the telecom giant it is today with more than 400 million customers across the globe. The company employs more than 92,000 workers worldwide and posted revenues in excess of £38 billion in 2014.

Video – the Transportable Vodafone VT1

This tongue-in-cheek Vodafone video is a simulation of an advert explaining how at the time the state-of-the-art features of the Transportable Vodafone VT1 seem so obsolete today.