Wireless History Timeline

Here's a quick history lesson on the wireless industry, which lists many of the milestone events that helped change the course of communications around the world.


  • Experimental cellular systems launch in Chicago and the Washington, D.C./Baltimore region.


  • FCC issues Cellular Communications Systems Order, determining the cellular industry should have two carriers per market and creates cellular “A” and “B” licenses for each area of the country.


  • Congress passes Communications Amendments Act of 1982, giving the FCC authority to issue licenses by lottery and requiring applicants to meet certain minimal conditions.
  • On October 13, the first commercial cellular system begins operating in Chicago. In December 1983, the second system is activated in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. corridor.
  • Motorola introduces the DynaTAC mobile telephone unit, the first truly “mobile” radiotelephone. The phone, dubbed the “brick,” had one hour of talk time and eight hours of standby.
  • The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association is founded.
  • There are 340,213 cell phone subscribers.


  • With media looking on, Baltimore city council president Clarence “Du” Burns places a ceremonial call on the city’s Bell Atlantic service.


  • FCC’s Auxiliary Cellular Services Order adopts technical flexibility rules for cellular radio without mandating specific standards, which promotes the introduction of advanced cellular technologies by the industry.


  • Cellular subscribership surpasses 5 million.


  • The number of cellular users passes the 10 million milestone.
  • World’s first commercial text message is sent by employees of Logica CMG.


  • Congress adopts Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, which establishes national framework for wireless regulation and authorizes FCC to auction spectrum for the first time. The license auction raises more than $7 billion for the U.S. Treasury.
  • The first smart phone (IBM’s Simon) is released to the public and offers consumers a calendar, address book, calculator, email, faxing services and games.


  • There are more than 33.8 million wireless subscribers, representing approximately 13% of the total U.S. population.
  • The average consumer uses his or her phone for 115 minutes per month and paid $51.


  • The Telecommunications Act of 1996 becomes law, in part designed to open other communications markets to competition.


  • The wireless industry unveils its “Safety – Your Most Important Call” to help educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving.
  • Balanced Budget Act of 1997 calls for auctioning additional commercial spectrum by Sept, 2002. Advanced Wireless services (AWS-1) auction concludes Sept. 18, 2006, raising nearly $14 billion for U.S. Treasury.


  • The average consumer uses his or her phone for 122 minutes per month and paid $39.43.
  • The first “bucket” of minutes plan is offered.


  • With the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999, the FCC designates 911 as the universal emergency number of wireline and wireless service and promotes the use of technologies that help public safety service providers locate wireless 911 callers.
  • Wireless subscribership in America exceeds 100 million, totaling approximately 38% of the U.S. population.
  • Digital wireless users outnumber analog subscribers.
  • The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association™ merges with the   Wireless Data Forum to become the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association™.


  • The average wireless consumer uses his or her phone for 320 minutes per month.
  • November 8, FCC votes to raise CMRS spectrum limits for individual carriers from 45 MHz to 55 MHz, and subsequently eliminate cap in January 2003.


  • Camera phones are first introduced in the U.S. market.


  • With the Secondary Markets Order, the FCC creates a "secondary market" which permits licensees to lease any amount of their spectrum.
  • October 13 marks the 20th anniversary of commercial wireless communications.


  • The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association™ changes its name to CTIA-The Wireless Association™.
  • The average wireless consumer uses his or her phone for 584 minutes per month and paid an average local monthly bill of $50.64.
  • Congress enacts the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act, creating the Spectrum Relocation Fund to recover the costs associated with relocating radio communication systems from certain bands.


  • Spurred by the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the wireless industry, together with the American Red Cross, develops the national Text 2Help Initiative, which allows customers to donate $5 via text message in the event of a major disaster.
  • Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 enables Digital TV Transition and directs auctioning of 700 MHz of spectrum licenses. Auction concludes March, 2006, raising almost $19 billion for the U.S. Treasury.
  • Subscribership reaches nearly 208 million, which is approximately 69% of the total U.S. population.
  • Subscribers use more than 1.5 trillion voice minutes and send and receive more than 81 billion SMS messages.


  • iPhone launches, spurring dramatic handset innovation.


  • There are more than 270 million wireless subscribers who use more than 2.2 trillion minutes; more than 1 trillion SMS messages are sent and received in the U.S.
  • The average wireless consumer uses his or her phone for 708 minutes per month and pay $50.07 in the average local monthly bill.
  • iTunes Application Store (July) and Android Market (October) open.


  • There are more than 285.6 million U.S. wireless subscriber connections which is approximately 91% of the total U.S. population.
  • Wireless subscribers use more than 6.2 billion minutes per day and send and receive more than 5 billion SMS messages per day.
  • Palm Software Store (January), BlackBerry App World (April), Nokia Ovi Store (May), Palm App Catalog (June) and Windows Mobile Marketplace (July) app stores open.


  • First 4G handset is introduced at International CTIA WIRELESS show.
  • After the devastating January earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a record-breaking $35 million is donated via text message.
  • FCC proposes National Broadband Plan, recommending 500MHz of spectrum be allocated for commercial use by 2020.
  • In June, President Barack Obama signs a memorandum committing to freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum for the wireless industry.


  • U.S. President Barack Obama announces his National Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative that would expand wireless coverage in the U.S.
  • CTIA launches "go wireless, go green" website to provide useful information about measures consumers can take to be more environmentally responsible, CTIA members' initiatives to improve their operations to be more sustainable and the eco-friendly value wireless provides other industries.
  • CTIA, FCC, Consumers Union and participating providers announce the "Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines," which are free alerts to help consumers avoid unexpected overage charges.
  • AccessWireless.org received the FCC Chairman's Award for Advancement in Accessibility.
  • There were 315.9 million wireless subscribers who used more than 2.295 trillion minutes; more than 2.303 trillion SMS messages sent and received and more than 867 MB of data traffic carried on wireless providers' networks in the U.S.


Last Updated: November 2013
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