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More Phones Than People

This article is published in collaboration with Statista

by Felix Richter

Today marks the 50th anniversary of a momentous phone call. On April 3, 1973, Motorola engineer Martin Cooper was standing in a street of New York when he made the first ever call on a true mobile phone, calling his chief rival at Bell Labs, Joel Engel, presumably to gloat. The call, made on a prototype of what later became the Motorola DynaTAC, was brief, as Cooper later recalled. "I said 'Joel, this is Marty. I'm calling you from a cellphone, a real, handheld, portable cellphone.' There was a silence at the other end. I suspect he was grinding his teeth."

Cooper's call was a pivotal moment in the history of mobile communication, as it marked the beginning of a new era. Today, mobile phones are ubiquitous, with over 5.4 billion people worldwide having at least one mobile subscription, according to GSMA. In fact, there are now more mobile subscriptions than people on the planet, as the former overtook the latter in 2016. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), there were more than 8.58 billion mobile subscriptions in use worldwide in 2022, compared to a global population of 7.95 billion halfway through the year.

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