Story: Telecommunications

Page 7. Mobile phones

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Digital mobile phones

In the 1990s and 2000s digital telecommunication devices became widely available. Mobile telephones, the smallest and cheapest of the new devices, were rapidly taken up and became standard.

Mobile phones were first available in the 1980s. Expensive and relatively large, the phones were nicknamed ‘the brick’, and used by a small minority. With the introduction of smaller, reasonably priced, digital mobile phones in the 1990s, use became commonplace. The price and size of mobile phones continued to drop and use increased.

Texting

The introduction of the short message service (SMS), or texting, in 1998 prompted an explosion in the rate of use. By 2001, 58.3% of households had a mobile phone, up from 21.3% in 1998. Cellphone numbers more than doubled, from some 200,000 to 500,000. By 2006 Vodafone, a British cellphone giant, had 2 million mobile customers in New Zealand, and Telecom had 1.8 million.

Although the introduction of texting had a similar effect in other countries, New Zealanders are particularly prolific texters. In 2008 over half a billion texts per month were sent. For some New Zealanders, their mobile phone is primarily a texting device.

Cone of silence

 

With growing use of mobile phones the public payphone became increasingly rare, but the cone of silence used on 1960s American comedy series Get Smart made a comeback. Used at Auckland’s Big Day Out concert in 2009 the new ‘hush cones’ were shaped like a curved pod. Within them, mobile phone users talked in relative peace despite surrounding noise.

 

Mobile phone use

In 2006, 80% of New Zealanders used a mobile phone. In 2009, there were more mobile connections than there were people in New Zealand. Although some people remain content with a landline phone, increasingly communication is digital.

From the early 2000s mobile-phone capabilities broadened considerably. Many New Zealanders used their phone to play games, receive television, exchange emails, and take and send photographs and videos. GPS navigation and MP3 audio player applications were commonplace. Texting and talking remained the primary use for mobile phones.

How to cite this page:

A. C. Wilson, 'Telecommunications - Mobile phones', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/telecommunications/page-7 (accessed 17 February 2019)

Story by A. C. Wilson, published 11 Mar 2010