No Wi-fi No Problem

In an era when even many children have smart phones, it’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t have them. Today, there are actually more wireless subscriptions than there are people in the U.S. — an astounding 326.4 million of them. This underscores the importance of the system which makes wireless communication possible; namely, wireless phone networks.

While we still call them phones because we make calls on them, modern wireless phones are actually advanced radios which also have computing capabilities. From the perspective of the past, they’re like a super spy gadget from a James Bond film. Unlike landline phones, they use radio waves to send and receive data, including voice calls. This is why both your Mini iPad 3 with iOS 8 and your trusty old LG phone can let you surf the web, watch movies, and check your email using the wide coverage and fast 4G LTE from wireless networks like T-Mobile.


But wireless technology hasn’t always been so sophisticated. Like computing, it’s evolved by leaps and bounds over the past few decades. Nor has it always been inexpensive. Radio phone service — what we know as wireless — has actually existed since the 1940s, but was so prohibitively expensive in the beginning that it was seen as nothing more than a toy for the rich. For instance, in 1946, wireless service would have cost the equivalent of $5 per call. Ouch.

Decades later, wireless was still a niche technology. There were many fewer base stations and coverage was spotty, but as service areas enlarged, subscribership grew. By 1995, the number of wireless subscribers had passed 30 million, but was still only 13% of the population. By 2009, wireless technology had come into its own, and 91% of the population subscribed to a wireless network — and the numbers continue to grow. From cell phones to tablets and GPS systems, we all rely on wireless networks. Wireless is arguably one of the most important technological advances of the past century. Check out this infographic to see how it all works.


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