Is 10 years a long or a short timeframe? Depends, and when I think back to my first UMTS mobile that I bought 10 years ago on this day (I checked), the timeframe seems both long and short at the same time. It seems like eternity from an image quality point of view as is pretty much visible in the first picture on the left which is the first picture I took with my first UMTS phone, a Sony Ericsson V800 – Vodafone edition. Some of you might see another UMTS phone on the table, a Nokia 6630 which was a company phone so that doesn't count.
On the other hand, 10 years is not such a long time when you think about how far the mobile industry has come since. Back in 2004 I had trouble finding UMTS network coverage as mostly only bigger cities (population > 500.000 people perhaps) had 3G coverage at the time. Back in 2004, that first UMTS phone was still limited to 384 kbit/s, no HSDPA, no dual-carrier, just a plain DCH. But it was furiously fast for the time, the color display was so much better than anything I had before and the rotating camera in the hinge was a real design highlight. Today, 10 years later, there's almost nationwide 3G and even better LTE coverage, speeds in the double digit megabit/s range are common and screen size, UI speed, storage capacity and camera capabilities are orders of magnitude better than at that time.
Even more amazing is that at the time, people in 3GPP were already thinking about the next step. HSDPA was not yet deployed in 2004 but already standardized and meetings were already held to define the LTE we are using today. Just to get you in the mindset of 2004, here are two statements from the September 2004 "Long Term Evolution" meeting in Toronto Canada:
- Bring your Wi-Fi cards
- GSM is available in Toronto
In other words, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity in notebooks was not yet the norm and it was still not certain to get GSM coverage in places were 3GPP went. Note, it was GSM, not even UMTS…
I was certainly by no means a technology laggard at the time, so I can very well imagine that many delegates attending the Long Term Evolution meeting in 2004 still had a GSM-only device that could do voice and sms, but not much more. And still, they were laying the groundwork for LTE that was so far away from the reality at the time that it almost seems like a miracle.
I close for today with the second image on the left, that shows my first privately owned GSM phone from 1999, a Bosch 738, my first UMTS phone from 2004 and my first LTE phone, a Samsung Galaxy S4 from 2014 (again, I had LTE devices for/from work before but this is the first LTE device I bought for private use). 15 years of mobile development side by side.