23 Feb 2012
By Stef Nowak

Mobile memories – in celebration of 25 years of hand-held phones


It’s hard to believe it has been 25 years since the launch of the first hand-held mobile phone. Whereas today I wouldn’t dream of leaving home without my trusty handset in my pocket, I recall 25 years ago when I was a trainee technician in the Mornington Peninsula, and we first launched the ‘Walkabout’ things were very different……

For a start it was the size and shape of a small brick. Streaming multimedia, video chat, mobile email and the lightning-fast speeds of our 4G network, all features we take for granted today, were, back then unimaginable. It was all about the revolution of ‘walking the talk’ by making calls on the go.

What isn’t hard to believe is that, due to the cost, $5,200 (the equivalent of around $11,000 today) hand-held mobiles quickly became the ultimate yuppie accessory.

I recall in the early days, some users had a tendency to speak very loudly on their handsets to draw attention to themselves and their ‘status-symbol’ mobile phone. Once I was watching some-one at the train station speaking on a new mobile handset, which was about the size of 10 iPhones talking loudly to attract everyone’s attention, when in conversation his phone rang! He scurried off rather quickly in embarrassment.

Car-mounted phones were usually installed in prestige cars, or funnily enough, tradies vans as they were pretty quick to realise the benefits of the new technology. A fellow apprentice recalls when a brand new Porsche 928 came in to be fitted. It required a roof mounted antenna, however when they drilled the antenna hole through the roof it was 40mm off centre. The apprentice responsible was somewhat unpopular…..

At the Telstra Museum which is open to the public by appointment, we have all sorts of telecommunications memorabilia, from the past 25 years and beyond.

All our volunteers , which includes current and retired Telstra staff – are passionate about conserving Australia’s telecommunications history for future generations.

Share your earliest mobile memory here or send photos to us, or send us a link.


Posts: 3


  1. Allan says:

    I purchased my first hand held mobile in 1986 with an up front cash price of $2999 tah was the start of improved business for my electrical contracting business.

  2. Colin says:

    I was a telecom tech involved in the first handhelds, and prior to that the “007″ phones ( that was the area code for mobiles at the time, maybe someone had a sense of humour too) Max of 5000 users per city and a box bigger than a briefcase in the boot for the transceiver. We used to take great delight drilling holes into rolls royces, ferraries etc., (with some trepidation)
    How did we live without mobile phones before then ???

  3. anestis mantzouranis says:

    I was with an IT team involved with early pilot testing of Telstra’s, remote office product. This was a very ambitous project on trial at the time using WAP (Wireless Advertising Protocol) & the MSOffice suite installed on a laptop. It was late 1999 – 2000 & the solution used a Nokia 9000 variant with a serial modem connection to the laptop to access the corporate network at around 9600 – 14400 baud in those days. It was quite advanced for the day and later used extensively internally, but it was that early product and testing that evolved into the offering Telstra currently has as part of the T-Cloud product suite. It wouldn’t have been possible without that Nokia `brick’, and the Telstra Traveller K briefcase .. ;-) I agree with Colin above, and how did we live without remote access to apps, email and the internet ??

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