How we connect
Many millenials recall their first cellphone as a flip phone or a slide phone.
In the case of Tony Smith, UScellular Fort Dodge store manager, the first cellphone he remembers using was a Nokia flip phone.
“I remember a time when there was a bag phone people used to carry in their cars,” Smith said.
At that time, reliability, portability and durability were some of the top features customers looked for in a cellphone.
Phones have changed a lot since the first text message “Merry Christmas” was sent in 1992.
“It did not take long for texting to become popular and phones were introduced with full QWERTY keyboards, the first of which was the Nokia Communicator 9000 released in the mid-1990s,” said Kevin Schuster, public relations representative for UScellular. “When the flip phone came out, it was a groundbreaking phone that represented the next iteration of connection.”
The first “smartphone” was introduced in1993 by IBM. The Simon Personal communicator could be used for calls, faxes and text messages. It also featured a built-in calendar, address book, notes folders and appointment scheduler. Smartphones would not become as advanced or prevalent until years later, however.
The first cellphone with a camera was introduced by Sharp in 2000, according to Pew Research Center. Shuster said that was a key innovation for cellphones.
Over the course of the past 20-plus years, mobile devices have become much more than a device used to talk and text.
Smartphones today are used by many in almost every facet of life, from transportation and logistics of goods and services to waking up in the morning with an alarm.
“So many people rely on their smartphones,” Smith said.
The older models of cellphones are nostalgic for some. Smith said customers still come in to the UScellular store to have them recycled.
“We have people come in every day that bring in older models to recycle them,” Smith said. “For me, old BlackBerries are memorable — obviously the old flip phones. To see how it has evolved is really something to behold.”
Smith recalls 2007 being a big turning point for phones.
“In 2007, I know that Apple really hit the cellphone industry,” he said.
According to Pew, Apple came into the cellphone industry in 2007 by introducing the first iPhone. Schuster said the iPhone boasted an all-in-one digital music player, camera and internet-enabled PDA device equipped with a touch interface that replaced the traditional QWERTY keyboard.
The first Android phone, the HTC Dream Slider, was made available to consumers in 2008.
In more recent times, smartphones have been used to communicate live using video teleconferencing apps like Zoom and FaceTime.
Smartphones have allowed people from all over the world to communicate like no other time in human history.
“Connectivity has always been used to bring people together,” Schuster said. “Phone calls, text messaging, video calls and even social networks initially brought us together to help us connect with old friends and share important life moments.”
Schuster reported that direct communication was on the rise in 2021.
“At UScellular, we see a steady uptick in personal communication,” Schuster said. “One-on-one text messaging is on the rise. After previously declining year over year, phone calls per user increased on our network in 2021 — signs that people are connecting directly with each other, not around each other via social networks.”
Staying connected with family members tends to be a top priority for customers.
‘When I talk to my customers in the store, one of the most important things to them is to be able to connect with family members when they are out of state or out of country,” Smith said. “To have that ability with the different devices that we offer. I would also point out that we have a lot of businesses that take advantage of the products we offer. Having your smartphone makes it easier to set up meetings and do various things with clients.”
Phones are in the hands of people at younger ages than previous generations. According to online information, the average age range a child gets their first smartphone is between 10 and 13.
“We have several parents that will give their old phone to their son or daughter to stay in touch with them,” Smith said. “It’s nothing new nowadays for kids to have them in elementary school. A lot of parents just want their kids to have something to be able to contact them.”
5G is the latest advancement driving the cellphone industry. It is the fifth generation mobile network that enables a new network of faster connectivity.
“5G is the key to a new generation of benefits,” Schuster said. “5G is driving our nation’s transition to the Internet of Things, where medical sensors, smartwatches, hotspots and other IoT devices usher us into the “connected-everything” era.”
Schuster said 5G allows users to download and view videos more easily and smoother.
Latency, which is the delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer, is substantially faster for 5G than it is for 4G.
“Network latency is that fraction-of-a-second delay you experience opening an app or starting a video with service slower than 5G,” Schuster said. “Higher capacity and bandwidth means that more users will be able to share the 5G spectrum, making it more efficient and reliable.”
In addition, Schuster said. “4K video streams will be more stable and AR/VR users will have a more uniform user experience — no matter where they are.
Schuster said 5G plays an important role in precision agriculture, which require the high speeds and that low latency that 5G provides.
As an example, John Deere has set up a private 5G network in multiple Iowa counties to support its autonomy efforts.
“The 5G experience is not just about high speeds on mobile devices that lets us download movies and play games on our smartphones faster,” Schuster said. “It’s also about what 5G technology can offer us down the road as business and consumer applications are developed that can take advantage of the technology.”
Schuster said it’s almost unbelievable how rapidly 5G is coming along.
“Today, more than 300 million people have access to a 5G wireless network, so it’s hard to believe it became available only three years ago,” Schuster said. “The CTIA 2021 annual survey confirms that the first 5G network achieved nationwide coverage twice as fast as 4G. The recent infrastructure bill allocated more than $65 billion for broadband and provides an unprecedented opportunity for the expansion of high-speed connectivity to underserved areas, as well as increased affordability for consumers.”
Schuster added, “At UScellular, we have achieved world-record speeds in trials of our fixed wireless solution, and we look forward to rolling the service out to more customers in 2022.”
Smith said 5G is critical to technological advancement.
“The 5G network will be crucial moving forward,” Smith said. “It’s allowed us to connect to faster speeds than ever before. Including internet, but allows you to watch movies and do things outside the normal function of a phone or a watch. Our network has been growing tremendously and our customers have taken advantage of connecting to it.”
In terms of the newest devices, Smith said the iPhone 13, Samsung S21 and Google Pixel 6 would be among the latest and greatest.
“All of them of their own unique features,” Smith said. “We find that for a lot of our customers, it’s personal preference.
Smartwatches, an extension of a smartphone, have been trending.
“We have a variety of watches,” Smith said. “The smartwatches have taken off — the Samsung as well as the Apple watches are very popular. They can keep you in touch with the basic things like texting. You can also do the heart rate monitor or oxygen level. A lot of people have come to depend on those features. They have really done a nice job to incorporate some necessary features in those devices.”
Smith added, “A lot of people are more active than ever — business on the road or working at home, and that watch is a good way to keep you in touch with your phone without having to have it on you.”
Schuster said the cameras on each new smartphone continue to improve.
“With each new smartphone, we see more technology being added into a device that fits in your hand,” Schuster said. “The photo lens on each new device allows for professional-like quality photos, never before seen on a personal cell phone. Smartphones have faster processors to connect with advanced wireless networks, such as 5G.”
Some of the latest trends include foldable smartphones, such as Samsung ZFlip 5G & ZFold 5G, which make it more portable to fit in pockets and bags, but not lose any of the advanced technology.
Watching the evolution of smartphone technology has been fascinating, Smith said.
“To go from 2007 to where we are at today where we have 5G capabilities throughout the country,” Smith said. “To see how we have been able to keep people in touch with each other, especially through some of these weather events that we have had has been incredible.”