The 1976 book Future Facts is filled with predictions of artificial life, underwater cities and traveling from New York to Los Angeles in 21 minutes. Though the last excerpted line is pretty hilarious, this prediction of the "portaphone" of the future is surprisingly accurate.
A hand-held, completely portable telephone will make it possible to place calls while riding in a bus, walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant. Developed by Motorola, Inc., the first "portaphone" system will be installed in New York City by 1976.
The portaphone looks like a fat Princess phone or a high-fashion walkie-talkie. Weighing less than three pounds, the unit can dial and receive calls anywhere within FM signal range of the system's computer-controlled receivers.
As the caller talks over the portaphone, his voice is radioed to the nearest receiver. The signal is relayed into a central computer, then fed into conventional telephone lines. The computer can track the speaker as he moves about the city, switching the conversation to different receivers to maintain a loud and clear connection.
A portable phone user can contact any conventional or portable phone. The initial cost will be $60 to $100 per month, but as the market demand increases, the costs are expected to go down.
The FCC has proposed 115 MHz of spectrum including channels 73 through 88 for two-way applications. Portaphone will probably operate in that frequency range.
Each telephone has a pushbutton keyboard; it's dialed like a conventional pushbutton phone.
Motorola sees a bright future for the portaphone: "We expect there'll be heavy usage by a widely diverse group of people -- businessmen, journalists, doctors, housewives, virtually anyone who needs or wants telephone communications in areas where conventional telephones are unavailable."
For a while at least, the portaphone will remain a business tool or luxury item. In time, however, portaphones will get smaller and cheaper, just as transistor radios have.
One day you'll call almost anyone, anywhere. You could have instantaneous contact with your doctor or the police. People might be brought closer together than ever before -- with the potential to be in voice contact with others. Next step: two-way wrist radios?
Previously on Paleo-Future: