43 years ago today, on April 3, 1973, a Motorola engineer named Martin Cooper made the first cell phone call. At the other end of the line from his 2.5 pound Motorola Dyna-Tac was Cooper’s chief rival, Joel S Engel, the head of Bell Labs. “Joel, this is Marty,” Cooper said, according to a 2013 interview with the BBC1. “I’m calling you from a cell phone, a real handheld portable cell phone.”
“Portable” is relative, of course. The Dyna-Tac was as big as it was heavy: 9 x 5 x 1.75 inches.
Packed inside of this shoebox were 30 circuit boards and a battery with about a half-hour of talk time that required 10 hours of recharging. It had no display, and offered only three features: talk, listen, dial. It was, in a word, dumb. But it worked. The Dyna-Tac had by then already gone through some FCC testing in Washington, DC, and, on the big day, Cooper was to demonstrate the phone to a press conference at the Manhattan Hilton. Motorola was at the time trying to convince the FCC to allocate more frequency bandwidth to companies trying to commercialize the nascent technology. Hence, the PR push.
Before heading upstairs to the conference, Cooper decided that he’d better make sure the damn thing worked first. “He picked up the two-pound Motorola handset called the Dyna-Tac and pushed the ‘off hook’ button,” a 2000 New York Times interview with Cooper recalls. “The phone came alive, connecting Mr. Cooper with the base station on the roof of the Burlington Consolidated Tower (now the Alliance Capital Building) and into the land-line system. To the bewilderment of some passers-by, he dialed the number and held the phone to his ear.”
By that time, the primitive idea of mobile telephone communications was actually quite old. AT&T had first commercialized a variation in the 1940s called Mobile Telephone Service2, which was based on VHF radio communications, the range of frequencies more commonly employed for two-way radio use and television and radio broadcasts. Only a small slice of VHF channels were available to the service and collisions between transmissions were a common and prohibitive occurrence.
MTS was essentially a form of two-way radio communication with an operator in the middle that bridged landline callers with mobile callers. A “call” would be announced not by a ring, but by the voice of an operator over the radio saying that they had a call for that specific user. Every user would hear every incoming call and the idea was that they just ignored the ones that weren’t for them. The hardware required for MTS also weighed about 80 pounds. Real portability would have to wait for the advent of cellular communications.
Here, users can be passed between base stations and frequencies can be continually reused. In addition to truly portable hardware, this means that users can reasonably move around from place to place with some guarantee of service. In the 2000 Times interview, Cooper offered a prediction: “Cellular was the forerunner to true wireless communications. And just as people got used to taking phones with them everywhere, the way people use the Internet is ultimately going to be wireless. With our technology, you will be able to open your notebook anywhere and log on to the Internet at a very high speed with relatively low cost.
At the moment, our story is about what a relatively small company is doing with high-tech stuff in Silicon Valley.”
”But when people get used to logging on anywhere,” he added, “well, that’s going to be a revolution.”
Unveiled back in March 2015 as part of the BBC s Make It Digital initiative, the Micro:bit marks the corporation s first foray into computing hardware since the much-loved BBC Micro in the 1980s. Unlike the BBC Micro, however, with its distinctive black-and-red mechanical keyboard, the Micro:bit is a tiny device designed to be used with existing computers.
With an array of built-in sensors and a 5×5 LED matrix display, it s designed to get kids thinking about physical computing and, following a redesign and some issues with the power circuitry, starting this month every Year 7 pupil in the UK is going to get one for free.
It would be easy to make a comparison between the Micro:bit and the Raspberry Pi, especially since the launch of the 4 Pi Zero. While both are low-cost devices designed for education, however, there s a definite difference: the Pi is a microcomputer, a modern incarnation of the BBC Micro of old, while the Micro:bit is a microcontroller.
The Micro:bit is powered by a Nordic Semi nRF51822 SoC processor, which bundles a Bluetooth LE radio with a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 CPU running at only 16MHz and with just 16KB of RAM. Interestingly, this isn t the fastest processor on the board. A second chip, a Kinetis microcontroller, has a 48MHz Cortex-M0+, which is only used as a bridge between the Micro:bit and a USB-connected computer.
The Micro:bit also includes a pair of onboard sensors in the form of a magnetic compass and an accelerometer, giving it basic positional and gesture-recognition capabilities. There s a pair of buttons, plus a reset button at the rear, a 3.3V battery connector, and the front is dominated by a 5×5 matrix of 25 red LEDs the only display available to the device.
Back when it was it was first announced, the BBC s device shared the same characterful layout as the CodeBug, the device that inspired it. Since its redesign, though, the Micro:bit has become much more businesslike. A tiny rectangle with rounded edges, the board measures not much more than a pair of SD card cases side by side.
The rear of the board, where the processors live, includes a silk-screen layer labelling most of its components. Oddly, though, the Kinetis microcontroller is left unlabelled. Flipping it over reveals the LED matrix and the Micro:bit s primary means of interacting with external hardware: a 25-pin edge-connector for general-purpose input/output (GPIO) operations.
Five of these pins are enlarged for use with crocodile clips or banana plugs, providing three input or output pins with analogue-to-digital conversion (ADC) and pulse-width modulation (PWM) support. This means they can do everything from reading data from moisture sensors to controlling a connected stepper motor or servo, along with a 3.3V and ground pin. The remaining 20 are slimmer, and designed for use with expansion boards such as the Kitronik Edge Connector Breakout Board.3
UK s NatWest bank has been drawing a lot of attention to itself in the past couple of days, after a radio reporter managed to hack into his colleague s bank account and steal some money, with nothing but her mobile phone. Of course, the entire hack was just a demonstration of how fraudsters usually do it, prompting the bank to issue a statement saying it will improve its security measures. A reporter on the BBC Radio Four You and Yours programme used his colleague Natalie Donovan s smartphone to do a password reset, ultimately getting access to her bank account.
We decided to investigate You and Yours producer Natalie Donovan. I was able to break to her account without knowing her banking customer number, PIN or any passwords, he said. That allowed me to transfer 1.50 to my own bank account, all because I had control of Natalie s mobile phone.
The bank soon responded: We take the security of your money seriously. The best way to protect yourself from fraud is to be in the know SIM swap is a genuine service which allows you to keep your existing phone number and change between different SIM sizes or phone providers.
This technique is becoming increasingly common for use by fraudsters and third parties. The ability to utilise your mobile phone number to receive and make calls, receive and send text messages as well as use any provisioned data allowance can be motivation for illicit SIM swap.
Fraudsters usually get into the victims bank accounts through stolen phones, so if your smartphone gets stolen, or you fear someone might have SIM-swapped you (if you can t dial or text for some strange reason), make sure to double-check.
Drivers who are caught using their mobile phones at the wheel could face fines of up to 150 and four penalty points if new government plans are approved. Proposals to bring in bigger punishments are part of the government s Road Safety Plan, and are targeted towards those drivers who repeatedly re-offend. Currently, the fine for using a mobile device while driving is 100 and three penalty points, which was increased from 60 in 2013. HGV drivers would face the harshest punishment, collecting six penalty points if they re caught using a mobile phone at the wheel. It s understood the larger increase for lorry drivers is designed to reflect how much more severe accidents involving HGVs can be.
Under the scheme, first-time offenders will still be offered an educational course rather than a fine. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said he wants to see using a phone while driving become a social taboo, like not wearing a seatbelt .
Using a mobile phone while driving is reckless and costs lives, he said. The message is clear: keep your hands on the wheel, not your phone. If you keep taking calls at the wheel you could end up being banned from the road. Figures from the Department for Transport show that there were 1775 road deaths on UK roads in 2014, a 4% rise on the previous year. The use of a mobile phone was a contributing factor in 21 fatal accidents in 2014.
President of the AA Edmund King said: This epidemic of hand-held mobile phone use while driving has already cost lives and drivers have demanded action. Three quarters of drivers see others using mobile phones on some or most journeys, with one quarter seeing it on every journey according to our polls.
The majority of drivers will welcome these increased fines and penalty points, alongside driver improvement courses, to tackle those who use hand-held mobiles at the wheel.
A consultation on the new plans is due in 2016.
In the biggest change since the introduction of the photocard licence, the DVLA is scrapping the paper driving licence as part of its plans to digitise drivers’ records.
The changes come into force today, but many drivers appear to be unaware of the changes and could be caught out by them, particularly when trying to rent a car abroad.
So what does it mean for Britain’s 46 million motorists?
What is happening to the driving licence and when?
The paper counterpart displays details not included on the photocard, including vehicle categories and any penalty points or disqualifications.
After the changes, details of driving convictions will instead be held on the DVLA’s digital records.
Motorists can check their driving record by calling DVLA or visiting www.viewdrivingrecord.service.gov.uk4. You will need your driving licence number (found in section five of your driving licence photocard), your National Insurance number and your postcode. However, some users reported problems in accessing the website today.
Alternatively, drivers can apply by post to see what information the DVLA holds on their driving licence.
You will need to give the agency your full name and address, your driving licence number or date of birth, and a cheque or postal order for £5.
Why are driving licences changing?
The decision to phase out the paper counterpart is a result of the government’s Red Tape Challenge and is part of the DVLA’s commitment to simplifying its services.
“Motorists shouldn’t have to keep numerous bits of paper just to prove they can drive and have bought insurance – we live in digital age and we need to embrace that,” then Transport Secretary Justine Greening told the Daily Telegraph6 when the measures were first announced.
“Reducing the number of rules and regulations in our life is absolutely vital to removing barriers to economic growth and increasing individual freedoms.
“This whole process just proves that there’s so much sitting on our statute books that at the very least needs a good spring clean or can be scrapped entirely.”
Is everyone in favour?
No, the AA has some concerns. “This change could cause confusion,” spokesman Paul Watters told the South Wales Evening Post. “Not all drivers are comfortable with computers and surfing online.
People will also be concerned at who exactly will be able to get access to your electronic driver record, and the potential for fraud and scams.”
The AA is advising people to check that the details on their paper counterpart, including penalty points, are identical to those on the DVLA’s electronic system before destroying the document.
What happens when a driver wants to rent a car?
In the past, car rental companies have requested to see the paper counterpart to a driver’s licence.
Now they will be able to view a driver’s details on the electronic database, as the DVLA explains in the video below.
Employers who need to check an employee’s driving record will also be able to use the service.
To enable a car hire company or employer to see your driving record, you will need to create a “licence check code” by logging on to www.viewdrivingrecord.service.gov.uk7. This single-use access code is valid for 72 hours. Used alongside the last eight characters of your driving licence number, it will allow the company to see which vehicles you can drive and any penalty points or disqualifications you have been given.
For those without internet access, a phone number has also been set up so that drivers can call the DVLA and give permission for their driving record to be checked verbally by a nominated person/organisation.
Should people destroy the paper counterparts?
As it will no longer have any legal status, the DVLA recommends that drivers destroy their paper counterpart. However, motoring groups have warned that people could struggle to hire a car abroad if they follow this advice. The AA is advising people to keep hold of them, as they might still be asked to produce them when travelling abroad.
The organisation found that one in three of its members had been asked for the document over the past five years and warned that some overseas car hire companies will refuse rentals unless they see a copy of their driving record.
Edmund King, president of the AA, told the Telegraph8: “It is possible that hirers overseas, who have been used to checking a British driver’s paper record in the past, may not know of the change and still ask to see the counterpart.
Although the paper counterpart has now been rendered invalid, we are advising our members not to tear up their counterparts just yet, but to take them abroad as a ‘belt and braces’ measure if they intend to hire a vehicle.” DVLA has suggested that holiday makers take their National Insurance numbers away with them in case they need to create a licence check code while abroad.
Either way, motorists must retain their photocard and remember to renew it when necessary. If drivers only have an old-style paper driving licence – issued before the photocards were introduced in 1998 – they must not destroy them as they are still valid. If those drivers need to change any details on the paper licence, such as a name or address, they will be issued with a new photocard free of charge.
Otherwise, they should continue to use the paper licence.
- ^ BBC (www.bbc.co.uk)
- ^ tax discs last year (www.theweek.co.uk)
- ^ DVLA (www.gov.uk)
- ^ www.viewdrivingrecord.service.gov.uk (www.viewdrivingrecord.service.gov.uk)
- ^ Auto Express (www.autoexpress.co.uk)
- ^ Daily Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk)
- ^ www.viewdrivingrecord.service.gov.uk (www.viewdrivingrecord.service.gov.uk)
- ^ Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk)