Vodafone Celebrates 30 Years Since First U.K. Mobile Phone Call - Page 2

Vodafone also had to negotiate with BT to ensure the mobile network was compatible with landlines. Pinches said people at BT were divided between those who wanted to "strangle BT at birth" and those who thought competition would improve the state monopoly.

“We had a very interesting debate but we created a system that worked out quite well in the end," he said.

"The next job was selecting some equipment both infrastructure base stations and switches and mobile phones. We selected a large group of potential suppliers around the world who we knew were in some way involved with the beginnings of mobile phones."

Capital Focus

When the network launched in 1985, there were just five base stations, all in London, located at the Royal Lancaster Hotel, Crystal Palace, the Royal Exchange, the Thames Barrier and Highgate. Vodafone reached 100 sites by September 1985, but just like in 2015, there was plenty of red tape to overcome.

"I was thrown in at the deep end, negotiating with landlords and property owners,” said John Dellow, Vodafone's first operations director and the man tasked with secure sites for network infrastructure. "There was quite a resistance in the early days. We wanted a standard mast, which was 30 meters with three big antennas on the top. There was a lot of reluctance by local authorities to give us planning permission."

But London was always the early focus and Vodafone had great success in targeting corporate and business users. The company's sales team was given a target of 1,000 orders before launch but secured 2,000 thanks to the belief it would improve productivity.

Before mobile phones, businesses would use typewriters, fax machines, landlines and letters for internal and external communication.

"We sold an awful lot to managing directors, CEOs, board members and rich people," said Steven Phillips, Vodafone's first sales director. "Very early, we grasped the opportunity of selling to corporate users. We realized businesses were searching for something to make their organizations more efficient and there was a lot of frustration with the current setup."

Business Importance

Vodafone's first business customer was Roger Southam, a property asset manager who set up his own firm, Chainbow, in the 1980s.

"Before mobile, time away from the office on site visits and viewing properties meant you were completely out of touch," he said. "We spent a lot travelling to nearby phone boxes to update colleagues, losing valuable onsite time, and often missed important customer calls from not being in the office.

"Having a mobile meant being able to make a call anytime, anywhere. It made a massive difference. It gave me at least an additional full working day a week of productive time, and extra time meant getting ahead of competition. In 1985, it was rare to see people with phones because it was so expensive, but I had to have one. It transformed my business."

Of course, mobile phones have come down in price from thousands of pounds to tens of pounds, making mobile technology accessible to everyone. Indeed, Vodafone's research suggests that 67 percent of firms say mobile communications are essential to their operations.

The company is currently in the middle of a £19 billion investment program in a bid to arrest falling revenues. In the U.K., it is focusing on 4G, unified communications and fixed line services having acquired Cable and Wireless for £1 billion in 2012.

The U.K.-communications market is competitive as ever with BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk eyeing up Vodafone's mobile customers. But at least the Newbury-based firm can always claim to be the first.